Sassy Kids: How to Deal with a Mouthy Child

by James Lehman, MSW
Sassy Kids: How to Deal with a Mouthy Child

Are you tired of disrespectful talk from your kids? Do your children respond with eye-rolling and sarcasm to everything you say? Most—if not all—kids go through phases when they are sassy, mouthy, or disrespectful. As a parent, it’s hard to know when to let it slide—and when to address the problem. James Lehman explains where to draw the line—and tells you how you can manage sassy talk in your home.

If you don't respond to a behavior and give it power, the more likely that it will become extinct; it's going to die out like the dinosaurs.

Parents often ask me, “How do you differentiate between disrespectful, sassy or ‘fresh’ language and abusive language?” I believe these behaviors are found on a continuum—let’s call it the “Inappropriate Verbal Response Continuum.” They are triggered by your child’s emotions: primarily frustration, anger and a need to get back at others when he thinks something is unfair. On one end of the continuum is abuse. The intent of abusive language is generally a personal attack upon another person. It’s meant to hurt the other person and make them feel small and afraid. Verbal abuse often includes foul language and disturbing threats of violence designed to intimidate the other person to get them to give in.

Related: How to deal with verbal abuse and foul language in kids.

Kids who use abusive language and behavior want to attack you so that they can control you. They don't care about consequences; they're not intimidated by them. Abusive behavior has to be handled very clearly and sternly. (I won’t be addressing verbally abusive attacks in this article. If your child’s behavior is verging on—or has already entered into the verbal abuse stage, please read “Kids Who Are Verbally Abusive: The Creation of a Defiant Child” and “How to Stop Threats and Verbal Abuse” in EP.)

Responding to Disrespectful Comments

Why do kids talk to adults in disrespectful ways? I believe children and teens do a lot of things because they don't know how to express emotions appropriately. They learn a lot from watching other kids and people around them. If your daughter is frustrated and doesn't know how to show it, and she sees somebody else roll their eyes and make a face, she’ll absorb that lesson without even thinking about it. Then the next time she’s frustrated at home, she’ll roll her eyes and make a face at you. If she gets a reaction, that will often just reinforce the behavior, because she knows she’s gotten to you. Don’t kid yourself: if you threaten your child by saying, “Don't do that to me, young lady, or you'll be grounded,” that will only make her do it more.

When my son was in middle school, for some reason he went through a period where he said, “Oh, sure,” to everything in a sarcastic way. I responded to him once or twice by saying, “Is something wrong? Why are you using that tone with me?” And he said, “What tone? I don't know what you mean.” I said, “I just don't like the way you're talking to me; try to talk better.” His answer? “Oh, sure.” I became a little frustrated, but I also knew better than to show it. I didn't want to empower that behavior—or necessarily stifle it. Instead, my wife and I allied ourselves together and were able to laugh it off; eventually, it wore itself out.

Related: Does your child talk back?

And that's the important thing to remember here. If you respond to mildly annoying behavior in a strong way repeatedly, you give it power and strength. As your child gets into adolescence, he’ll start to find ways to push your buttons. When you confront him, he'll say very innocently, “What did I say? What did I do?”

I personally think that the less you challenge it, the less you give it power. Remember, the less power you give it, the more it's going to die its natural death. That process is called “extinction.” If you don't respond to a behavior and give it power, the more likely that it will become extinct; it's going to die out like the dinosaurs. But if you feed the behavior and play with it, you’ll only nurture the disrespect. In my opinion, the worst thing you can do is challenge it inconsistently: let’s say sometimes you let it slide and then sometimes you confront your child. When you do that, those behaviors tend to become more entrenched. I understand that many times it's not easy to ignore mildly disrespectful behavior. That’s why I think it’s helpful if you can talk to your spouse, a friend or relative about it.

How to Respond to Sarcasm

In the middle of the inappropriate verbal response continuum is sarcasm. Kids generally manifest this in two ways. They either make sarcastic comments when they’re feeling like they’re under pressure, or they use chronic sarcasm as a way to manage their angry feelings safely. By “safely” I mean it’s safer to show their anger through sarcasm than it is through any other means they’ve learned.

Usually sarcasm is learned and modeled by adults, and so part of the response to sarcasm in kids is for the adults to speak differently. Many times when adults are angry at their kid’s performance, they make sarcastic comments. These comments are hurtful and kids develop a defense to that by becoming sarcastic themselves. You’ll see kids who are really cynical and sarcastic using that language in all areas of their life. Its function is to help them deflect any blame while downloading a piece of anger onto the person who’s the target.

By the way, I like it when comedians use sarcastic humor, but not when a child or adult talks to me that way, because it’s belittling. That feeling cuts down on communication. All these mechanisms—sarcasm, disrespect, sassy talk—curtail communication. When you see this behavior, you have to ask yourself, “What’s being communicated that’s making my child respond that way?” It’s usually not hard to discover what your child is threatened by that leads to sarcasm. Sometimes it’s a secret, sometimes it’s a task he hasn’t completed, and sometimes it’s a power struggle. Whatever it is, once you’ve identified it, it becomes much easier to defuse. “Don’t be sarcastic” is an appropriate thing to say. A really good question to ask is, “How come you get sarcastic whenever we talk about your history homework?” It’s effective because it both identifies the issue and puts your child on the spot.

Related: How to communicate effectively with your defiant teen--and get him to comply.

A very powerful way to respond to sarcasm is to simply say, “Don’t talk to me that way, I don’t like it,” and turn around and walk away. That way, you’re taking all the power out of the room with you. If you argue or try to make a point, you’re giving your child more power. Another effective way of managing it is to say, “Why do you get sarcastic when I ask you about homework?” If your child says, “I don’t get sarcastic when I talk about homework,” then say, “Fine, then let’s keep going. I expect you not to be sarcastic.” If, on the other hand, your child says, "I get sarcastic because you don’t understand,” you can say, “It’s your job to make me understand. And sarcasm doesn’t help.”

When Your Child Uses Sarcasm with Siblings

When your kids use this kind of language with each other, I know it’s hard as a parent to stay out of it—but you may be surprised to hear that I think you really have to try. It’s important for all your kids to learn how to stand up for themselves. Believe me, they're going to get it in the schoolyard, on the school bus, or in the classroom no matter what. That doesn't make it right and it doesn't make it good. But the bottom line is that they need to build up a callous to these kinds of comments. Think of it this way: at the beginning of the summer, using a shovel hurts. You get blisters, and your hands are sore and tender. After awhile, they get calloused and then they don't hurt anymore. That's exactly what you want your kids to do with mildly sarcastic comments.

When something rubs your child the wrong way, try to not jump in there unless something is being said that’s really abusive, disgusting or demeaning. If that’s happening and your child escalates, intervene immediately and pull that child aside. Give him a choice of two things at that time: to either change his language, or be removed from the group. Calling your child aside is important because often the embarrassment being corrected in front of another kid or children can cause him to escalate even further. If he does, you’ll need to deal with it, but you don't want to promote the likelihood of that happening in the first place. Is it the end of the world if you give your child a consequence in front of the other kids? No, but I think those things are best dealt with privately. If your goal is to get him to change his behavior, separating him from others gives him a better chance of hearing what you’re saying.

“Duh! Nice one, Mom.”

It’s easy and natural to become irritated when your kid says, “Nice one, Mom,” or “Duh.” This is where you have to draw the line between what kind of disrespect requires your attention and what doesn't. I think that things that are not a personal attack or which are not meant to demean you can be handled by just trying to ignore them. “Planned ignoring” is the key here. Planned ignoring is the concept where you decide consciously to ignore attention-seeking behaviors as long as they’re not overtly harmful or abusive to others.

This is tricky, because there are also terms which might be considered mild by some, but which are actually put downs that I believe you need to address. When your child says, “That's stupid,” to you, make no mistake—he means you're stupid. And by the way, when you tell your child “That's stupid” and he says, “Don't call me stupid,” I don’t think you should try to play some word game with him. If you say, “Well, I didn't say you were stupid, I said the behavior was stupid,” your child is going to see right through that. My advice is, don't use the word “stupid” in a sentence when you're dealing with your child unless you want him to feel stupid. There are plenty of other words that are not demeaning. And by the same token, if your child says, “That's stupid,” you don’t have to say, “Are you calling me stupid?” You can say very clearly, “There's no name calling around this house.” I believe there should be a consequence for name calling. Set limits on it very clearly and hold your child accountable. Every time he says the word “stupid,” to someone in the family, for example, he goes to bed 15 minutes earlier or has 15 minutes less TV time. He should be held accountable from the get go.

Related: How to deal with disrespectful children and teens.

When Your Child Says, “Do It Yourself.”

When you ask your child to do something, and he comes back with “Do it yourself,” I think your response should be very clear: “I'm not going to do it myself. I told you to do it, and you will have the following consequence until you do it.” For younger kids, you might take away a toy until they’ve complied. For older kids, you might take away video games, TV, their cell phone or iPod. In the Total Transformation Program, I call this technique, “Stop the Show.”

If your child gets rude and says, “I'm not going to do it; this isn’t my chore,” you can say, “Well, I asked you to do it and I want you to do it now.” Don't get into whose chore it is. If the noncompliance persists, then the show stops. In other words, whatever your child is doing is over for the time being. Have your child take a seat in his room without any kind of stimulation around like music or a computer. Understand that when kids get over-stimulated, they get stuck. So the first step in getting them “unstuck” is to avoid stimulating them by demanding things. Rather, take away all the stimuli that you can. Sending them to their rooms and shutting off electronics helps. Research shows that after three minutes with no stimulation, your child's body slows down. So wait for a few minutes, and then go in and say, “Let's talk about this.” Don't say, “Do you want to talk about it?” Sometimes we ask kids questions when we don't really want them to make a decision. So try saying, “Let's talk about this. I asked you to mow the lawn. You won’t be able to come out of your room until you agree to do it. Would you like to do it now or do you want to stay in your room a little longer?” And if he says, “No, I’m not doing it,” then say, “Okay, let me know when you’re ready,” and leave the room. If he wants his privileges back, he will comply eventually.

Related: Giving the right consequences to your child.

When Kids Are Fresh in Public

These days, adolescents have less fear of being sassy, mouthy or disrespectful to their parents and other adults in public. I think if they're acting that way in public, then you can correct them in public. Say, “Don’t talk to me that way, I don’t like it.” If the rude attitude doesn't stop, then take them to the car.

If your child is being smart alecky to other adults, you can use the same technique. Say “Don't talk to Mrs. Smith that way, I don't like it.” If your child persists, you can say, “Let's go. Goodbye, Mrs. Smith.” Take your child and leave. By the way, if it's another parent's child being rude to you, I still think you can say, “Don't talk to me that way Tommy, I don't like it.” Then turn away from him. Use very simple, matter-of-fact behavior. Have a serious look on your face; you don't have to look mean or angry, but don't look like you're cracking a joke either.

By the way, I don't believe in giving your child a second or third chance when he’s nasty or rude to you. I think this creates bad habits in kids. From the time you start giving him chances, your child will say to himself, “Well, the first one is free, so I won’t get in trouble if I call my mom a name.” I know it may be heartbreaking at first not to give your child a second chance, but that's the best way for him to learn.

 


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

READER'S COMMENTS

Wow, that is GREAT advice. I needed to hear that. My 10 and 8 year olds watch too much sassy TV and I shut it off or change the channel. I am often frustrated with my sons' non-compliance and angry with their disobedience. My husband is verbally rude and abusive at times, often swearing and making the situation worst . My two boys have picked up on that and my verbal bouts with him to stop. I am trying to diffuse all the harsh words all of the time. My boys are disrespectful and disobey and I do send them to their room to cool off or take a privledge(s) away if they don't comply with the task or homework or are themselves abusive. (1, 2, 3, privledge gone!) It is working, but I have to be on it ALL the time. I think if my spouse had a gentle spirit verbally we would not be in this so deep. When I listened to the first DVD/CD of the Total Tranformation I learned HE was verbally abusive with Me and I told him the next time he started that rude talk with me to STOP or leave as it was abusive and he does it just so he can get his way. He has cut it down some, but now I need to get him to stop name calling my kids and swearing in anger at us all. He would benefit from watching these tapes, but he is busy and he won't as it would convict him of his part.

Comment By : Hopeful Mom

The article had several good reminders. The parent needs to be an example of the behavior he wants his children to exhibit.

Comment By : Sheldon

This was a great article for me to read. I have a 6 year old little girl and a step daughter that is 7. I have always taught my daughter to be nice and to come to me if she has a problem. In this past year i gained a stepdaughter that is very mouthy which i let her father deal with, but when it comes to her and my daughter, Alexys I have such a hard time staying out of it, because i was always the one to step in and defend Alexys. I really needed to hear to let her stand up for herself. It may take some time, but eventually she will learn. I don't want to encourage her to be mean, but If anyone has any ideas I would like some tips on teacher her how to stand up for herself in confrontation.

Comment By : Sarah Darnell

I get this mostly. The part that's not addressed that I wonder about is when you have 5 kids sitting at the table and the eye rolling or scarcasm that you would normally let go with an individual child becomes a communication between the other kids that the child is the one in charge.

Comment By : Church

In response to Sarah's request for ideas. I find it a bit heart breaking that Alexys has to deal with her step sister treating her poorly. Your daughter is only six and her aggressor 7. This is a situation I would not stay out of. Alexys home situation was alterred and she needs you to stand up for her in this instance. Both of the girls are young and need to be taught how to treat others. They also need to know not to allow others to walk all over them. In a mature manner, they need to stand up for themselves. Use the mouthy moments as teachable moments. Best Wishes! Ann

Comment By : Ann

sometimes humor works best, not teasing though

Comment By : simplsimon

* Dear ‘Church’: You raise a very good question. Many parents experience these expressions of ‘attitude’. It can feel like the kids are ‘ganging up’ on you when they’re sharing glances across the dinner table. But even if they are in agreement with each other, they’re still not in charge of the household. In this circumstance, it’s best not to comment on the ‘eye rolling’. Let that go so you’re not giving it a lot of power and impact. Sarcastic remarks at the table can be handled differently. Try saying, “It’s not okay to speak that way.” If the sarcasm continues, tell that child that they need to take a few minutes away from the table but can return when they can speak politely. Do your best to create a friendly, casual environment around the dinner table. Save discussions about problems or behavior concerns for family meetings. We appreciate your question and wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

great article..btw what if the minute you take away privileges or walk away the child bawls or screams n follows you around..what then?

Comment By : ibubibu

* Dear ‘ibubibu’: In Lesson 3 of the Total Transformation program, James Lehman will teach you how to use the three effective parenting roles: Problem Solving, Limit Setting and the Teaching and Coaching role. If your child is refusing to take a time out, follows you and cries or screams, ‘coach’ them to calm down. “You need to find a way to calm yourself down.” Sometimes you can add a suggestion of what works to calm them, such as, “Try lying on your bed and listening to your music.” Keep what you say to a minimum and don’t get back into the argument they want to have with you—you’re coaching them here, not reasoning with them. Call us here at the Support Line. We’ll be glad to give you specific ideas on how to use the tools in the Total Transformation program.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Thank you for mentioning the problem with giving second chances for everything. I saw this all the time when I used to teach aftercare: the kids knew they could get away with anything once. Now I see it in the kids coming in with their parents to my office. It's always interesting to see the behavior change when the parents are there. This is an important enough point that you should do an entire column on it.

Comment By : DrS

I get the eye rolling, talking back but am experiencing words such as hate, stupid, and phrases such as I hate my life, I am a failure. My 9 yr. old is a special ed student in 3rd grade and has been diagnosed with ADHD. These behaviors are mostly in the home environment. There is also a lot of acting out in anger. This is good information and would like to know more about how to address these statements so he will look more positively at how to deal with school and relationships.

Comment By : mimiburd

I totally agree a parent needs to set the tone and be in control and reinforce consistantly that disrespect will not be tolerated. At the same time do it with respect because children learn what they see.

Comment By : Deb Z.

* Dear ‘mimiburd’: It’s not uncommon for kids with ADHD to feel discouraged. Because your son talks about hating his life and that he is a failure, consider having him work with a mental health professional who specializes in ADHD. This disorder can create real challenges to controlling behavior, effecting school success and social relationships. The Total Focus program, written by Dr. Robert Myers, will help. Dr. Myers is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of ADHD and became involved in this work because his son had this disorder. He believes positive reinforcement is the key to improving behavior and performance and has specific techniques in his program that he has used in his practice to help kids concentrate, stay on-task and behave better in school. Look at www.trytotalfocus.com.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Good advice in the articl. We have gotten stuck with my oldest. My son will refuse to do anything, whether it is go to his room or something else. He will also refuse to hand over his ipod, or stop what he is doing. If you try to take something away, he won't actually get physical, but will set himself up so that you can't do anything, unless you were to get physcial. How do we take the control back in this situation? If you walk away and ignore, he gets away without the consequence. Would love some input.

Comment By : rock6pack

* Dear ‘rock6pack’: It will take a little practice when you first start using the techniques in the Total Transformation. Don’t forget to work to change one behavior at a time. This can be really challenging but it’s important so that you’re not in conflict all day long and your child remains focused. James recommends starting with a behavior that is most problematic and, more importantly, has the best chance for improvement. You do not want to overwhelm yourself or your child and you will build on this first success. Call the Support Line for help. We can work with you to come up with a game plan to change “My son will refuse to do anything” into a behavior goal that is measurable by you and your son. Remember that consequences are only a part of the solution. The most important piece to changing behavior is the problem solving conversation that James Lehman teaches in Lesson 6 of the Total Transformation Program. Using the problem solving focus will help avoid getting into power struggles, such as trying to make him hand over something or make him stop what he’s doing. James wrote a great article on this topic: Avoiding Power Struggles with Defiant Children: Declaring Victory is Easier Than You Think. We appreciate your question and invite you to keep in touch. We’re here to help.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I'd like to know what to do specifically when my child has a friend over and she is sassy or disrespectful to me. I hate to say anything to her in front of her friends. I believe this is a turn-off to the other children even though my child thinks she's cool for getting by with it. Do I take her aside and talk to her or simply take the friend home as punishment?

Comment By : Ander

* Dear Ander: James Lehman answers your questions in his article entitled: The Obnoxious Child: When an "Audience" Makes Behavior Worse. To handle your daughter when she’s sassy or disrespectful to you in front of her friends, James recommends that you prepare your child ahead of time. Tell your daughter if she is rude to you in front of her friends, you are going to ignore her remarks but you will be asking to speak to her in private. If the sassy comments or disrespect occurs a second time, correct your daughter in front of her friends. You could say, “Don’t talk to me that way just because your friends are here. Remember we talked about that.” After making this statement, just walk away from your child. If it happens a third time, James recommends that you either have the company go home or have your child stay in her room alone. We appreciate your question and are confident that James Lehman’s article will be helpful. Please keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

10 year old daughter separated from father by courts he refuses to come see her at supervised contact this has gone on for a couple of years now that my child has started middle school she is very cheeky to both me and her grandmother recently i hav grounded her on several ocasions i am worried she may turn out like her father !! who is 32 and still rules his own mother

Comment By : wong

* Dear wong: Thanks for writing in. We appreciate your question. First we would recommend that you guard against thinking that your daughter is just like your ex or will turn out like him. She is not your ex, of course, but her own unique person. We don’t want her to have an ‘excuse’ for her behavior—that she can’t help it because she’s just like her Dad. Instead, hold her accountable for her own behavior choices, regardless of the influence of her friends or her father. Another reason to be careful when you compare her to her Dad is that if your daughter knows you have a negative opinion of her father as a person, she will feel very hurt that you feel the same about her. It’s difficult to tolerate—but not unusual for girls to go through a period during middle school where they become very ‘cheeky’. When she is fresh, say, “It’s not okay to speak to me that way.” Continue by using the techniques in this article. They’re very good and should result in a reduction of ‘Sassy Talk’ in your home.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My 12-year-old son can't simply answer a question with a "Yes" or "No"; he has to use an offended tone of voice (which I can't duplicate in text) that makes the answer sound more like, "Yes/No--why would you ask me such a stupid question?" I have a problem with telling him "Don't talk to me that way; I don't like it" and walking away in cases like these. Isn't that giving him just what he wants--to be left alone so he doesn't have to talk to his parent?

Comment By : Paul

* Dear Paul: A lot of parents feel the same way you do. Parents often tell me that if they say “Don’t talk to me that way. I don’t like it” and then walk away as the Total Transformation Program recommends, they feel like they are letting their children “get away” with something or the child is “winning.” Let’s put it this way: we are talking about tone of voice here and tone of voice is attitude. James recommends that we focus on behavior, not attitude. For example: focus on whether your child is doing his homework instead of how he answers you when you ask if it’s done. Let me be clear- I’m not saying your child’s way of responding to you is okay; it’s not. However, we feel the most effective way to handle attitude is to ignore it or do what you described in your comment. When you walk away, this sets a limit and lets your son know that you are in control and that his attitude doesn’t get him anything. Some children use an annoyed tone to push their parents’ buttons and invite them to a fight rather than to get them to go away. Whatever your son’s reason for talking like this, you come out on top if you ignore it. Please refer to this article for more information about attitude: How to Deal with Teens with Attitude.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Is expecting good manners too much to ask? I am trying to raise a young lady, so if she burps out loud, I expect her to say "excuse me." This expectation usually leads to a fight. Should this be a "choose your battle" thing? It's important to know that my 14 year old daughter chooses to make everything a fight.

Comment By : Andrea

* Dear Andrea: It certainly is not too much to expect good manners. The way you address a lack of good manners is very important. It might be helpful to reiterate your expectations to her at a calm time. You might also set up an incentive structure where she earns a little something extra (like extra computer time) after each meal during which she uses good manners and excuses herself. James always said, “You get more of what you pay attention to.” An incentive system helps you by motivating your daughter to use better manners and also gives you an opportunity to pay attention to positive behavior. If she does not use good manners, pick your battles. The most effective approach is to ignore it—she already knows what you expect so you don’t need to keep telling her. Rather, she loses her incentive for the evening and she can try again to make a better choice at the next meal. And remember: you don’t have to attend every fight your child invites you to. If she sees that her current table habits push your buttons, she will only continue to do it.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I think ignoring it is awful advice. I'm sure the teachers won't ignore it and wait for the behavior to become extinct, nor will the police or any other authority figure, so we are doing the children a disservice allowing bad behavior with o consequences because the real world is harsh and un-forgiving. It's a great theory (if you lived in the woods.. ALONE) but not realistic. They need to learn that their social behavior has immediate consequences.

Comment By : Lavinialuna

I have a 16 year old girl she was living with her dad but now staying at her grandpas but the problem is she thinks she can stay anywhere and expect him to take her to school the next day. Im wanting to move her in with me and I need help with rules

Comment By : dont no what to do

* To "don't no what to do": It sounds like you are in a difficult situation with your 16 year old. It is unclear from your question which rules you are seeking assistance with. It might be helpful to focus on the most troubling issues first as you are developing rules for when she comes to stay with you. Keep in mind that you have the most control over the rules in your household, and you cannot control how other adults choose to hold her accountable (or not) while she is staying with them. Here is an article about creating what James Lehman called “a culture of accountability” in your home: http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Create-a-Culture-of-Accountability-in-Your-Home.php How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Line Advisor

i have a daughter 10 yrs old . she will be great one minute and as soon as you ask her to something the next she retaliates with no im not doing it and when we tell her she will do what we ask her to do ,quite blatantly she calls us names or screams at us .she has been doing this since a very young age. after being punished (sent to room )and us having a good talk to her about what she has done wrong telling her that she is better than that,she will come and apolagise to us .but if we ask her to do something 5 minutes later it all starts again.she does not seem to register the talk we just had with her . its getting out of hand and we dont know what to do anymore .

Comment By : everton2455

* To ‘everton2455’: James Lehman felt that kids act out because they don’t lack effective problem solving skills. It might be that your daughter doesn’t know another way to solve the problem of not wanting to do something. So, instead of telling her “You EM will EM do this…” which can incite a power struggle, let your daughter know she has x amount of time to get the task done and you’ll come back and check on her in a few minutes, then walk away. Also try to have some problem-solving discussion with her instead of giving speeches about how she is better than her behavior. These problem-solving conversations should be focused on your expectations and the skills she needs to meet them. You can find more information on problem-solving conversations in this article: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems." We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

my 9 yr old stepson is out of hand he had temper problems hits himself and doors etc when he doesnt want to do what we have asked, he is being disterbing in school and the teachers are telling us his lies and cant be bothered attitude are out of hand. he lies alot and refuses to do things we emptyed his room several times took xbox nand things off him grounded etc but he has i dont care attitude. he is not intrested in anything we have tried punishment treats he has alot of attention good and bad we are stuck on what to do now!!!

Comment By : littlevickz

* To 'littlevickz': It sounds like you are in a difficult situation with your stepson right now. It can be helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed to step back and focus on his behavior and holding him accountable rather than his attitude about receiving a consequence for his actions. Based on what you have written, it might be helpful to focus on doing what he is told to do without hitting. We find that it is most effective to do some problem solving with him about what he can do to help himself comply with what you are asking. For example, he might decide to take some deep breaths instead of hitting when you ask him to do something. You can also tell him what you will do to hold him accountable; for example, he is not allowed to play his X-Box until his chores are done each day, and if he decides to hit instead of using his other strategy, he is not allowed to go on the computer that evening. If you are consistently using these strategies and your son continues to hit himself, we advise checking in with his doctor to make sure that everything is OK. I am including a link to an article on effective consequences that I think you might find helpful: How to Get Your Child to Listen: 9 Secrets to Giving Effective Consequences. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

my 13 year old daughter always think she is better than me. she is a smart kid with straight As but she think that she is too smart and that she would always talk down to people. she is very very sarcastic to me and she loves laughing at me, my family and other people when we make mistakes. i use the " don't talk to me like that, I don't like it " and " don't talk to people like that, its not good " a lot but i don't think its helping at all because she would still keeps on doing it. any input on how to deal with this issue would greatly appreciated?

Comment By : susan

* Hi Susan. It’s so irritating when you’re dealing with a child who belittles others. It’s excellent that you are setting firm limits with your daughter when this happens. What we recommend adding is walking away after you do that, if you don’t already. You might also want to coach the other members of the family to walk away as well. That way, the whole family is sending the same message to your daughter when she becomes sarcastic. This will help ensure that her rude behavior isn’t being encouraged. Even if you and the other family members are consistently walking away from your daughter when she is acting this way, it can still take quite a while for the behavior to stop. Keep doing what you’re doing and also add some problem solving later—what was her reason for laughing and what can she do differently next time to be more respectful? If she is getting verbally abusive—calling someone stupid or making it a personal attack that is hurtful—it would be a good idea to give her a consequence later on as well. Keep up the good work! Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I coach my 7 year old's little league team and I am constantly getting back talk and rude comments from him on the field. If he misses a ball or does not make a play correctly, if I try to help him to do it better, he gets an attitude and yells "I don't care about baseball." Now I know this isn't true. He loves to play. He doesn't like to look bad in front of other people. However, if I ask him to hustle, he walks slowly. If I ask him to do something a particular way, he does it the opposite intentionally. I've tried talking to him but it seems to be getting worse. Any advice?

Comment By : mgwhite24

* To ‘mgwhite24’: It’s so frustrating when your child is being mouthy or blatantly defying your instructions. It’s even harder when you have an audience of other kids and parents around to witness it all. The first thing to do here is avoid giving this behavior any power. Don’t get into power struggles with him on the field or call him out on it in public. Just ignore it and focus on the other kids. If you pay too much attention to it, you’re likely to see it continue and worsen. Secondly, talk to your son at home about what’s going on. Share what you’ve noticed, just like you did with us, and ask him what’s going on with him or what his reason is for doing these things (note: don’t ask why questions- they invite blame, and use a calm, business-like tone). Hear your son out—does he feel like you are picking on him? Does he feel singled out? Does he feel like you are not paying enough attention to him? These are possible problems he is experiencing-- his answer will tell you the problem he’s trying to solve with this challenging behavior. Once you understand the problem the two of you can talk about what he can do differently in the future. Here is an article about problem-solving for more information: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems." We wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I'm completely confused. My natural tendency is to ignore inappropriate behavior to a fault. The problem is I have let my 14 year-old daughter get to a point where she doesn't even realize when she is being disrespectful unless I point it out. I get exhausted constantly pointing it out, and it drives my girlfriend nuts and makes her not want to be around my daughter the majority of the time. For the past 2 months, I have become much stricter with the consequences for bad attitude, but every time I let my guard down and ignore a few sarcastic or rude comments it's like I have to start all over again. It doesn't help that my daughter is completely self-absorbed and jealous of my relationship with my girlfriend because now my daughter doesn't get ALL of my attention. I have dedicated time with both of them individually, but my daughter keeps pushing boundaries and I don't know what to do.

Comment By : cd312

* To ”cd312”: Thank you for taking the time to ask a very good question. I understand why you would feel confused. In the moment when you are ignoring the disrespectful behavior, it can feel like you’re letting your daughter get away with something. It is going to be most effective not to give the behavior a lot of attention. We would advise that you follow up later with a problem-solving conversation and a task-oriented consequence. For example, let’s say your daughter says something disrespectful to you. In the moment, we would suggest saying something like “Talking to me that way is not going to get you what you want” and then turn around and walk away or stop engaging with her. Try to remain calm and business like during this interaction. Later on, during a calm moment, you can talk to your daughter about what she had done and what she can do differently next time. Then, use a task-oriented consequence. You could say “When you show me you can go two hours without talking disrespectfully, then you can have your computer time.” Here are a few articles that can be very informative for your situation: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems", How to Get Your Child to Listen: 9 Secrets to Giving Effective Consequences and Disrespectful Child Behavior: Where Do You Draw the Line? Good luck to you and your family as you work through this issue. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

Okay, that's good advice...It's kind of hard to read though, I encourage more use of paragraphs, but well written. I have a question, though. What if your children's friends are influencing your children, you know? Peer Pressure? How do You COPE? I can't say, "don't be her/his friend" because I have known the parents for a LONG time, before their child got bad, and they are nice, we are neighbours, and we are almost always at each other's houses. But this goes to show. Please, I need help! Thanks so much for an answer!

Comment By : Sasha S

* To “Sasha S”: You ask a great question. Peer pressure is probably one of the more challenging issues that parents have to deal with and knowing the best way to address it isn’t always easy. You’re correct that simply telling your child not to hang out with those friends may not be the most effective way of approaching the issue. As James Lehman suggests in the article Does Your Child Have "Toxic" Friends? 6 Ways to Deal with the Wrong Crowd setting limits and using structure are great ways parents can address this issue. For example, you can limit the amount of time he can spend with those friends or you can establish a structure around where and when he can go out. It’s also going to be important to hold your child accountable for behavior and choices, regardless of whether he was influenced by his peers or not. As James points out in his article Stop the Blame Game: How to Teach Your Child to Stop Making Excuses and Start Taking Responsibility allowing your child to blame someone else for his choices isn’t going to help him learn to be accountable for himself. If your child breaks a rule or behaves inappropriately, it’s going to be important to hold him accountable through consequences and problem solving with him ways to make better choices in the future. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this challenge. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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