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Back Talk and Tears

May 24, 2018
Back Talk and Tears

We stood face-to-tummy, a stand-off of sorts, him scowling at what had to be a comparable discontent reflecting back. I had instructed Jrue, “No, not right now,” and how did he respond? By screeching his initial question again, much too loudly, and throwing his arms back in an apparent rage.  


Whose kid was this?! Because I know that my soon-5-year-old son understood that the behavior in this scene was completely unacceptable, as he had been trained well since we had traversed the land known as “Terribly Two” (when he would travel around the house and slam doors). Yet, here we were again, getting a highly negative response to his dislike, meeting that with logic-less argument, and victimizing his parents with shouting, thwacking, stomping, throwing, crying, barking, hissing…general discord.  

Cacophony because “Mommy, I’m angry.” 

“Mouthing off,” it’s broadly called. 

At that moment, I paused because my first defensive inclination was to go upside his head. Yep, “upside.” He had been talking back to me all week out of the blue and, right then, he had pulled a shorter straw. I figured this habit to be something he was mimicking from a peer at school. But, instead of replying with my normal “Go on to your room for some quiet time,” I just turned around and refocused on the Netflix movie I was attempting to watch. He growled, then stomped his little self down the hall to his bedroom and began rattling toy cars around on the bed.  

I shrugged my shoulders. Anything broken gets tossed. Jrue knows this. 

Of course, later, in my 3 a.m. thoughts, I remembered him calling me “too stinky” and “a poopy head” earlier in the week. I was “mean mommy” and a “white booty” quite often, too. I made a note to research his sudden attitude change to determine how “normal” back talk is for his age group. And, boy, is it normal…for all ages. 

For the website, writer Paula Spencer discussed her experiences with her two children. “I’d hoped mouthing off was just a phase,” she said. “Instead, it’s getting worse. ‘Leave me alone, you big bag of beluga!’ I was told only yesterday while supervising my first-grader’s homework. Verbal defiance is hard to ignore. There’s the sarcastic ‘Give me a break!’ The insulting ‘Don’t you know anything?’ The challenging ‘Make me!’ The foul ‘That sucks!’ And let’s not forget that insolent preadolescent favorite, ‘Whatever.’ Just as annoying are the accompanying theatrics –rolled eyes, knitted brows, crossed arms, Shakespearean sighs.” (Spencer, n.d.) 

Similarly, nationally-recognized author Amy McCready wrote, “As a parent, the words ‘No, I won’t,’ or ‘You do it,’ from our kids is enough to make us cringe. In fact, back talk is the number one parenting complaint from all the parents I’ve worked with—and it can be so hard to get kids to respond to our requests without whining, eye-rolling, or simply ignoring us that many of us can’t help but snip back, ‘You’ll do it because I said so,’ or ‘Don’t you dare talk to me that way!'” (McCready, n.d.) 

These mommies know their stuff. I’m just at the beginning here. 

From what I understand, most parents experience the back talk stage in spells, some repetitively, which is not something I want to expect in our otherwise congenial little boy. I have to discover ways through which we can discourage the snips in our home while Jrue is still at the point where it’s more duplicative of something he’s mirroring rather than an intent to undermine us.  

I have to…outsmart him a bit.  

Isn’t that the summary of parenthood, after all? 

Each child reacts differently to behavior modification. My son is easily swayed by my vibes as mommy, so if I announce a consequence of his disobedience and follow through on removing snack opportunities or tech time or bedtime stories, he will potentially fall apart, but may think twice about a clapback later, especially if Jai gets to do it and he doesn’t. I must avoid a war of words with him, as Jrue will keep going to get under my skin in attempts to hold attention on himself, particularly if I am involved in another activity with Jai or the hubs. Once I select my one short explanation, I will not restate myself; what I say that one time will stand and I have to stand by it, which is easy said. 

Another method to discourage back talk that I had not considered before my research is to understand why. Essentially, Jrue hears various forms of “No” all day, every day: parents, peers, teachers, and even toys squak “no” in successive configurations minute to minute. It sounds frustrating from that point of view. My son loves mommy’s attention, and he often shows off just to get me to stare at him like he’s grown horns. I refuse to use his Autism Spectrum as a justification for poor conduct, but it is a possibility that he is struggling with his emotions at a given moment and know nothing more than to resort to name-calling to express dissatisfaction. If I emulate respect by sitting him down and discussing his feelings when he is upset, it may encourage a different direction. 

Less “You are yucky, mommy.” More “I’m sorry, mommy. I love you.”  


We’ll see what kind of practice we’ll have under our belts with this first child. Everything at this point is severe trial and error. We still have Jai coming up soon. I’m gearing up for her, though. She can roll her eyes already. 

I ain’t gon’ be no punk. 

Works Cited 

McCready, Amy. “5 Steps to Put the Brakes on Back Talk.” Positive Parenting Solutions, n.d., Accessed May 24, 2018. 

Spencer, Paula. “Surly! Sassy! Snobby! When Good Kids Mouth Off.” Parenting, n.d., Accessed May 24, 2018. 

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

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