We all want our children to be able to express their emotions… but at what price? Here is how you can let your child disagree without copping an attitude.
“But I don’t want to, mom…” he said.
“Son, I’ve told you 5 times and I’m about to get upset. Go to your room like I said.”
“But MOM! I can’t...”
“What do you mean you can’t???? Just go and wait for me!!!!!”
He threw his hands by his side, lowered his head, and said in an angry yet pitiful voice… “But it’s so dark in there, I’m scared.”
That makes a difference doesn’t it?…
In this situation, my son wasn’t trying to backtalk or disobey me. He just needed me to turn on a light so he didn’t have to take the Long Walk Down the Hall and into his bedroom in pitch black.
That is a good reason to have a dialogue with me instead of just doing what I ask.
Now, let’s be honest. There are many other times when a child just wants to backtalk.
Tell you no.
Refuse your request.
Kick up a fuss in hopes of delaying the (maybe or maybe not) inevitable.
So since none of us want our children to repress and stifle their emotions, but neither do we want kids who are rude and disrespectful… we’d like to find a line to draw in the sand somewhere.
Emotions are a H U G E part of a young child’s life. These “I Am Feeling” cards will reduce tantrums, meltdowns, and help your little one learn emotional awareness.Learn More
So… What’s The Difference Between Disagreeing and Backtalk?
Is there an attitude?
This is the big one for me. There is expressing an opinion and there is having a bad or disrespectful attitude. I don’t mind if my children express their opinions, but if there is a eye roll, a defiant attitude, or a Super Snippy Tone… then no. That is not okay.
You can say, “I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms,” instead of “Ewww, mushrooms are gross and I’m not going to eat them.”
Children may not intuitively understand they are saying something rude, but if you keep at the concept of good attitude/bad attitude (or what we like to call a Happy Heart) they’ll understand the boundary.
Is there refusal to do what you’ve asked or desire to express themselves?
At times I interpret my children’s desire to express themselves as refusal to do what I’ve asked. I want them to do what I want them to do exactly right then with no hesitation. Hesitation = disobedience.
That said, I’ve seen my error time and again when my children show they’re wanting more clarification for the task.
You’ll soon know the difference between stalling, needing more information, and backtalk. Stalling shouldn’t be rewarded, backtalk should be disciplined, and clarification can be given.
Is it repetitive, nonstop, or a delaying tactic?
I have one master staller. Actually, all my kids fine tuned their Stalling Tactics around the age of 3. They could ask just the right questions in just the right way that you felt you had to answer.
The trouble is, I don’t want my kids to feel “unheard.” I didn’t want to walk away from them mid-question.
To help avoid this, I use and love these two very effective phrases.
“I love you too much to argue.”
This is from Parenting With Love and Logic. If your child is trying to argue or wheel and deal and won’t seem to take “no” for an answer, this is a great phrase. I love you too much to argue.
Slightly sarcastic yet ultimately true. When you know there will be no arguing on a certain point, use that phrase.
“Asked and answered.”
This is another good phrase of the same vein. My 2-year-old doesn’t quite understand this yet, but the older kids do. My daughter will actually ask for something 5, 345 times in a row.
Or at least she would. I’m telling you, that girl has Persistence. Perseverance. She’s going to be a future leader. These phrases work well with her and discourage backtalk.
What’s the harm in listening?
If your child seems genuinely frustrated, not disrespectful, then take the time to listen. My 4-year-old so is often confused about instructions, scared about execution, or nervous and wants more information.
I don’t feel those are backtalk or bad attitudes, so I’m not opposed to listening.
However, once that crosses over into refusal to obey or meltdown mode, I know we’ve entered Backtalk Territory. Each child will have their own ways to backtalk you, and the key is to figure them out and not get caught in the power struggle.
Encourage polite opinion sharing… this will be a process
When your children start to backtalk – but you can see they are passionate about what they’re saying – help them to adopt a respectful tone. Teach them which words they cannot say and how they are to speak when they’re trying to disagree.
“I’m not going to do it!!!” is not the same as, “Mom, I don’t really feel like it right now.”
It may be tough luck and they have to do it anyway, but the goal is to allow our children to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and desires without backtalk.
Without copping an attitude.
Without being disrespectful.
It’s a lifelong process… one we’re all learning.