Back talk is ugly. No matter what the age of the child, it’s just plain ugly. A child’s insolent, disrespectful, and argumentative responses, both verbal and nonverbal, can make any parent furious. Rudeness from anyone is irritating, much more so from a child living under your own roof!
Our culture has produced great role models for disrespect. Try watching any TV show or movie to see what I mean. Kids are applauded for being sarcastic and rude.
Apart from the lack of polite behavior in society, developmentally kids are maturing and in responding to being more independent. Children progress from speaking literally and most often respectfully, to more figurative language. To feel “smart” kids may put down others with derogatory remarks and cutting comments.
Expectations play a major role in how family members communicate with one another. If Mom and Dad are respectful of others, chances are the children will be too. The opposite is true as well. I had a primary age student in class years ago who would drop the worst profane word imaginable in the classroom. I tried everything I could think of to extinguish the behavior to no avail. Finally I called his mom. She was shocked and told me, “I don’t know where the @*&% he got that, but I’ll talk to him. Thanks for calling.” It’s role modeling, pure and simple.
Even if your children are generally polite rude language can and will creep in. Ignoring it won’t help. Kids learn it’s okay to act and speak to others that way if Mom and Dad don’t correct them. Speak up. Ask the child to rephrase the comment and expect the child to follow through. Train children to speak kindly. “The words we choose to use have the power to bless or wound.”1
To set the ground rules for respectful communication, start with a family meeting. Talk about respectful words and actions. Set specific rules for how family members will speak to one another. State the rule in the positive. We use respectful words, tone, and gestures. We used indoor voices in our home. We speak clearly without muttering. Post the rules where every family member can see them. Refer to the rules when necessary. Once the rules are written, be consistent in what you expect and enforce it. Consider the TV shows, movies, and music your children listen to most often. Kids mimic what they see and hear.
Tips to Tame a Sharp Tongue
- Disengage. Don’t play into the behavior by adding a rude comment yourself.
- Expect the best. Be prepared for the worst.
- Have logical consequences for rude behavior.
- Have a signal to warn the child he’s on shaky ground. (i.e. Touch your ear to remind him to listen to his words.)
- Build empathy. “How would you like someone to speak to you like that?”
- Compliment kids when they speak and act kindly toward others. Praise works!
Next time you hear a zinger come out of your child’s mouth be prepared to squelch it. Kind words and actions are relationship builders.
Kind words are like honey,
sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.
Proverbs 16:24 NLT
By Becky Danielson
Wife to Scott
Mom of two
Licensed Parent & Family Educator
Co-founder of 1 Corinthians 13 Parenting
Co-author of The 1 Corinthians 13 Parent Series
Raising Little Kids with Big Love and
Raising Big Kids with Supernatural Love
1. Lori Wildenberg & Becky Danielson, Raising Little Kids with Big Love, Friendswood: Bold Vision Books, 2014, p. 54.