Real Questions from Real Parents Backtalk, Name-calling and Disrespect: Can This Family Learn to Get Along?


Mother trying to be calm while thinking about her child's behavior

Editor’s note: At the beginning of the year, we asked you, our readers, to send us real questions specific to your family’s situation. Our first article in our new series, Real Questions from Real Parents, deals with something most parents can relate to: backtalk, name-calling and disrespect. All questions are answered by a member of our parent coaching team; each one a professional who specializes in coaching parents on techniques from The Total Transformation Program.

Dear Empowering Parents:

I have two children, a daughter who is 11 and a son who is 9. My husband is the breadwinner and I am a stay at home mom. Here is my problem: Neither of my children listens to any of my requests to clean their rooms, do chores, or study. When I ask them to do these things, they argue and talk back. My daughter tells me that I don’t know anything; all her sentences start with “You are stupid.” My son is also very stubborn and refuses to do his work. I get tired of yelling at them and finally end up cleaning their rooms myself. My husband also has a very short temper. He tells our kids that they don’t study enough and that they’re stupid. My daughter calls him names in retaliation, and then they yell at each other. I get stuck in between all three of them, and then my husband says our kids are spoiled because of me. I want them to learn to respect us and be responsible. What can I do?

—A Frustrated Parent

Dear Frustrated Parent: First of all, you are not alone. Many, many parents contact eCoaching and ask, “How do I get my child to stop calling me names and talking back?”

In reading your question, I’ve identified a few areas where you are having difficulties right now. I’ve broken up your family’s situation into a few categories: name-calling, backtalk, disrespect and irresponsibility. The first thing we need to address here is the name-calling you describe.

Dealing with Name-calling

You mentioned that you want your daughter to stop calling you stupid—but you also said your husband is telling your kids that they’re stupid, as well. I understand that everybody gets frustrated and angry at times, but you and your husband have to find a way to control that—even if one or both of you has a very short temper. Make no bones about it, parents have to role model the behavior they want from their kids. There’s just no way around it.

Offer for FREE Empowering Parents Personal Parenting Plan

I also want to note that when your daughter calls your husband stupid, she is employing a defense mechanism. Think of it this way: she could shrivel up inside and start believing that she really is stupid, or she could build a wall and bounce it right back. In some ways, your daughter’s choice is healthier than if she simply believed the criticism, even if her response is inappropriate. What you need to do is get together as a family and address your name-calling problem.

Decide not to engage in name-calling: The very first step here is to ask your husband for his support around this issue. Going forward, you first have to decide as a couple that there will be no more name calling. If it’s not appropriate for your kids, then your husband shouldn’t do it either. Talk ahead of time to make sure you’re on the same page, and present a united front to your kids. When you do speak to them, call a family meeting. If you try talking to your son and daughter alone, they’re going to say, “Well, Dad does it. Why can’t we?” So you and your husband have to say together, “No more name calling.” Tell your kids, “There is now a zero tolerance for calling people ‘stupid’ in this house.” You might also say, “We realize we’ve done this ourselves, but it’s not good and it’s got to stop. From now on, when we’re upset we’re going to take a break instead of coming out with something that’s not okay to say. And we’re going to ask you kids to do the same.” Continue to discuss with your spouse how you can support each other around what you’d like to see from your kids.

Say these words: In the heat of the moment when your daughter is calling you stupid, try saying,You have to find a way to calm yourself down rather than use that language.” You don’t have to say much. The fact is, it’s better not to do a lot of interacting when your child—or anyone in your family—is angry. It’s impossible to have a real discussion when emotions are running high; it’s human nature to fight back or shut down. When you’re mad, everything you say in that moment is going to be angry. That’s not the time to teach the lesson you want your kids to learn. Instead, after you’re both calm, ask your daughter, “What can you say the next time you want to call someone in this family a name?”

Use a “Fine Jar”: I’ve also found that putting a fine jar on the kitchen table can be very effective. Every time someone calls another person in the family a name, they have to put a certain amount of money—let’s say 25 cents—into the jar. Because everybody is involved in this activity, there’s an acknowledgement that everybody is trying to change together: Dad does it, but Dad’s changing. This works really well for both name-calling and swearing, because everybody takes ownership.

Back talk

When dealing with back talk, I recommend that you first ask yourself what’s triggering the behavior. In other words, your daughter is not alone in her room talking back to herself. Somehow you’re engaging with her—and that interaction is very likely the cause of the problem. So first, think about what is starting the backtalk.

Advertisement for Empowering Parents Total Transformation Online Package

You need to say, “Hey, it’s not okay to speak to me that way; I don’t like it. And that’s not going to get your chores done.” Then leave the room. Don’t argue because you’ll get drawn into a power struggle. Think of it this way: your daughter can only argue with you if you engage in an argument with her. She can’t play tug-of-war with you if you’re not on the other end of the rope, pulling back.

Irresponsible, disrespectful kids? Stop rescuing them

I know that it’s tempting to step in and do your kids’ chores for them to keep the peace and put the house in order. But here’s the bottom line: when you clean your kids’ rooms yourself—and do their work rather than argue with them—you are teaching the wrong lesson. So part of what you need to do is stop jumping in and “rescuing” your kids. Instead, really define a task or a chore—and if they don’t complete it, they should lose a privilege that day as a consequence. Whatever you do, don’t do your kids’ work for them. If you want them to learn respect and be responsible, you can’t teach them that you’ll step in and fix things if they wait long enough. When you rescue your kids in this way, they don’t have to be responsible because you are doing the work for them. They’ll learn that if they just hold out, you’ll give up and give in.

Talk to your spouse: Again, you and your spouse need to talk together about what kind of goals you want for your kids. If your children are not cooperating with you during the day, establish with your husband that he will support you when he comes home. For example, after dinner, you and your spouse might have a problem-solving conversation with your kids if they didn’t do their homework that day. Remember, it’s the responsibility of both parents to establish house rules and give out consequences—not just your job. Your husband should still be there as a parenting member of the household. That way, when your kids misbehave, they’re disobeying both of you. That won’t erode your authority as a mom, rather, it will support you and the house rules. So it’s about getting on the same page with your spouse instead of assigning blame. On your husband’s end, he should be looking at the kids and saying, “Your mom told you to clean your rooms. We both expect you to do it. You have to spend an hour tackling that room in order to get privileges tonight.”

Remember, if you want your kids to respect you and be responsible, you need to hold them accountable for their behavior. If you don’t, you’re taking away their opportunity to become responsible adults some day. Always think about what you want your child to learn, and you can’t go wrong.

Related Content:
Tired of Your Child’s Backtalk? Here’s How to Stop It
Eliminate “Shut up!” from Your Family’s Vocabulary


Carole Banks, LCSW holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of New England. Carole has worked as a family and individual therapist for over 16 years, and is a former online parent coach for Empowering Parents. She is also the mother of three grown children and grandmother of six.

Comments (10)
  • Sophia
    my mom just called me a "freaking dumbass liar." it was so mean! :(
  • Wendy E
    I need some help with advice on his to handle my twelve year old son name calling me could you please send some advice to my gmail address which il provide you
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      I hear you. It can be so hurtful when your child is calling you names, and it can be difficult to know what to do. We encourage parents to be very direct and clear in their limits around name-calling, saying something like “Name-calling is not allowed in ourMore house. If you continue to call me names, there will be a consequence.” You can find more information on how to address this in Sassy Kids: How to Deal with a Mouthy Child. In addition, if you are interested in more individualized advice for your situation with your son, you might consider trying our eCoaching service. Through this service, you are connected with a parent coach who can talk with you about what’s going on in your family, and help you develop a plan to move forward. Please let us know if you have additional questions. Take care.
  • Anonymous
    What if it's the father's fault this is all happening maybe the kids are tired of the dad calling them names or saying that they are not smart, i know someone that is all that and the father calls them pig dirty he gets mad over everything and he hasMore to be always right.
  • Natasha D

    My 15yr old son keeps getting excluded from school and now is at risk of permanently being excluded this is for defience and talking back. At home he is horrible to both his siblings and us he uses foul language, smokes, doesn't come home when he is told. He is fine when getting his way but when asked to help round house, tidy his room or do homework he kicks off. We have tried a money chart as an insentive to do right thing but he is not bothered by this at all, we have taken privileges away from him again he doesn't get bothered by this. If we try to keep him in he sneaks out the house he lies all the time. I have to lock my things away otherwise he takes things and does not see this as stealing. His main priority in life is his mates and he does not see anything he does is wrong or take responsibility for his actions instead blames it on others even though all the evidence shows it was him. He has had mentoring, coaching but refuses counselling. We have had support from family solutions and put everything in place that was advised. My other two children have no problems at all and with encouragement do the right thing and help around the house they are 16 and 7 yrs old.

    My 15yr old does have epilepsy and add but has not had a seizure since primary school, he started puberty later than his peers, and was born 2weeks over due and excreted in his amniotic fluid.

    I love my son so much and tell him that daily but im so worried he is going down the wrong path and is on self destruct mode. My husband is now at end of his tether and shouts all the time due to the stresses this putting on the whole family. Im ill myself and this is making me worse, my 7 yr old daughter is now starting to mimic some of his behaviours mainly rudeness and my 16 yr old locks himself in his room when my 15 yr old is in the house because he makes him so angry. I have fault for my son since the day he was born in education and getting him support, I spend one to one time with him, love all my children unconditionally but am now feeling very down myself at the way he treats his family with disrespect we need help but dont know where else to go.

    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      I hear you. It can be very difficult when one child is constantly acting out in disrespectful and inappropriate ways, and it’s not uncommon for this type of behavior to have an impact on other members of the family. I’m glad to hear that you have been workingMore with local supports to help you address your son’s behavior, and I encourage you to continue to do so. Another resource you might consider is Family Lives, which you can contact at 0808 800 2222. I also encourage you to prioritize the issues you are facing with your son, and only picking one or two to focus on for now instead of trying to address everything. By narrowing your focus, you are more likely to be consistent and effective in your responses, and less likely to become overwhelmed. You might find some useful tips in In Over Your Head? How to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Regain Control as a Parent. I hope that you will write back soon, and let us know how things are going for you and your family. Take care.
  • Katie

    My step son (for 13years) is 16. He has been caught lying before about

    people and slandering both sides of the family. We had a family meeting

    biological and steps to decide what to do. This was three years ago.

    Since then I felt our relationship had become strong and we had moved on

    and bonded even closer than before. He is only with us (me the step mom

    and his biological dad) for summer and breaks. He is awesome at our

    house, chores = no problems, sweet, funny engaging etc. He got his phone

    taken away by his dad for not putting it down while his grandparents

    were over. Dad read his texts with suspicions that he may be sexually

    active and sending or receiving nude pics (happened years ago). Come to

    find out yes he was, not only was he talking dirty with multiple girls

    and receiving multiple nude photos he wrote some awful untrue very

    hurtful things about me. He has always been SO nice and loving with

    random acts of kindness. I was shocked. He told this person he's blunt

    and tells me all the time what a bitch I am, snooty twat. What do I do?

    He's been confronted by his Dad. He cried and keeps trying to do extra

    chores to make up for what he says he didn't mean. I feel like crying is

    his escape. He is a self punish-er who knows he can use that as his

    escape to in turn make others feel guilty for being mad. How do I talk

    to him? How can I forgive him a second time? How do I approach the


    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      It’s normal to feel hurt when you

      discover that someone you love and care about has been telling lies and calling

      you names behind your back.  It’s also normal to feel frustrated when a

      behavior which occurred years ago is now reappearing.  With this in mind,

      it’s also going to be most effective if you address this with him in a calm,

      emotionally neutral way and try your best not to  I certainly understand how you would be hurt

      by his actions and words, and so I encourage you to make sure that you are

      taking care of yourself before you address this with him.  Chances are,

      his words are more of a reflection of rather than a reflection of how he actually feels

      about you.  From this perspective, we recommend focusing on building his

      problem-solving skills when you talk to him.  For example, you might ask

      him “I’m curious what you were thinking when you decided to write those things

      about me.  How do you think you could have handled that

      differently?”  I appreciate your reaching out to us for support, and I

      hope that you will check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.

  • EnaRena

    Today I heard my 7 yr. old nephew say to me,"you pig". I was shocked and angry, how could he have called me that?!  Instaed of reacting with a joke style back, I said to him," I can't beleive you called me a pig, how rude." I immidiately got upMore from the table and left out of the area and started dishes. What hurt even more is I heard my Mom say,"what did you say to Auntie?" He responded with,"nothing"? And my Mom finally got him to say,"I did not call her a pig".
    I know he is just 7. I know kids will lie. But to be able to lie and not teach the child correctly, with love is setting the child up for future lying. 
     What could I have done better? Because my Parents feel I was wrong to have acted the way I did, by leaving the table angry.
     And why do I feel guilty?

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      You are right
      that, at 7 years old, it’s normal for kids to say hurtful things, and to then
      lie about their behavior to avoid consequences.  That is not to say,
      however, that you cannot set boundaries with him regarding his behavior. 
      Your initial response of setting a limit and walking away is actuallyMore one that
      we frequently recommend.  In that way, your nephew got a clear message
      that speaking to you that way isn’t OK, and by walking away, both of you have
      an opportunity to calm down.  It’s normal for a child’s behavior to stir
      up many different emotions in adults who care for them-anger and guilt are two
      very common ones.  It’s important to recognize those emotions and to work
      through them in appropriate ways, not only for your own well-being, but also to
      role-model to your nephew effective ways of handling strong emotions.  You
      might find it useful to review Jennie Wallace’s blog,, for additional tips and ideas.  Thank you for
      writing in!

Advertisement for Empowering Parents Total Transformation Online Package
Like What You're Reading?
Sign up for our newsletter and get immediate access to a FREE eBook, 5 Ways to Fix Disrespectful Behavior Now
We will not share your information with anyone. Terms of Use