Back Talk and Negative 5 Year Old

Updated on November 29, 2009
M.K. asks from Chico, CA
10 answers

My five year old is talking back all the time and I want advice on how you handle it. I tried some of the Love and Logic ideas, calmly saying if he doesn't do x, then y won't happen. I have tried to ignore it and just expect compliance, and I have lost my temper. I try to give him choices in what to wear, what to read, what two things he wants on his dinner plate, etc. to minimize the back talk, but it is driving me nuts.

Here is an example from today, and it is pretty typical. I tell him 5 more minutes and it is time to come in and get ready for bed. Two more minutes and it's time to come in (he was playing outside). OK! Let's get cleaned up for bed! Do you want to wash your hands with help or without?
He answers: I don't want to come in yet. I say Well, time's up. Come wash up and get your jammies on. He fights it, says he doesn't want to, screams about it, completely irrational! I walk away. He finally comes in. He goes to his room to play. I remind him, wash your hands and jammie up. He argues. I tell him if he wants time for stories, he needs to get jammies on. He screams and fights about it (again), but then, when I walk away he gets his jammies on.

I know to some extent this is totally normal. I just feel so flustered and scattered; I must be doing something right because he eventually complies, but I feel so inconsistent. So I guess my question is: how long will this phase last and what techniques do you use that teach your kids that back talk and yelling "I don't want to" are really not the right response!

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So What Happened?

Thank you for your advice! It seems from a couple of the responses that you think my kid is a brat running amok, but that is not the case. It's just after four days of no stories at bedtime, that threat obviously wasn't working to curb the behavior. (Similarly with taking away favorite toys, cutting bath time to just get clean and get out...) I am going to work on talking less, and narrowing some of his choices so he doesn't think he rules the world (in case that is what it is all about). Thank you for your insight!

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answers from San Francisco on

More action; less talk.

When he doesn't comply, don't talk any more. Pick him up, stuff him in his jammies, wash his hands for him.

OR, since stories seem to be something you do -- if he fights you, no story. And then stick to it.

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answers from San Francisco on

I'm with Toni: you need a new sheriff in town! Children do not need choices at every turn. At his age, he needs to know what he is supposed to do as part of the family routine, and that he is expected to do it. This is part of the rules and boundaries that help children to feel secure.

When you are offering choices, give him limited choices, such as "What story would you like tonight, this one or that one?" --- and let him choose only between the two choices you give him. And if he talks back and argues, tell him he has just lost his story time.

If it's time for him to come in and get ready for bed, you shouldn't have to be doing a countdown, "five minutes," and "two minutes," and then have an argument anyway --- just tell him if he doesn't come in and get ready for bed NOW, without argument, he won't get to watch TV tomorrow, or he won't get to play his video games tomorrow, or whatever he likes to do. Then follow through. You DO have a right to expect compliance with the family routine. And this talking back phase will last until he's an adult unless you let him know you mean business.

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answers from San Francisco on

Dear M.,


If you have a mouthy child at five, better take care of this attitude right now or you are in for it!

Before his next meal, tell your child that there is a new standard in your home and if he makes a fuss or talks back to you or his father, he will leave the table “immediately” and be sent to his room. There will be no food for him until the next meal. It will be very important that you stick to your word or this child will walk all over you. Don’t worry, he won’t starve.

Preparing his plate: Serve a “small” portion of each item (remember how small their tummies are). Do not allow him to eat only what he chooses, he must at least taste everything. Let him know that you would like him to finish what is on his plate, but if he says he’s full or doesn’t want to finish his plate….tell him that is fine, but NO dessert, milk, or juice.

Also do not serve milk or juice with meals (picky eaters will tend to fill up on milk or juice if they don’t want to eat what is in front of them)…Serve water with meals. Also, if bread and butter are served, give him ½ slice…unless he finishes what is on his plate, then he can have more bread. If he wants a small glass of milk after he eats,thats fine.

Long before bedtime, again, talk to him about new rules. Have a SET bedtime and stick with it. Routine is very important when teaching a child. No five-minute warnings. For instance, if bedtime is at 8 PM and a bath is required, I would suggest starting at 7 PM, bath, teeth, drink of water, potty and bedtime story. If he does this on his own, when you tell him its time and he doesn’t get moving…YOU or his father GO to him, take him by his hand and lead him to the bathroom. Be firm.

Once you get the routine down, he just might be in bed before 8 PM. If he’s just washing up, start at 7:30. You might want to get him his own clock. If he makes a fuss or back talk of ANY KIND, there will be NO story and he will go to bed early.

I do not think bad behavior or talking back, or bad manners are NORMAL. I think they are behaviors that have been tolerated from an early age. Giving a child too many warnings, or too many choices, what to eat, what to wear, when to nap, how many stories, is a recipe for disaster.
Parenthood is the most important job and privilege in the world. Children need to be LOVED, CARED FOR AND DISCIPLINED. Just be consistent and you will see a change in your child.


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answers from San Francisco on

Hi M.,
I have a 5 year old son, too. I have gotten great help from the tools taught by Patty Wipfler at Hand in Hand Parenting. You can check out their website at

I felt like a deer in headlights for about a year with my son's intense behavior, and they really helped us turn it around. The other thing I have found helpful is the book Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Kurchinka (I think that is how you spell her name).

I know how hard it is. Good luck--and good for you for looking for a solution that works for your family.


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answers from San Francisco on

Hi M.,

I have a 6 year old step son, that started to live with us when he was about 4 1/2. His Mom and I are COMPLETELY different when it comes to rules and discipline. I guess you could say she's a liberal and I’m a conservative (when it comes to parenting). I COMPLETLEY agree with Toni V. She said everything I would have said. I don't do warnings or to many choices for him. At first it wasn't pleasant, but he got the hang of my parenting after awhile. He listens, he doesn't talk back, he knows he must finish 1/2 his meal (of a little of everything) before drinks are served. He is a very picky eater. His Mom is into snacking on fruits and candies during the day. I'm not, if your hungry you get a meal, if your done then you can have snacks. His preschool teacher said kids tend to lean towards more structure. Poor baby literally gets one extreme to another when he's with his Mom and when he is with his father and I. But I don't have any complaints when he is with us now. He is a pleasant child to be around he has a great personality and manners to match. Thanks to a little work. Don't give up, and be firm. If he is mouthy now imagine when he is 13 or 14. It won't be fun! ;)

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answers from San Francisco on

Ah, the 5's! You have my sympathy. :o)

It sounds to me like he knows exactly what you want him to do and how many warnings he's going to get before he really needs to do it. I think it's time to give up the warnings. Sit him down and explain that when he is asked to do something he needs to do it right away without complaining/yelling/whining/arguing. There will be no warnings anymore, just consequences. (this is not including the 'warning' of 5 mins. left to play and similar). When it's time to come it "Ok come on in and get your jammies, remember no arguments." When he complains anyway (which he will do to test you out!), just say calmly "OK, no stories tonight then." If he argues again, "OK, no tv tomorrow." (or dessert, or earlier bed time, whatever you decide. But be sure to think it all out ahead of time so you have a good 5 or 6 possibles!). " If you keep complaining you'll keep losing the good stuff." He may use up all 6 things the first time, but it gets better quick! Just follow through with whatever consequences you set out. Repeat as necessary. If you do this everytime he backtalks, complains, whines, argues, etc. he'll figure it out really quick.

We refer to this in our house as 'deprivation therapy'! I now have teenagers that rarely argue about what needs to be done. :o) When they do, they get ' Deprivation therapy anyone?' and they stop mid-sentence! This isn't to say that they just have to blindly comply with our every whim. If they really have a legitimate beef with something, they are welcome to come and politly plead their case, but no bad attitudes/backtalk or arguing allowed. At five (or any age during the 'training' stage), they shouldn't have any legitimate case to plead. Bed time is bed time, dinner must be eaten, homework must me done, nothing really negotiable/arguable about it.

Good luck with this, and remember lots of kisses when he's sweet!

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answers from San Francisco on

I used the book "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp.
It worked for me. I highly recommend it. It is from a Christian perspective.

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answers from Redding on

Maybe your son is frustrated because he is not ready to make all those decisions yet. He may not be mature enough yet. I tried the choice thing with my son and it seemed the same thing happened to me. So, I only gave the choice on occasion, not all the time. Try lessening them and see if that works better for him.

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answers from Modesto on

Hi M.,

It sounds like you're doing everything right! Some kids just "test" a little more often than others, or they just go through a phase when they try to. That is normal.

Bedtime is hard. If we don't catch our kids before they are too tired, then the drama can begin over anything. I am a "5 minute mom" too, and I actually count my kids down with each minute. On the last minute, I tell them "oh....the minute is almost up!" I know it's hard to stop doing something that is really really run which is why I try to give as much "notice" as possible. My boys listen every time. They are not always happy about it, but they listen.

The thing I learned when they were younger, is they LOVE to see my reaction when they are trying to be defiant. So, once I picked up on this, I began to "walk away". I would say, "OK time's up, it's time to pick up the train set",then WALK AWAY! Don't give your son a chance to be defiant.

Another thing I learned, was to give MYSELF a time out! A simple 5 minute timeout laying down can do wonders for a mom that's about to lose her patience :O) And, I told my kids I was in timeout, I'm not allowed to talk to anyone :o)

The most important thing for you to do, is to really give lots of hugs and kisses when he does exactly what you expect of him, especially unasked :O) Lots of love produces more good behavior.

Good Luck, M., I hope something I've said can help you with those moments.

~N. :O)

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answers from Washington DC on

For example, you could buy him a digital watch and tell him he needs to come in when it gets to 0 on the last number, for example 9:10 or 9:20. Tell him ahead of time that any task that isn't completed will have consequences, for example no story time. This will avoid constant nagging(that any child hates) and let's him make his own decisions. I'm assuming he can count to 10?

The best advice I can give you is to ignore any behavior that results from an improper tone of voice from the child. The first time he does this walk away, don't let him build up anger. It will not work at first, as the child may be confused as you're changing your methods and he will be ready to test them. But in the long run it will work. And most importantly never show your emotions in front of your child, go into another room if you need a little time for yourself.

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