What to Expect the Sassy Years: Dealing With Back Talk


There are so many books, websites and blogs devoted to
chatting about the sweet early years of childhood but not nearly as many for
after age 7-8 and even fewer once they hit 10. 
I remember how lost I felt when the “What to Expect” books abruptly
ended. What do I do now? I thought.  Yet
parenting gets much tougher at this point, and the Sassy Years last many more
years than the Sweet Years (in my case, considering my oldest child argued
about what clothes she’d wear to school when she was in kindergarten, the Sassy
Years were in full swing at age 5 1/2). 
It’s a shame there aren’t more well-known advice-givers that specialize
on these later years like there are for the earlier years.  The Today Show and others always used to have their “go-to” guys for parenting help, but their talk always focused on early childhood.  
In lieu of that, we’ll help each other.

Dealing With Back Talk

One of the biggest points of
turmoil between parents and older kids is back talk. I hear other parents talking about it all the
time.  Parents are greatly saddened that
their once sweet child is sassing back to them.  I’m not going to get into the sociological, biological, or
psychological reasons it happens, it just does, in many families, pretty
commonly after a certain age.  If we
parents could just get a handle on this, things would be a lot calmer in the
long run.  In my own house and in
others, a typical scene went like this:

Child #1: You’re stupid and I hate you!

Parent #1: (raising voice to a pitch not unlike a bellowing
moose) How dare you talk to me that way! Go to your room!

Child #1: (screaming) No!

Parent #1: You’d better get to your room on the count of 5 or
you’re grounded from going to the birthday party tomorrow.  1-2-3-4-5. 
(Child still not in room).  Okay,
that’s it! No birthday party now!

Child #1: (crying and screaming) No!!! You can’t do that!  Please!!!!!!! Please, I’ll do anything to
go!!! I’m sorry I said all those things!!! WAHHHHH!

Parent #1: No! You know I mean what I say.  No means No.  And that’s final.  You
need to make better choices next time!

Child #1: (gets so upset she throws all her school supplies
from the second floor to the first. 
Colored pencils come showering like raindrops down the stairs.  Dog starts barking.)

Parent #1: Now you’re in trouble.  Pick up the mess you’ve made.

Child #1: No! Let me go to the party and I will!

Parent #1:  If you don’t
pick up the mess you’ve made, you’re grounded from having friends over this
weekend or going to their houses.

Child #1: Fine!! I don’t care!!! (Slams bedroom door so hard
the house shakes, a big no-no in our house). 
Parent #2 goes in and spanks Child, who cries and screams.

All this has taken a huge chunk of time out of our evening
and has left everyone exhausted.  Child
#2, the younger sister, is crying in her room, she hates all the commotion that
often swirls around Child #1.  Parent #2
is shaking, Parent #1’s heart is pounding and she is feeling like you could
peel her off the ceiling.  The dog has
slunk off to hide in a corner.  And they
all are facing a weekend where Child #1 is grounded and must stay in the house– not fun.  By the next day, Parent #2 is
trying to strike a deal for good behavior with Child #1 in order for her to
earn back her privileges, which makes Parent #1 highly upset that both parents
are not on the same page, that they are not showing a unified front (very wishy
washy and not good for the child!)  She
knows the child will never learn if stated consequences are not followed
through, and so bad feelings emerge between the parents and a possible argument!


All because of one utterance, one sentence: “You’re
stupid, and I hate you.”


For too long, I kept thinking of other parents in my head
saying, “Don’t take that from your child. 
How disrespectful. No parent should allow that kind of talk!” And so I
would get angry with my kid.  And maybe in some
families, a “Go to your room” would have worked just fine.  But in my family and particularly with Child
#1, it became clear that this type of reaction would always end up with a Power
Struggle spiral, spiraling out of control and downward into a lose-lose situation.  I have since found a way to get the upper hand, only in a different
way.  The Love and Logic books and
website have all sorts of great comeback lines you can use to keep your cool
(and still respect yourself) when your kid “takes you aback” by something
they’ve said.  You can use their lines
or come up with your own.  One that I came up with that I like to use is “Tell me something I don’t already know.”


Now, I will admit that we don’t do this if we get insulted in front of non-family members.  “Disrespect in public” is strictly forbidden, and the cell phone gets taken away, one day for every insult.  Also, sometimes I forget my mantra if I’m tired or hungry or have had a
really bad day, and revert to
Reactionary Angry Mom (nobody’s perfect). But those times
are now much fewer.  It’s just too
delicious to have the upper hand in a back-handed way.  Here are recent conversations that have gone
on in my house and minivan:


Child: You’re stupid and I hate you.

Parent: I know that. 
Please tell me something I don’t already know.

Child: (fuming) Why would you say that?  That’s stupid.

Parent: Because it’s true. 
I am stupid, and I know you hate me.

(Conversation eventually fizzles out, because she just can’t
say anything that will bug me, or she’ll try a more civilized way of saying
what she needs to say.)


The following conversations use a variation of my “mantra”:

Child: You’re such a dork.

Parent:  I know. I
agree.  I’m happy to be a dork.

Child: (fuming) Why would you say that?

Parent: Because if you didn’t think I was a dork, then I
would be doing something wrong as a parent. 
Kids are supposed to think their parents are dorks.  So actually, calling me a dork is a
compliment. I’m being a good parent.

Child:  Then I’m
going to say that you’re great and beautiful and perfect.

Parent:  Gee, thanks!

Child: (Fuming) Whatever.


Child: I’m the only one of my friends who has to do her own
laundry.  You’re such a loser.

Parent:  No, the
other parents are losers since they haven’t taught their teenagers something as
simple as turning on water and pouring in soap.


11 thoughts on “What to Expect the Sassy Years: Dealing With Back Talk”

  1. Thanks for your comment! I still use “Tell me something I don’t already know” when my kids try to put me down, or even better, I’ll put it into a question: “Why are you wasting time telling me something I already know? I already know you think that about me!” and it works like a charm!  Good luck!!

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