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How to Handle Back Talk: Toddlers and Preschoolers

“I can’t believe that came out of my child’s mouth!”

One of the most frequent issues parents face with a child is back-talk. It can be frustrating, embarrassing, and can test even the most patient parents!

So what can be done?

  • First, understand that children of different ages use strong language for various reasons.
  • Second, remember when children talk back oftentimes it may be a result of another issue they may be facing. The goal for parents is to help our children define the real issue, then help them learn to express it constructively.
  • If we model screaming and shouting, that’s what we’ll will get in return.

Toddlers: NO!

  • A two year old uses the word “NO” It is their way of trying to establish a sense of who they are apart from their parents. They aren’t trying to be mean or hurt your feelings; they are just trying to assert themselves. Does this mean parents should allow their toddler to use offensive language? Of course not. However, many of the power struggles that result in verbal defiance can be avoided by providing a toddler with many choices throughout the day. Ask her, “Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt?” “Would you like peaches or applesauce after lunch?” By doing this she makes choices, feels some control, and will be less disagreeable. There will be times, however, when it will be necessary to let your child know that certain things are NOT ok to say.

Preschoolers: “Why?”

  • Three and four year olds love to ask “Why?” They want reasons for everything, especially concerning what they can and can’t do. They will challenge every circumstance and become frustrated and impatient when things do not go as they wish. The best way to handle these outbursts is with calm short explanations. State your case and move on. Remember, you cannot control your child, you can only control yourself. Model the behavior you wish to nurture by using self-control and an appropriate tone of voice.
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