8-y-old's "back chat" wearing mom down

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 17, 2012 06:00 AM

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Hi there,

I am the mother of an 8 year old girl. She is very strong willed, knows her own mind and very determined, all traits I do love about her but we at constant battles at the moment. She is back chatting and arguing with me constantly and being very disrespectful. I am firm and I punish her by sending her to her room or taking things away from her, like the tv or computer or she misses out on doing things because of her behaviour. She accepts her punishment and always apologizes and we talk about it and how it made each of us feel and about better choices she could make. She takes it all in and listens and then...bam..again with the back chat and arguing...it's like it's just not sinking in and I am at a loss in what to do as I want to have this under control before she becomes a teenager and I don't want to squash the traits that I admire in her but I just want her to be respectful and think before she acts. I often give her a choice as well...do as I have asked and it's ok, don't do it and you loose this...so I give her the choice, most times she always makes the right choice but with a "OH FINE THEN< I"LL DO IT" and pulls a face....any advice would be much appreciated and I am wiling to put in the hard work to get results as she is an amazing little person, I just want her to be respectful to us and her brother and stop the yelling. Thanks for your time.

From: Janiene, Aukland

Dear Janiene,

One of the parenting talks I give is entitled, "Whatever happened to my adorable, cuddly, communicative child?" Too bad you're so far away, because it sounds like it's about your child!

The kinds of behaviors you're describing used to happen at slightly older ages -- 10, 11, 12-- but the culture kids are growing up in, not to mention, improvements in nutrition and medicine, are fueling their hormones and causing brains and bodies to change at younger ages. Hence: preteen behaviors popping up at 8- and 9- years old.

You're doing a lot of things right, of course: keeping open the communication, talking about feelings. Some of this has to do with the mother-daughter dynamic or, let's be honest, the mother-daughter fighting. Your daughter picks fights with you for a few reasons: to feel empowered; to exert her independence; and to forge a new relationship. It's that last bit that tends to surprise moms. We tend to think they're just trying to push us away but when she's not pushing you away, she's trying to draw you closer. Here's the bit you're missing: She wants you to acknowledge that she's changing, that she's not the little girl she used to be even if, sometimes, she still is.

As social psychologist Terri Apter told me, "A daughter does not want to separate. She wants to update the relationship." Check out her book,"You don't really know me, Why Mothers and Daughters Fight and How Both Can Win"

I suspect what will help you most is to involve her in decision-making rather than imposing your will. (You write: "I often give her a choice as well...do as I have asked and it's ok, don't do it and you loose this." That isn't much of a choice!) When she's fighting with you, consider this as her subtext: "Don't take me for granted! I'm not just a little kid anymore who does whatever you say."

I'm not suggesting that she's the boss, that what she wants is what she gets or even that she be able to negotiate her way with everything; she is still only 8. I am suggesting that instead of seeing this as a power struggle that you need to win because you're the parent, consider this stage as a wake-up call that it's time to find different strategies for parenting.

Here's my favorite: "OK, We can try it your way and see how it goes." Maybe it's just a variation of the same old ("I want to watch t his program. All my friends see it and I know I won't be tired tomorrow!"), or maybe it's something you're not sure she's ready for. So make a deal to evaluate the outcome afterwards and that you will both be honest. Maybe she'll admit, she was yawning all day long. Or maybe you'll see that she wasn't.

It sounds like disrespectful language is an issue. Make a deal about that: "You want me to give you permission to do X. Well, you need to show me that you're responsible enough to do X. One measure of responsibility is respect. Show me that you can be more respectful when you speak to me."

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5 comments so far...
  1. Make sure you are teaching her not only what to do, but what to do instead. Does she know how to respectfully offer an opinion, how to let you know there is information you need to know, how to disagree politely, to ask questions politely? You can't just say, "Don't argue, don't whine, don't fuss," you need to demonstrate how to respond.

    Posted by di October 17, 12 11:45 AM
  1. Back/chat/? Makes it sound like less of a problem than the mother here describes. Call it backTALK, like it used to be. When I did this, it was called "having a smart mouth" (as in smart alec), and was not tolerated. I don't believe that you are doing kids a favor by all this discussion of "feelings". You are the parent, the buck stops with you.

    Posted by Anonymous October 17, 12 12:49 PM
  1. How about if this happens with a boy? My almost 9 years old son is behaving the same.

    Posted by EP October 17, 12 04:45 PM

  1. Commenter #2: The letter writer is from New Zealand (I'm assuming that's the Aukland in her signoff) -- and I would guess that the expression in NZ is "backchat", instead of "backtalk" like it is here in the States.

    Janiene, I would agree with Barbara that you're not really giving your daughter a choice -- "Do you want to do this or not?" does not give her much of a chance to control her world. Not that she should be given complete control, of course, but you want to give her options -- "Do you want to do your math homework first or your science?", "Do you want a sandwich or yogurt for lunch?", "Do you want to take your bath before dinner or after?" -- Think of options that are acceptable, and give her some practice making those small choices for herself. Also think about picking your battles. Does it really matter if she wears yellow plaid with pink polka dots? As long as she is dressed modestly, let her choose her clothes -- that's a great area to let her express her own creativity.

    Giving her a bit more sayso in the unimportant areas could result in her being much more agreeable in areas where you really do need to put your foot down.

    Posted by SandEE October 18, 12 09:32 AM
  1. I don't think your punishments are severe enough, so they're not sticking. Try some completely out-of-porportion punishments (grounded for the weekend or something). Then, when all the back-talking habits are broken and she's treating you respectfully, you can start loosening your grip and build a new relationship that is better for both of you.

    Posted by Thebe October 18, 12 09:17 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. Make sure you are teaching her not only what to do, but what to do instead. Does she know how to respectfully offer an opinion, how to let you know there is information you need to know, how to disagree politely, to ask questions politely? You can't just say, "Don't argue, don't whine, don't fuss," you need to demonstrate how to respond.

    Posted by di October 17, 12 11:45 AM
  1. Back/chat/? Makes it sound like less of a problem than the mother here describes. Call it backTALK, like it used to be. When I did this, it was called "having a smart mouth" (as in smart alec), and was not tolerated. I don't believe that you are doing kids a favor by all this discussion of "feelings". You are the parent, the buck stops with you.

    Posted by Anonymous October 17, 12 12:49 PM
  1. How about if this happens with a boy? My almost 9 years old son is behaving the same.

    Posted by EP October 17, 12 04:45 PM

  1. Commenter #2: The letter writer is from New Zealand (I'm assuming that's the Aukland in her signoff) -- and I would guess that the expression in NZ is "backchat", instead of "backtalk" like it is here in the States.

    Janiene, I would agree with Barbara that you're not really giving your daughter a choice -- "Do you want to do this or not?" does not give her much of a chance to control her world. Not that she should be given complete control, of course, but you want to give her options -- "Do you want to do your math homework first or your science?", "Do you want a sandwich or yogurt for lunch?", "Do you want to take your bath before dinner or after?" -- Think of options that are acceptable, and give her some practice making those small choices for herself. Also think about picking your battles. Does it really matter if she wears yellow plaid with pink polka dots? As long as she is dressed modestly, let her choose her clothes -- that's a great area to let her express her own creativity.

    Giving her a bit more sayso in the unimportant areas could result in her being much more agreeable in areas where you really do need to put your foot down.

    Posted by SandEE October 18, 12 09:32 AM
  1. I don't think your punishments are severe enough, so they're not sticking. Try some completely out-of-porportion punishments (grounded for the weekend or something). Then, when all the back-talking habits are broken and she's treating you respectfully, you can start loosening your grip and build a new relationship that is better for both of you.

    Posted by Thebe October 18, 12 09:17 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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