Some degree of backtalk is normal for adolescents and teens—it’s how they learn to assert themselves and become independent. But too often, they don’t assert themselves appropriately, and their backtalk becomes disrespectful and obnoxious. At this point, parents need to take action for their own sanity and for the sake of their kids, who need to learn to assert themselves appropriately to become well-functioning adults.

Some parents let backtalk drag them into heated fights with their child. Other parents let it go because they’re overwhelmed—they already have too much on their plate, and it becomes just one more thing to worry about. Some parents are intimidated by their child. But if your child is talking back regularly, it’s not healthy, and you need to start dealing with it effectively.

Know the Difference Between Backtalk and Verbal Abuse

I want to distinguish between backtalk and verbal abuse because people often confuse these two very different things. If your child has started saying hurtful or harmful things, the line between backtalk and verbal abuse has been crossed.

If your child is saying, “This isn’t fair, you don’t understand, you don’t love me,” that’s backtalk. But, if a child is cursing you, calling you names, or threatening you, that’s verbal abuse.

Verbal abuse is a very negative behavior and has to be dealt with aggressively and upfront. It’s not that backtalk is harmless, but it’s certainly not as hurtful and hostile and attacking as verbal abuse.

For parents dealing with verbal abuse, I recommend the following article: Kids Who are Verbally Abusive: The Creation of a Defiant Child.

Backtalk Can Take Several Forms

Backtalk itself can take several forms. One form comes from the child who can’t keep quiet. No matter what you say, they have to have the last word.

And then there’s the child who wants you to understand their point after you’ve already said “no.” It’s easy for kids to get into the mindset of, “If I could just explain it better, you’d understand my situation.”

So you’ll get kids who present their problem or request repeatedly in the hopes that their parents will give in. If their parents don’t give them the answer they want, those kids will then try to re-explain, as if the parent doesn’t understand. Often, as they launch into their explanation for the third or fourth time, the child and the parent will both get more frustrated until they end up in a shouting match.

Establish the Rules About Backtalk and Explain Them To Your Child

The first step to stopping backtalk is to talk with your child during a quiet time and lay down some ground rules. Discussions about these rules are critical to good communication and cooperation down the road.

Your goal then becomes following the ground rules instead of trying to achieve your child’s acceptance.

The first rule is:

“I’ll explain something once, and I’m not going to talk more after that. If you try to argue or debate, I’m going to walk away. If you follow me or if you continue to talk back, there will be consequences.”

I guarantee that you’ll feel better as a parent if you set up rules and follow them with your children.

Be Clear About What Isn’t Acceptable Behavior

If swearing or being rude is not acceptable, state that clearly to your child. Do this during a calm time. Let your child know exactly what they can and can’t do, and tell them the consequences for crossing the line. You can say:

“If you swear at me, I’m taking your cell phone away for 3 hours. If during that time you swear again, that 3 hours will start over again.”

That way, you’re helping your child learn self-control through earning their phone back.

Sometimes parents avoid dealing with backtalk by not being clear about expectations and by tiptoeing around their kids. If your child is talking back all the time, and you’re not setting firm limits around it, make no mistake, you’re training them to do it more often.

Set your limits around backtalk in a firm yet gentle way. Say clearly to your child:

“I don’t accept you talking to me this way. This isn’t the way respectful people talk to each other, and it isn’t the way we talk to each other in our family.”

Or you can say:

“It’s hard to listen to you when you’re talking like this.”

Be specific about what is respectful and disrespectful. Young teens especially need to know this because they see highly disrespectful things on YouTube, social media, and from their peers that are made to look like they’re acceptable. Therefore, having that calm clarity and firmness about limits is crucial. And remember to reinforce your rules as your child inevitably tests the limits you set.

Don’t Overreact to Backtalk

Most of us will lose our cool and overreact to backtalk at one point or another. We’re overwhelmed, frustrated, and tired of our child’s attitude. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to have an extreme reaction to something that isn’t particularly important.

Therefore, if your child is behaving reasonably well in other areas and is just starting to talk back to you, go easy on them. You still want to set limits and be clear about what’s acceptable, but you don’t want to blow things out of proportion.

Just know that by overreacting, you’re giving the backtalk more power than it should have—and you’re giving your child more power than they should have.

Don’t Take Backtalk Personally

If your child is screaming and yelling, “I hate you! You can’t make me do it,” it feels personal, but it isn’t. Instead, it’s just angry talk, and it’s a behavior problem, so don’t make it a personal problem between you and your child.

Try to think about a time when your child has been angry and said things they didn’t mean. Imagine that’s what your child is doing when they’re yelling at you. It’s important to remember that no matter how upset your child is, they still want your approval. Whether they show it or not, they care about what you say.

So don’t make the backtalk about you and don’t engage with the backtalk. As soon as you argue and engage with the backtalk, you give the backtalk more power than it deserves, and you’re less likely to stay calm and respond effectively.

Related content: “I Hate You, Mom! I Wish You Were Dead!” — When Kids Say Hurtful Things

Know When to Disengage and Walk Away

When tensions start to escalate, and you feel yourself getting drawn in, it’s important to stay calm. Even if you don’t feel calm, try to act that way. How we present ourselves makes all the difference with kids. If we don’t get involved in the argument, the argument often dies from neglect. You can say:

“I’m not going to talk with you right now. We’ll talk later when you’ve calmed down.”

If your child continues to badger you, then you need to step away from the situation. Leave the room, or go for a drive if your child is old enough to be left alone.

When you walk away, your child is left without an audience for their backtalk. They can backtalk to the wall, but that’s not going to have much effect. If you’re not there, that target isn’t there for your child. It also allows you time to calm down.

To change your response to your child, you need to know yourself. For example, in the heat of the moment, your child might say something like, “You are so unreasonable! I hate you!” Instead of overreacting by screaming or getting upset, take a deep breath and try responding differently. Stay calm, state that you will talk later, and walk away.

If you’re in the pattern of getting into arguments or reacting in a charged way to backtalk, and all of a sudden you do something different, it shows your child that behavior can change.

It can be very surprising to kids when you respond differently. Sometimes your child might try to push you further, but when they realize they’re not going to get a reaction out of you, they let it go, and you’ve taken away the power of backtalk.

Don’t Respond to Backtalk if You’ve Already Won the Argument

Why do parents react to backtalk after they’ve already won the argument? I think parents often see it as their job to always respond to their children. And backtalk is an invitation to do just that. Just as the child re-explains things to the parent if they’re told “no,” the parent often tries to re-explain things to their child if they talk back.

Often, the parent’s mindset is, “If you truly understood what I was saying, you wouldn’t talk back to me—you’d accept my answer.”

Or, the parents see backtalk as a challenge to their authority that requires a response. Either way, as long as you accomplish your objective, the fact is that your authority is fully intact.

Here’s an example:

Your child: “Can I stay out until 10 o’clock tonight?”

You: “No, because you have to get up early tomorrow for soccer practice.”

Your child: “Who cares? I don’t need that much sleep.”

Stop right there. Any further conversation is just you defending your judgment. But that’s the wrong objective because it addresses an entirely different issue—whether or not you made a good decision.

So, once you give a reasonable explanation for the rule you’ve stated, your job is done. You can repeat it if need be, but you’ve already won the fight. Leave it at that—anything more just undermines your authority.

Remember, your job as a parent is not to get your child to accept the logic of your decisions—you just need them to follow the rules.

Set Up a Grievance Time for Your Child

If your child truly wants to argue with you about the rules, another option is to set up a specific time when your kid is allowed to talk back to you. Say to your child:

“From 7 to 7:15 tomorrow evening, you can ask me to re-explain all my decisions. Save it for then. You can make all your complaints, as long as you do so respectfully. But at 7:15, our discussion is done. If you try to keep it going, there will be consequences.”

That way, if you feel like you want to give your child an outlet to air his or her grievances, there’s a way to do it without getting bogged down in constant arguing.

Remember, just like us, kids have good days, and then they have days when things don’t go their way. Don’t try to fight the everyday disappointments that all kids experience. They will use backtalk to get their way, but you have to accept that they will not always be happy with your decisions as a parent.

Your job is to set the rules and enforce them because those rules are for your kid’s development and safety. Whether they like those rules or not, they have to learn to live with them.

Giving Consequences for Backtalk

Whether or not you want to give consequences for backtalk depends on the situation. Let’s say it’s the first time something disrespectful or rude ever flew out of your kid’s mouth. You’re probably going to set a limit and say, “This is not okay,” but you might decide not to give a consequence because you don’t expect them to do it again.

But if it keeps happening, and you’ve set clear limits about what’s allowed, then it makes more sense to look at consequences. You’ve done your part as a parent, you’ve set a limit, but your child has chosen to break that rule.

Related content: How to Give Kids Consequences That Work

Focus on One Behavior at a Time

Choose your battles wisely and focus on one behavior at a time. Let’s say your child is swearing at you and is also complaining every time you assign them a chore. You’re going to want to deal with both behaviors eventually, but the swearing will probably be more important to you than the complaining.

Therefore, start by setting limits and giving consequences for the swearing, then move on to the next behavior you want to change. If you try to tackle everything at once, it becomes overwhelming, and you’re likely to give up altogether.

You also may decide that complaining is something you can tolerate. My husband James always said that kids need an outlet for their anger, just like we do. If they express their frustrations in a reasonably harmless way—like complaining or eye-rolling—you might want just to ignore it.

The bottom line is that every family is different. You have to decide for yourself what you will and won’t put up with from your kids.

And remember, for your child, the goal should be for them to learn to resolve conflicts, express anger, and problem-solve appropriately. In short, the lesson is how to be respectful even when they’re angry or frustrated.

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Janet Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years. A veteran social worker, she specializes in child behavior issues — ranging from anger management and oppositional defiance to more serious criminal behavior in teens. She is co-creator of The Total Transformation® Program, The Complete Guide To Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™.

Comments (24)
  • Overwhelmed
    Hi I have a15 year old daughter who is using marijuana and completely disrespecting me and the house rules. She has been kicked out of school both regular and alternative high school. She is on the waiting list for a youth rehab. In the mean time I see her brotherMore who is 12 picking up her behaviors and I don't know what to do. I've tried to reason and she completely disregards me tells me to shut up I'm annoying as f. And will leave without permission. I don't know what consequence to implement because she will just do things anyway. Any ideas and how do I address my 12 yr old who is now refusing to go to school some days and smoking marijuana with sister? I'm at my wits end and feel nothing I've tried is working.
    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach

      I'm so sorry you are going through this with your children. It can be really distressing as a parent when your teen makes choices that are not only against the rules, but could potentially put them in harm's way. We have several articles that offer parents tips for dealing with this very challenging, and distressing, situation. You can find those here: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/child-behavior-problems/substance-abuse-risky-behavior/.

      You may also want to review the article In Over Your Head? How to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Regain Control as a Parent (https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/in-over-your-head-how-to-improve-your-childs-behavior-and-regain-control-as-a-parent/) for ideas on moving forward.

      Thanks for visiting us. Hang in there - Denise

  • Help
    How do I stop my 10 year old from talking back and always saying “I know, you can stop telling me.” etc etc it’s like when we are trying to tell him to stop he knows he should he doesn’t.
  • Shannon
    What if your child becomes violent and or wants to leave.
    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach
      This is a serious issue that many parents face. We have several articles that offer helpful tips for abusive and violent behaviors: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/child-behavior-problems/abusive-violent-behavior/. We appreciate you reaching out. Take care.
  • Concerned Mum

    Hi I’ve got a 14 yr old boy who is in autism spectrum (not highly autistic, but very rigid thinking) , good at everything he does at school, very popular among peers/friends. Accadamically doing well. Unfortunately at home everything opposite !! Very out of control, talk back very dusrepecful way, doesn’t listen to any thing I say, (when I try to discipline him he would say ‘ I don’t care what you say, why should I listen to you’) if he wants something he will somehow get it!! Addicted to laptop (games and watching anime’). Some times doesn’t listen to his dad as well! Now I’m at a point where I have given up!! This affects his 12 yr old brother and specially 4 yrs old sister who watch and learn everything !

    Could you Pls help me and give some tips to change this behaviour!!

    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent CoachEP Coach
      I hear you. It can be so challenging when you have a child who refuses to listen or follow the rules, especially when you have other children who are observing this behavior. In a way, it’s a good sign that your son is well-behaved at school, because thisMore indicates that your son has the skills to manage himself appropriately. Now, it’s more a matter of helping him to apply those skills while he is home. As Sara Bean outlines in In Over Your Head? How to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Regain Control as a Parent, it tends to be most effective to focus on only 1-2 issues at a time, such as screentime and following directions, rather than trying to change everything at once. You might find some additional helpful tips in “My Child Thinks He’s the Boss!” How to Get Back Control of Your Home. I recognize how difficult this must be for you, and I hope that you will write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family. Take care.
  • Parent in Progress

    This is such a useful article. I have an emotional and confrontational 13 year old with ADHD. He has always backtalked and I find it very hard to handle. He was often in trouble at school for his inability to handle his emotions and I was regularly called with complaints from teachers about his behaviour. I have tried to be very strict about his behaviour, but I realize now that I am hypersensitive which leads me to overreact and escalate the situation instead of keeping my cool. I need to set a better example and not take it personally, for my own sake as much as his. I'm still not sure how exactly to enforce consequences which help him learn more appropriate communication, but at least I can stop feeling rung out and exhausted by the confrontations.

    Lots to think about. Thank you.

  • mrs.nelson
    My daughter is going 13 omg throw fits . Loud. And and see things only her way. I can't get her to do a chor once in blue moon. Mouthy. When I try to lay my foot down omg the fits come out. And this kid here's things notMore said or what she wants . She has some medical issues. And doc. Said to watch weight. And had too lose . So . If I try then she say I called her fat not what I said. Not even . She can be a great kid . I just want her to grow she not 4 fits need to stop .
  • Dulce Aguirre
    Hello my daughter is 12 years old and I don't see a door out. I've been having complaints at school of being disrespecting and giving attitudes as well at home.. i don't know how to handle this.I have punished her many times and I think is getting worse.. please helpMore I feel like I'm giving up to myself as a parent. It's only me and my 12 year olddaughter and my 9 year old son.
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      Many parents of adolescents feel frustrated with bad attitudes, disrespectful behavior and backtalk, so you are not alone in dealing with this type of behavior. While giving your daughter consequences is a useful way to hold her accountable, it’s not likely that this will change her behavior over theMore long term. This is because simply punishing kids doesn’t teach them the skills they need to respond more appropriately to similar situations in the future. You can find out some strategies to teach your daughter more effective skills in How to Respond to Disrespectful Children and Teens. Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family; take care.
  • misdoshijos
    My 9 year old son is not only talking back but also interrupting me and whining that he is angry about it as I'm calmly explaining the reason of the consequences; and is driving me insane! Makes me loose my cool as soon as he starts to interrupt and whine!!More So I start to yell at him!! Please help me stop this cycle! I like all the ideas in this article but at the time this is happening you can't even think straight.... PLEASE HELP I NEED TO KEEP IT COOL!!!!
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      misdoshijos It can be so frustrating to keep calm  when a child is arguing and interrupting you.  You’re not alone in experiencing this.  One part of stopping this cycle of arguments is to identify common triggers for these to occur, as noted in How to Stop Arguing With YourMore Child. You noted that one trigger for you is when your son starts to whine and interrupt you, so you might start thinking about what you can do differently in those situations to stop the arguments before they start.  You might find additional helpful tips in some of our calm parenting articles, such as How to Get Control When Your Child Makes You Angry. Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going with you and your family. Take care.
  • ConcernedMum


    I have a 14 year old son who chats with another girl at school when he's supposed to be doing homework. I tell him to stop every time, and yet I still catch him chatting in the study room all the time. He tries to deny it, but I can clearly see with my own eyes that he is chatting. He knows that I have been looking through his chats before and uses that fact to his advantage. 

    Any help or tips would be much appreciated. 


    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      ConcernedMum We hear from many parents who describe similar situations with a teen socializing instead of studying, so you are not alone in experiencing this with your son.  Part of addressing this pattern will be to continue to set clear limits around what your son is expected to be doingMore during study time, and providing additional supervision if needed.  Another aspect will be https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/ during a calm time, and discussing what strategies he can use to keep himself focused and on task when he is supposed to be studying.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family.  Take care.
  • Swapna


    I have a 12 year old boy , who is very good otherwise .... he is number one in acedemics but when it come to clean his bed , his cupboards, his study table he don't like mother (me) or his little brother who is 7 to touch his belongings , starts shouting. I as a mother says if u keep your belongings or stuff safely n neatly I wouldn't come to you at all. I ask him to take 5min of his time to do his chores on Saturdays , as he is busy with his after school programs.

    The biggest thing is he shouts n screams at me ( mother) .

    I including my husband are down with all the ideas n tips.

    Any help or tips would be much appreciated.

    Thank you

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      I hear you.It can

      be so frustrating when your child is successful and well-behaved outside of the

      home, yet yells and acts out with family.It’s also quite common for kids to avoid doing chores, and turn it into

      a power struggle.Part of changing this

      pattern will be to set a limit and walk away when your son starts yelling and

      shouting at you, so you are https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/avoiding-power-struggles-with-defiant-children-declaring-victory-is-easier-than-you-think/.You can find more tips in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/ill-do-it-later6-ways-to-get-kids-to-do-chores-now/.Please be sure to write back and let us know

      how things are going for you and your family.Take care.

  • CherylPruner
    I have a friend that is going thru a divorce and her two sons live with her, 12 and 14 years old. the 12 yrs old has adhd and is so mouthy lately and talks back to his mom, and the two don't appreciate her at all, they don't helpMore around the house, and after they come back from seeing their dad, the 12 yr. old has a crabby attitude toward the mother, and something is bound to happen. There has been many things said by the 12 yr.old to the mom, and I'm sure it's coming from the dad, because the 12 yr. old has told his brother to shut-up and also me to shut-up. His mom told him he was being very disrespectful and I told him "don't you ever talk to me that way again!". I am a good friend of their mom's and I'm always their when she needs someone to talk to, and she lives next door to me. Is their anything that I can tell her to help with her mouthy son, because his attitude needs to change, and straighten up? He'll also be rude when I go over there and I'm talking to his mom about things, too.
  • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


    I hear your

    frustration with your 13 year old’s choices, and your concern for the safety of

    other family members as well as for yourself.  Although I recognize that

    your son is engaging in a lot of troubling behaviors, I encourage you to focus

    on one or two at a time rather than trying to address everything at once. 

    In this way, you can help yourself to avoid becoming overwhelmed and to remain

    consistent in your responses to his behavior.  Given what you have

    written, I recommend addressing your son’s abusive and unsafe choices

    first.  I encourage you to work with your son’s counselor to https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-lost-children-when-behavior-problems-traumatize-siblings/ if he is being abusive toward them,

    or posing a safety threat.  You might also find some helpful information

    in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/signs-of-parental-abuse-what-to-do-when-your-child-or-teen-hits-you/.  I

    recognize what a challenging situation this must be for you and your family,

    and I wish you all the best moving forward.  Take care.

  • Angerymom
    I have a 16 year old son. He overall has a sweet nature until I tell him no or put him on restriction. Then he turns into a gangster cussing at me. HE laughs at me when I cry at some of the hurtful stuff he has said to me.More He is under an attendence order to not miss any school and he has missed 5 days in last than month. I'm so lost and really don't have the skills to cope with his behavior. Can someone help me
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      I’m so sorry to

      hear about the issues you are facing with your son.  Although I understand

      how much it can hurt to hear your son curse at you, I encourage you not to

      personalize this behavior.  The truth it, it’s probably not about you at

      all; rather, it’s more about his inability to cope appropriately with

      limits.  Sara Bean outlines some strategies to address these statements in

      her article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/i-hate-you-mom-i-wish-you-were-dead-when-kids-say-hurtful-things/. 

      In addition, we often recommend allowing kids to experience the https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-you-should-let-your-child-fail-the-benefits-of-natural-consequences/ of their actions.  So, if your son is continuing to miss

      school despite the attendance order, I encourage you to work with the school to

      hold him accountable for his choices.  I recognize how difficult this must

      be for you, and I hope you will write back and let us know how things are going

      for you and your son.  Take care.

  • Dean
    I hate how my parents wont even let me state an opinion I try not to back talk and try to settle it in a civil way but they start yelling when I just wanted to state an opinion in a civil manner.
  • Aaron
    im 16 years old and i dont curse at my parents or the like but my father says i talk back whenever i have a different opinion..... why should i always get the short end of the stick in a conversation yes i get he is my father but doesntMore make him right one hundred percent of the time i have even searched up historical facts in an arguement about history and he said the internet is wrong banned me from video games for a week and said i back talked is that right.....
    • Honestlee
      Unfortunately, even if you are right, when you argue with your parents, it's considered talking back. As a minor, you have to follow their rules. In two years you can move out and follow your own rules. But be aware, your boss isn't going to enjoy an employee that's constantlyMore arguing with him either.
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