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Sass, Back Talk, and Smart Mouths

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

When your child says something spiteful and hurtful to you, how do you handle it?  Our response is key to determining whether or not your child will use that behaviour again, so we want to make sure that what we do is designed to eliminate this kind of talk (even if it does take a while), particularly by using modeling -- or watching our behaviour -- as an example.

When your child yells, "I hate you!" or worse, it can be hard to keep your cool.  But first of all, start by taking a deep breath and assessing honestly whether or not you're in the best frame of mind to address the situation.  If you're not, then take a "time out" to cool down and get back in control of your emotions.

We often send messages that aren't received because of the manner in which they're sent.  So consider, is that what's happening here?  Try to determine what message your child is really trying to send, and then mirror that back to her in a calm voice.  So, in response to the "I hate you" comment above, you might say, "You are upset/angry/hurt/embarrassed/etc. because..."  This uses the basics of an "I" Messages that I teach my clients, the reverse of which is a "You Feel" message, seen here.  Once your child knows that you've really heard her, it's much easier for her to calm down and behave more respectfully and rationally toward you, than if she sees you as a controlling parent who doesn't care how she feels.

Now's the time to use an "I" Message of your own.  Let her know how you feel about the situation, and about her behaviour.  You might say, "I feel hurt when I'm spoken to that way, because I don't feel respected or as though my feelings matter, either."  Or whatever is true for you in the situation.

As with so many other things, sass, back talk, and smart mouths usually come down to some form of communication breakdown.  By taking a deep breath and starting at the beginning, you have a chance to show your child a better way to express displeasure, anger, hurt, or whatever else she may be feeling.

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Andrea Ramsay Speers • Psychotherapist & Parent Coach • Oakville Family Institute • 175 Glenashton Dr., Oakville ON • Tel.: 905-491-6949

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