Is Your Child’s Back Talk Normal or Problematic?

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Back Talk aka Being Lippy

As a parent, few things are more frustrating than when your sweet little angel suddenly starts getting lippy with you. Their back talk and defiance can really push your buttons! But is it just a normal part of growing up? Or a sign of bigger issues? As a loving dad of four, I’ve been there. Heck, I’m still there! While it drives me nuts at times, I’ve learned there’s usually a method to the back talk madness.

What Exactly is Back Talk?

Daughter being lippy with her Mom and screaming at each other.

When I say “back talk,” I’m referring to any lippy, disrespectful, or inappropriate talk from your kiddo aimed at you. This includes:

  • Arguing when you give them instructions like “go clean your room”
  • Talking back instead of obeying when you say to do homework or brush their teeth
  • Rudeness – like calling you names or swearing at you
  • Mean sarcasm and sassy tones – “uh, yeah, whatever dad”
  • Ignoring your corrections completely and continuing behaviors
  • Generally acting like they’re the parent (the nerve!) – bossing you around and demanding things their way

Of course, the occasional eye roll or talking under their breath doesn’t count. Let’s face it, we were all sassy kids once! Even I gave my parents some flack back in the day.

Signs Your Child’s Back Talk is Normal

Though irritating, some back talk is a normal part of your child testing boundaries and becoming independent. Here are some signs it’s likely just a phase:

  • It’s infrequent – just occasional bouts of sassiness now and then
  • The back talk is short lived – they argue for a minute then get over it quickly
  • You can easily redirect them to change their attitude by giving them a time out or having a calm heart-to-heart
  • It happens during times of stress, fatigue or hunger – extra irritable after a bad day at school
  • Your normal discipline like time outs, early bedtimes or losing iPad privileges quickly improves the behavior

This type of back talk peaks around ages 3-4 (the “terrible twos and threes!”), 8-9 (annoying middle schoolers), and 13-14 (über emotional teens). So those developmental stages are all known for extra sass and talking back. As long as it’s just a passing phase, take comfort that it’s simply a disruption, not a disaster!

When Back Talk Becomes Problematic

Of course, consistent disrespectful behavior is a whole different story. Here are some red flags to watch for:

  • Frequent arguing and defiance – back talk has become an everyday pattern
  • Ignoring your corrections completely – they keep right on sassing you and won’t stop
  • Extremes of intensity – aggressive yelling in your face or serious insults
  • Crossing major boundaries – cussing, damaging property, making threats
  • Affecting your relationship – constant tension, arguments and lack of bonding time

If the back talk has escalated to all out war, don’t dismiss it as “just a phase.” Make sure to address the deeper issues before it gets out of hand! Products like the Positive Discipline for Teenagers workbooks on Amazon can help.

positive discipline for teenagers book

What Causes Excessive Back Talk?

The roots of back talk come from a complex interplay between your child’s external environment and their internal makeup.

External Factors

  • Inconsistent discipline – unclear rules or not following through on consequences breeds more disrespect. Been there myself! The 1-2-3 Magic discipline books help get you on track.
  • Exposure to poor role models – kids mimic the bad attitudes they see in media, older siblings or even mom against dad (yikes). Monitoring their influences helps.
  • Insufficient positive attention – kids act out to get noticed, even if it’s negative attention. Make sure they get regular one-on-one time. Playing board games together is a great bonding activity.

Internal Factors

  • Communication problems – they may lack the maturity or skills to express themselves respectfully. Books like How to Talk So Kids Will Listen offer great tips.
  • Psychological issues – mental health struggles like anxiety, ADHD or depression can manifest as excessive back talk. Counseling often helps.
  • Neurodevelopmental conditions – autism, learning disabilities and processing disorders often involve behavior challenges. Evaluations can provide answers.
123 magic parenting book
how to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk book

What Parents Can Do About Back Talk

If your child’s back talk has you pulling your hair out, try these tips.

1. Set Clear Rules and Consequences

Make sure your expectations are concrete and consistent. Define exactly what talk and behaviors cross the line into disrespect. Then set fair, proportional consequences you follow through on every time. Don’t argue, just act. Reward charts are a nice visual for positive behaviors.

2. Improve Communication

Do your best to stay calm and hear them out. Talking things through can help diffuse arguments before they start. Also teach and model positive communication strategies, like taking turns and compromising. I know, easier said than done!

3. Address Underlying Causes

Look at their unique situation to see if any external or internal factors are contributing to the problem. Counseling, evaluations or parenting classes can provide insight. Early intervention is key. Online therapy makes help more accessible.

Know When to Seek Professional Help

A teenager giving back talk to her mom

If your child’s back talk is not getting better after you’ve tried taking away privileges and using your best parenting skills for what feels like a reasonable amount of time, get help from experts. Have your child meet with a child psychologist who can check if conditions like ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder or other mental health issues are contributing to the back talk. Don’t hesitate to seek professional support sooner if the behavior is severe or worsening despite your efforts.


Some occasional back talk is normal as children start becoming more independent, but ongoing disrespectful attitudes and defiance cross the line into problematic behavior. As a parent, it’s important to stay calm, clearly establish rules and expectations about respect, and try to understand the underlying reasons causing the back talk in order to address it.

With time, patience and consistent positive parenting, you can work through this challenge together. But don’t hesitate to call in reinforcements like professional counselors, therapists, or family therapy if you keep struggling with persistent back talk. Seeking help is a sign of strength. Parents supporting each other through the ups and downs of raising kids is so important.

Please feel free to talk to me here in the comments if you need a listening ear, advice or just to vent frustrations. We’ve all been there with our kids!

As kids grow into toddlers and the “terrible twos,” back talk and defiance often ramps up. Tantrums and acting out are common around ages 2-4. Be prepared for extra sassiness and limit testing. My article on Toddler Tantrum Triggers covers some effective strategies for dealing with those trying years. With consistency and compassion, you’ll make it through the temporary tantrum phase. Then you can focus on addressing any lingering disrespectful attitudes as they get older.

How To End Your Child’s Backtalk | Empowering Parents

Hey there! I'm Allen, but you can call me "The Corny Dad" from Canada. I have a wife and four kiddos. Yep, one's full grown, but they'll always be my babies. When I'm not doing something with my family or playing video games, I'm here, jotting down my bits of wisdom on this blog. From the fun stuff to the parenting chaos, I cover it all. Believe me, with the right attitude, parenting's a smoother ride and I'm here to help.

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