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We took our 'high maintenance' eight-year old son to a child psychiatrist last week because we were so worried...
Temperament and Parenting
Constant parental nagging and nattering are destructive to a child's self-esteem, and are common features of families whose children engage in backtalk and to go on to develop serious problems. We know that parents' behavior often develops in response to a child's difficult and trying temperament, but it is extremely important that parents change their own bad habits first before expecting the child to change.
6. Consider age and temperament in determining appropriate expectations
Ask yourself what behavior you really want and if you must demand it now. When Mike's mother analyzed the situation, she realized she wanted him to get on with his meal because they had to go out. Mike is a distractible, restless four-year-old, but he is capable of finishing a meal within 20 minutes if he is help to deal with distractions. Mike's mother could have cleared the kitchen of distractions (e.g. turned off the radio), sat down with him (instead of clearing the dishes), focused calmly on him (instead of expressing her exasperation), and said simply, in a friendly tone: "Eat your lunch up now." Having appropriate expectations may reduce some of the frustration that prompts children to talk back.
7. Respond to backtalk calmly
It can be very hurtful and sometimes frightening to parents when a young child talks back. Feelings from one's own childhood are often stirred up, and confusion about modern versus old-fashioned child-rearing are common. Some parents remember being punished severely for backtalk, and these memories can trigger angry rages or helplessness towards one's own child. If you have these feelings, consider getting counseling for yourself.
8. Don't set examples of backtalk
Backtalk thrives in families where the rules are not clear or inconsistent and where there are marital arguments. Parents who talk back and argue constantly can hardly expect their children not to follow their examples. (However, you can still enforce the rules about burden is even if, for some reason, you cannot prevent your child from hearing it from others.) Family therapy may improve the climate in your home and to lessen the degree of backtalk. The strategies outlined in this tip sheet may be needed in addition to dealing with family problems, however.
9. Some children have tendencies to talk back
We are aware that some children, because of their individual temperamental styles, are prone to talking back and arguing and send their parents have to use the strategies outlined here a great deal and over a long period of time. It is common to hear of such children gaining some self-control in this area, only to start up again later with a new version. One child was prone to talking back at age 4, settled down at age 6, and began arguing at age 8. His parents recognized the old behavior in a new guise and used basically the same strategies to get it under control. Good-humoredly, his father commented that his son was obviously a born lawyer and had reached the age of argument but not the age of reason. A philosophical attitude is probably wise when dealing with mild to moderate tendencies to turn some issues into a courtroom debate, especially if your child is generally cooperative and compliant. It is extremely important, however, to get on top of constant backtalk and frequent noncompliant behavior, particularly when these problems are accompanied by antisocial behavior, such as stealing and fighting. Children with these problems are often diagnosed with oppositional or conduct disorders. Professional help from a therapist who understands temperament, family problems, and who have a good grasp of current behavioral therapies is what you need.
10. Some children with special needs may talk back more.
There are certain conditions in children which are associated with backtalk. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one. These children have problems paying attention and controlling their impulses to a great degree, along with other difficulties. Attention deficit disorder is treated with medication, behavior modification and/or family counseling, but treatment cannot be expected to eliminate all the child's difficulties, including the tendency, in some children, to talk back.
There is also an unusual neurological disorder, called Tourette Syndrome, in which children have tics and may engage in compulsive behavior, including swearing and talking back. Many are also hyperactive and have attention deficits.
You can obtain more information on Tourette's Syndrome from:
The Tourette's Syndrome Association
to some common questions about behavioral style.
Origins, impact on parenting, risk for behavioral issues, relationship to ADHD, and other topics.
Goodness of Fit
How temperament is assessed.
Poor fit can lead to stress and possibly emotional or behavioral problems
When professional help is needed
There are qualified individuals from several disciplines who counsel parents and children.