Lesson: Translating “Talking Back” Behavior

translating talking back behavior

Translating Talking Back Behavior

“Don’t you talk back to me, young lady!” Doesn’t that phrase send chills up your spine? Did you like it? So, why pass it on?

Talking back was problematic for our parents and grandparents when bringing up children to be seen and not heard held high value. Parents weren’t going for independence; they demanded obedience. But even though we now have research on children’s brains and emotional needs, and we want our children to have the voices that we never had, we still expect children to snap in line. The idea of “talking back” sits rudely in our subconscious minds, triggering old emotional scars and provoking our ineffective, yet familiar, reactions.

I asked parents for “talking back” behaviors. Most were in response to being asked to do something.

“Hold on a minute” or “I know.”
“That’s not fair” or “But why…?
“You are kidding me, right?
“I hate…” rants
“You’re so mean. You hate me!”
“What happens if I don’t?”
“You’re not the boss of me” or “I’m not going to do that.”
“I hate you. You’re dumb.”
Door slamming
“Get me my water, slave!”

Do we seriously expect our children to “yes ma’am” us when we tell them to do something they don’t want? Is it really not okay for them to say, “No” or “It’s not fair” or even “But why…”? What do we expect them to be prepared for when peers offer drugs, alcohol, etc. Is this another double standard?

Judging any behavior as “talking back” provokes emotions of anger and thus controlling, angry reactions—yelling, punishment, and ineffective consequences. Which in turn results in “talking back”.

One mother reported that talking back is when her words, “Don’t talk to me that way,” get back, “Don’t you talk to me that way.” We typically don’t judge our own behavior as rude or disrespectful. This child is clear, “If you don’t want me to talk to you rudely, don’t you talk to me rudely.” Imagine if you had said that to your parents.

Most of us were brought up by a double standard. It’s okay for parents to talk and behave however they want, but children must be respectful no matter what they may be feeling. It’s time we stopped using double standards and start following the golden rule.

What to do:

  1. Stop, step back, and translate the behaviors. When I asked parents what they thought their children were saying, most answered, Stop trying to control me or I don’t like what you said. When we think about what they are trying to tell us and don’t take their behavior at face value, we are better able to respond rationally.
  2. Lighten up and play. Sometimes we take our children’s behavior too seriously and catastrophize that, “Get me my water, slave” or “You’re not the boss of me” portends a bigoted, power-hungry dictator. Playing the game can lead to laughter and silliness. A lesson on slavery and prejudice will likely get an eye-roll.
  3. End double standards. Be the model you want your children to become. Be very conscious of disrespectful and inconsiderate remarks and demands you make on your children. Pay attention to the mirror they may be presenting you with.
  4. Stop punishing your child for rude behavior (includes taking away privileges or time out). Punishment is disrespectful and rude to a child. It is power held and teaches a child that controlling another is how to get what you want.
  5. Set realistic expectations. Do you expect your child to do what you want when you want it—cheerfully? Allow grumbles and “I know” and “Hold on a minute”. If she is doing what you ask, allow the steam to escape while it’s being done. If he’s in the middle of something, ask him when you can expect it done. Taking the trash out, shutting off the computer or going to bed is not your child’s agenda, it’s yours.
  6. Respond to testing behaviors as experimenting. “What if I don’t?”, “I don’t have to” and “I hate you” or “You hate me”, are experiments. Will you love me no matter what? is the question of the child who doesn’t feel unconditionally accepted.
  7. Once all your words and behavior are respectful and considerate (anger can still be respectful), then you have a fair and logical argument to a child’s rude comment. Stick with, “I don’t like to be spoken to that way. Can you try again, please?” until you both find agreement.

Respect is learned by feeling respected. If you demand respect at all times, you might get obedience but you probably won’t get respect.

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