Helping Parents Make Better Decisions

How Parents Can Deal with a Child Who Back Talks: Advice from the Experts in Queens

For kids, back talk is often a developmentally normal method of asserting independence from parents. We asked the experts on child discipline in Queens how parents can discourage this bad behavior.


back talker; boy with duct tape over his mouth"Nooooooooo!!!"

"You just don't understand."

"It's NOT fair!" (Pout.)

(Sneer.) "What's the big deal?"

If you've got a child in your home older than, well, one, you've heard it, too: Back talk, persistent and strong, is a standard rite of passage. And depending upon a child's age, it's often characteristic of a developmental milestone - it signifies a child trying to exercise more control over his or her own life, and to designate clear boundaries, assert independence.

But not matter how many times you read about the "why's" for the bad behavior, you surely still need help with how to handle it. As  Marina Doulova, a Queens psychiatrist, indicates, "If this is a new behavior, it is essential to determine the triggers for these behavioral changes." That will often inform how to deal with the behavior.

For some general direction, we asked local experts to answer:


What advice or words of wisdom can you offer a parent who is dealing with a child who back talks?


"Behavioral modification can be achieved by ignoring bad behavior and consistently rewarding good behavior. This approach obviously works best if you apply it from the beginning and stay consistent! Positive reinforcement still works for children who have already developed bad habits, but will require more patience and consistency from the adult.
If the child in question curses a lot, think about their role models and how they behave. Often times, adjusting your own use of bad words or asking other adults who are influential to the child to set a better example will rub off on the child.
Remember that changing behavior is a process that takes time. Being patient and consistent is the key to success."

- Thomas Gilliland, assistant tennis director,  The West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills, NY


"I personally have two daughters. My advice is simple: Reverse the roles and have the child listen to you as you back talk to them. Ask them how it sounds. How does it feel to them? Are they hurt or upset with your back talking? This method has worked with my kids thus far, and they are 18 and 20 now!"

- Tina Mavrelis, owner,  Kidz Yoga, Astoria, NY


"There are different behavioral techniques applied to children according to their age groups. Younger children 2-5 years old can be managed simply by setting limits. It is important not to respond back. Be a role model for your child by staying in control of your own emotions. Give a warning prior to punishment (in the form of time outs) if behavior continues.

For children 5-12, initially try to point out the negative behaviors to the child. A reward or punishment system can be implemented for specific behaviors to improve outcomes. If a child uses curse words, label the word(s) as inappropriate, and then provide examples of how to express the feeling by using appropriate words instead. Do not forget to evaluate your own and other family members' behaviors at home as well as other contributory factors.

Children older than 12-13 years of age can be managed by providing specific time for complaints and requests. Use negotiation techniques if it is possible."

 - Dr. Marina Doulova,  ABC Psychiatric Services, Forest Hills


"As a martial arts instructor and mother, I believe that respect is essential in good parenting. It all begins with how we, ourselves, communicate with our children and our spouses and other family members. Respect is learned through role-modeling, and therefore it's important that we treat others with respect first. Then, it's important to communicate the value of respect. We teach our students that respect is not only for the people you are showing it to, but it's most important in earning respect for yourself.  If children back talk or curse, it's because they have not been taught to communicate their needs and desires properly; they must be taught. And just like any poor behavior, it's important to correct the behavior - and to also praise them when they handle themselves the right way. Through repetition, respectful communication can be learned."

 - Kathy Sacoulas, owner,  Progressive Martial Arts, Flushing, NY



Also see: Our complete list of expert advice on dealing with a back talker

More advice on pressing parenting issues in our Ask the Experts section