Temperament and Parenting


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Child Talking Back/Marital Conflict
BEHAVIOR - When Your Young Child Talks Back to You

When you are concerned about your child's behavior it is very important to consider first your child's age or developmental level. Much trying behavior in young children represents a normal phase of development and takes care of itself in time. However, certain developmentally-appropriate behaviors can get out of hand and turn into behavior problems. A critical factor is how the important adults in the child's life (parents, caregivers and teachers) react to the behavior.

Is it really backtalk?

Talking back is a common complaint of families of children with high maintenance profiles. When we ask parents to explain and give examples we sometimes find that they are referring to perfectly normal behavior, such as the tendency of almost all two-year-olds to respond to every comment, suggestion, or question, with a resounding "No!" A patient and tolerant attitude is the best way to deal with this behavior, which we feel shouldn't really be considered backtalk. One family we know had a child who responded "No!" when offered ice cream, a ride on Daddy's shoulders, and a bedtime story. They quickly realized he just found it difficult to say "Yes". So they learn to ask him good-humouredly if that was a "no" that meant "no" or a "no" that meant "yes"!

Some Toddlers Are More Negative And Persistent Than Others

Parents of toddlers with especially negative, intense, inflexible and persistent temperament characteristics may find their toddlers' "terrible two's and three's" especially trying, since such children express their negativism more frequently it seems, and go on doingit longer. Many parents tell us they find such children more bothersome or distressing at age three than at age two, perhaps because parents' expectations change or because the children are more verbal and seemingly 'should' be more mature.

Whatever lies behind the 'terrible three's', we can only recommend patience and firmness. Serious problems can begin when parents start to see their very young children as all-powerful or bad. We understand how parents can lose their perspectives, or even get worn out, when intense negativism and inflexibility go on day after day.

If you feel you are not coping well with your hard-to-raise toddler, do get guidance from someone who understands both temperament and normal development. It is important to see a counselor who provides concrete coping strategies, with not too much emphasis on changing the behavior of the toddler. Distraction, or re-direction of behavior, patience, energy and marital support are the most important ingredients.

True Backtalk

True backtalk often begins around the age of four or so. Some children of this age begin to call their mothers names, sometimes kicking them in the bargain. Now 'normal' backtalk is turning into a behavior problem and it is definitely time to set limits.