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Ask Elizabeth: End Preschooler Back Talk!

When you first hear your preschooler talk back to you, it is often a simple expression of their emotion: “No! I don’t want to.” It is important to differentiate between your child’s feelings and how they are expressing them. They are absolutely entitled to their feelings, but the problem is in the way that they are voicing them. A disrespectful pattern can quickly emerge and worsen if the communication pattern is not pointed out and corrected from the beginning.

Steps to take to stop back talk

Here are a few helpful ways to handle preschooler back talk. Obviously, this type of thing is easier to manage if you catch it early, but it is possible to break bad habits with similar parenting methods.

Don’t empower back talk. It is common for back talk to escalate quickly into a power struggle and an argument, but it is important that you remain focused in addressing the problem behavior rather than the subject matter being argued. You asked your child to put their toys away; they snap back in refusal. They do not have to want to put their toys away, but they do have to communicate respectfully.

Turn it into a teaching moment. Some children get into the habit of talking back without realizing how often they are doing it. When your child talks back to you, bring their attention to what they are doing. Get down to their eye level and explain, “Talking to me that way is called ‘back talk’ and it is not polite. It is not the right way to tell me what you think.”

Give them the tools to otherwise express themselves. It is much more difficult to stop an undesired behavior than it is to replace it with a more appropriate behavior. Focus on teaching your child how to politely and respectfully voice their opinion - this is a skill that will be valuable throughout their lives. Give your child a script to help them change their behavior - “What I want to hear you say is, ‘Mommy, I don’t like those pants. Can I please wear the blue ones instead?’”

Be aware of bad influences. Children tend to repeat and use behaviors and phrases that they hear in the world around them in order to learn and grow (adults do this, too!). Pay attention to other children who may be modeling back talk, and keep an eye out for movies or TV programs that your child may be exposed to. What goes in children’s ears tends to come out of their mouths.

Set clear expectations. Back talk, arguing, cheekiness, sassiness; whatever you label it, it is a common issue that arises throughout childhood. It is not going to be something that you deal with once and then never have to worry about again. Set clear expectations for your child and stand by them. Consistency and gentle guidance are key to approaching these parenting issues.

Maintain consistency. You’ve identified back talk, your preschooler understands the concept, they have appropriate words that they can use to express their feelings, and now, you need to be consistent in how you respond to these situations. Whatever approach you are taking to stop the back talk, you need to use every single time that it comes up - no matter how busy you are at that particular moment. The more that this is addressed, the quicker it goes away.

Hopefully back talk will turn into a rare occurrence instead of an everyday battle.

Elizabeth is a mother of four, and author of the bestselling No-Cry Solution series on topics such as sleep, discipline, picky eating, and potty training. She is known worldwide as the voice of practical, respectful parenting. Check out her latest book available to purchase on Amazon, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns. For more information, visit This article is an excerpt from The No-Cry Discipline Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.




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