How to Handle a Five-Year-Old Talking Back

"Whatever," "You aren't the boss of me" or "I hate you" -- the harsh words that erupt out of the mouth of your sweet, loving 5-year-old may surprise, embarrass and even hurt you. Many children back-talk and argue with their parents, particularly once they have reached school-age and become exposed to their peer's attitudes. However, back-talking isn't an effective way for a child to express himself, and it sets up a negative communication pattern with you. By properly responding to back-talking when your child first begins the behavior, you can teach him more appropriate ways to communicate his feelings.


    • 1

      Understand why your 5-year-old is talking back. Watch your child for three days to see if there are any patterns in the times she talks back. Children often back-talk when they feel hurt, frustrated or angry. If you can figure out what emotions spur your child's back-talking, you will have an easier time helping her express her feelings more effectively.

    • 2

      Remain calm. If your 5-year-old says "You're stupid!" when you discipline her, it's normal to feel angry and want to yell back. Staying calm, however, will model proper behavior for handling a disagreement. Tell your child in a neutral tone that what he said wasn't nice and hurt your feelings. Suggest more appropriate wording he can use instead, such as "I feel angry when you say I can't have another cookie."

    • 3

      Give your 5-year-old choices. Options let a child feel like she has some power and helps diffuse situations that lead to power struggles and back-talking. Instead of insisting that she wear her jacket ask, "Do you want to wear your jacket or carry it?" Make sure you find both choices you offer acceptable. Don't say, "Do you want to get in the car or should I leave you at the park?" Respect the choice your child makes.

    • 4

      Come up with solutions to prevent back-talking. If your child becomes angry when you ask him to pick up his toys, he may feel frustrated about having his play interrupted. Give him a warning that he will need to start picking up in five minutes to help him make the transition from playtime. If he complains about brushing his teeth, find out if he dislikes the taste of the toothpaste or if the toothbrush bristles feel uncomfortable. By coming up with a solution that addresses the reason for your 5-year-old's rude language, you can help prevent it from happening in the future.

    • 5

      Set clear limits. Establish a rule that people in your family speak to each other in a kind, respectful way. Ban words you feel are unacceptable, such as "stupid" or "hate." If your child refuses to stop back-talking, end the conversation and tell her that you will listen to her when she can speak to you in an appropriate manner.

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