Are you at your wits end with your kids whining, back talk, and arguing? There’s only so many times you can say “No! Stop that!” before you feel like a broken record. Here’s some ideas on how to get the behavior you want from your kids and a behavior chart to help keep the repetitive “no’s” at a minimum.
1. Nip whining at the bud. Acknowledge your child. Many times they just want one-on-one attention. Stop what you are doing, give eye contact and listen. If that doesn’t work, use “I” statements: “I don’t like it when you use that voice.” “I can’t understand you when you speak to me that way.” “If you want to play outside, try asking me like this . . . ” Model good behavior.
2. Understand what’s behind the back talk. First, it helps to understand that kids back talk may escalate during stages where they are learning to exert their independence. 7-10 year olds especially like things to be fair and if they feel that something isn’t fair, they will be quick to defend themselves. Dr. Sears says that as long as it’s not a bickering match and is respectful, parents should be open to their child’s defense and listen. (i.e. if they are accused of dawdling when they had to run inside to grab something they forgot). Apologize if you jumped the gun and realize you made a mistake in getting upset.
3. Don’t turn it into a ping pong match. Once a child/teen asks permission to do something and you say no, they will likely ask why. It’s good to give a reason, but don’t continue going back and forth after your first response. “But Mom, you know I don’t get tired that early. I can stay up later than that….” Don’t respond or give a come-back. James Lehman, MSW said, “The parent’s mindset seems to be, ‘If you really understood what I was saying, you wouldn’t talk back to me—you’d accept my answer.'” Because of this we tend to repeat our first response or attempt to clarify/justify/explain our reasons.
James Lehman continues, “Any conversation you engage in after that is meant to convince your child that you have sound judgment. Know this: that’s the wrong objective because it addresses a completely different issue—whether or not you made a good decision. So once you give a reasonable explanation for the rule you’ve stated, your job is done. You can repeat it again if need be. But when you try to convince your child that you’re right and they continue to challenge you through backtalk, you’re just going to get more frustrated. Your job as a parent is not to get your child to accept the reasonableness and rationality of your decisions. You just need them to follow the rules.”
4. Set ground rules with your kids. When the waters are calm, sit down and talk about the family rules. Give them an opportunity to express their opinion, but ultimately the rules are up to you. The first rule could be, “I’ll explain something once and I’m not going to talk more about it after that. If you try to argue or debate, I’m going to walk away. If you follow me or if you continue there will be consequences.” Set limits on backtalk and follow through on any consequences.
5. Set a time of day when your kids can bring their questions and assert their opinion about a rule or plead their case about a decision. Make it a regular 10-15 minute window of time each day (For example, 7-7:10pm). Any other time they bring it up, tell them to save their points for the discussion time. Tell them you’ll listen to them for 10 minutes and then they listen to you for 5 minutes explaining why the rule is in place or whatever your decision is. Make sure you stick to your end time so it doesn’t end up being an exhausting, lengthy ping pong match. Giving kids time to air their grievances can help them feel heard and respected and you don’t feel so bombarded by “Why’s” and whining all day.
6. Finally, behavior charts can work really well for kids ages 5-12. This behavior chart I created several years ago has worked wonders in my home. Instead of giving multiple verbal warnings and getting nowhere, this chart is a 3 strikes, you’re out system. Every time you find yourself going beyond one answer responses and the whining, complaining, back talking, or fighting continues, write a “strike” (line) in the box according to day of the week. I’ve included columns for 4 weeks on the chart so each chart would last a month. Or, you can put different children’s names in place of “Week 1” etc. and use the same chart for one week for up to 4 kids. When they get three strikes, they receive a consequence. The consequence we chose (on the chart) is no screen time for the rest of the day. If it’s after 7 pm, it’s no screen time for the next day too. No screen time means no electronics (TV, cell phones, ipads, video games, computer, etc.) This works best if you don’t let the child talk their way out of the consequence. Just write the check-mark down and briefly state that they have earned a strike. If they get to three strikes, say something like “Looks like you’ve gotten three strikes today. No screen time for the rest of the day.” If they fight back and whine about that, you can send them to their room for a time-out or add another consequence like no friends, extra chores, etc.