It is dinner time and you ask your child to help set the table. She responds “No, I don’t want to right now!” and she walks away. If sassy responses such as these are becoming more common, it is time to employ a few techniques that reduce backtalk while also teaching your child how to assert herself in a respectful manner. Here’s a few tips to help you silence the sass.
Evaluate your own communication style
The first step in establishing a respectful communication style in your household is to evaluate your own way of interacting with others. Do you manage frustration well when you do not like where a conversation is going or does the anger sometimes lead to sarcasm? Identify anything about your own communication style that needs to change. Also, when your kids watch TV, do they sometimes watch shows full of examples of kids making sassy remarks to adults? If so, reconsider your child’s list of TV shows that you have approved for viewing.
Define your boundaries for respectful communication
One issue that may lead to an increasing amount of backtalk is poorly defined and enforced boundaries. Boundaries set expectations and clearly define how your child should respectfully interact with adults. Take time to draw up some ‘house rules’ that outline expectations on respectful communication, and then commit to consistently enforce them. Young kids need these boundaries and your coaching to understand what acceptable social behavior is.
The boundaries and the consequences for crossing the line should be clearly communicated to your child. Posting the house rules in a visible place eliminates the excuse ‘I didn’t know that you were going to take my phone away if I talked back.’ The boundaries and consequences should be age-appropriate and match his current level of communication skills. For example, if your child understands not to yell ‘No! I am not going to!’ when asked to do a chore, he should get a
consequence for yelling it at you. However, young kids sometimes parrot sarcastic comments without knowing they are being disrespectful. Those incidents should be used as both a teaching moment and to provide a warning that further sarcasm will lead to the consequence defined for the infraction.
Stay calm and choose the right moment for coaching
As with any set of rules, kids will test those boundaries. A child’s disregard for a known boundary could be an attempt to express frustration or could be an attempt to get your attention. Having a sarcastic comment thrown at you by your child can hurt but resist any urge to respond with an equally sarcastic remark. If needed, take a moment to cool down before responding. If you know your child is using sassy comments to get your attention, it is best to address them later. That way, you are not rewarding the rude comment with your attention.
When you do respond, use phrases that help your child put her feelings into words, such as ‘You sound angry. Do you want to talk about it?’ While discussing the issue, provide an example of how your child could have expressed her frustration or her need for attention better, such as ‘My homework is hard. Can you please help me with my homework?’ This opens the door for two-way communication, instead of a one-sided lecture on why her comment was rude and that she should not do it again. This may better allow you to discover the root cause of the incident and provide guidance on the correct way to communicate a thought or feeling. Make sure to maintain the boundaries you have set by enforcing any consequences incurred by the incident.