tired-of-yelling-at-your-child_articleI recently witnessed the following exchange between a mother and her 12 year old daughter. The daughter was challenging her mom on the process for handling fundraiser tickets. Mom had the process correct, but daughter felt the need to challenge her. It sounded like this:

Daughter: Mom, you’re supposed to write Adult or Child on the tickets!

Mom: No, I’m not, I read the directions.

Daughter: Yes, you are, my teacher told me!

Mom: No, I am not! I READ the Directions!

Daughter: But Mommmmmmmmmmmmm!!

Mom:  I READ THE DIRECTIONS!!

Daughter: But mom!!

Mom: ENOUGH NOW, I READ THE DIRECTIONS!!!

So what was really happening here?  Was the daughter back-talking or could it be that Mom back talking the back-talker?

Back-talking is a challenge because our children know exactly which buttons to push, and sometimes we can get caught up in the emotions of it all instead of rationally looking at what may be happening.
Here are some tools to help you get LESS backtalk and diffuse these types of power struggles.

The first tool is to take a deeper look at why your child might be talking back. Does she want to be right? In this instance, could that be OK? What if Mom had said, “You are right dear”, and just let it go? Would it be the end of the world? Does the daughter have some need for conversation or attention and this is the only way she knows how to get it? Is there a way to meet her need without engaging in a power struggle?  Is the daughter in a revenge cycle whereby she is trying to “get back” at mom for something?  How can mom and daughter make amends?  If we look deeper, we may see the real need the back-talker is trying to get met.

The second tool is to take responsibility for your part. That means take a look at what is going on for you when you are engaging in this manner. Do you feel the need to “prove” you are right or could you just be comfortable with silently “knowing” you are right? What messages were given to you as a child about “being right”?  Is there a way to let go of this a little in order to disengage from the power struggle?  Have you had a stressful morning/afternoon/evening, which would make it harder NOT to engage? Is there pressure on you to complete the fundraiser/event/homework in too little time and without enough help? Can you reach out for assistance?  Also being able to identify your triggers can really help diminish these episodes.

A third tool would be to refuse to engage in the struggle.  In the above instance, what would have happened if Mom refused to engage? It could have looked something like this:

Daughter: Mom, you’re supposed to write Adult or Child on the tickets!

Mom: No, I read the instructions and it said we didn’t have to do that.

Daughter: But Mommmmmm!

Mom: I am not going to engage with you over this.

Daughter: Mommmmmmmm!

Mom: (zipped lip)

Daughter: Mom!!………… Mom? (possibly finds something else to do, starts to think about why mom isn’t engaging.)

By not engaging (and stating so up front), mom is sending the message that she is choosing NOT to enter into a power struggle.  By doing so, she puts the ownness of her daughter’s behavior back on her. PLUS, she is also setting limits and modeling what acceptable behavior looks like.   The more we engage, the more back-talk we can get back.

This technique can also work if the backtalk is more inflammatory (i.e. “Why don’t YOU pick up my shoes!”), but it CAN be more difficult to say nothing if you are feeling REALLY disrespected- (bigger buttons pushed!)
Next time, I will discuss more specific techniques to use with inflammatory backtalk.

Hope this helps!