Back Talk Remedies?

Updated on April 11, 2010
B.W. asks from Flagstaff, AZ
18 answers

My husband and I are at our wits end. Our 4 year old son back talks and yells no when told to do somethiing. So we tried asking, still no luck. The outbursts lead to time out. He's been spending a lot of time in time out. For instance we asked him to go to the bathroom (still potty training) and he yells "NO! Back off!". We don't say that so he must pick it up at preschool or daycare. However, I ask his teacher and babysitter and they are surprised that he is acting that way. Does anyone have any ideas? We've also used other forms of punishment like instead of his regular 3 books/night he gets one. No bear rides from daddy. We're at a loss.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I'm in a completely different camp than the other responders. I have "do-overs".

In the long run, I want kids to be able to express themselves politely. If they have an issue, I believe it should be voiced (not that I will agree, mind you) but I want their opinion heard. I don't want to teach my kids to say what I want to hear and it just be lip service to get me off their back. So we do "try again". For example, yelling "No! Back Off." would get changed to "I don't need to go to the bathroom now. I'm busy playing." (him expressing his point of view) We would answer "you need to go really quick and you can get back to playing in just a minute. Plus you will be more comfortable. Maybe you can even find some 'sneaky pee' in there that is hiding from you.".

Does that make sense? What I enforce is rephrasing it in a better way. That way they learn HOW to say things. Taking away toys isn't teaching them the behavior that you want to have happening. Examples and do-overs are.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I'm appalled at the suggestions of hot sauce, lemon juice and moth SLAPPING! Glad I'm not a kid in those houses!

Try taking away a favorite lovey, toy or activity or early bedtime 10 mins per offense.

Good luck! It really is a sign of kids becoming more independent, but you shouldn't tolerate back talk!

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answers from Chicago on

It's his age. My son acted the same way at age 4. I don't think you can 'blame' it on school or anything- he is just testing and learning to be independent, and unfortunately you are the person who is around to test!!

Age 4 is VERY young. 'Punishment' is a pretty harsh term for a 4 year old. I am not saying it is ok to allow him to talk back to you, but remember to be the adult- WHY is he doing it? I would be very careful about the potty training issue. If he is telling you to 'back off' when you are trying to make him potty, he must be feeling like you are really pressuring him. From personal experience, I know that is a BAD way to go- the more pressured he feels the more he will fight it.

We used to set a 'potty timer' and when it dinged, he had to sit on the pot for a few minutes, no matter what he was playing or doing. He didn't always like it, but he got used to it and it meant we didn't fight about it, which helped get him trained.

At that age, kids are little parrots, they hear something and repeat it back- their mouths and hands work before their brains can get into gear to think better of it. He is trying out this new phrase on you to see if he can get away with it- but that is perfectly NORMAL, so don't over-freak about it.

When he says " Back off!" or some other back talk thing, you need to be VERY CONSISTENT in how you and your husband deal with it. You are going to have to do the same thing, repeat the same thing over and over and over so it will sink in for him.

Giving too many time outs just makes them predictable and not that big a deal, so I would be careful how you use that 'punishment'.

1)Being consistent and dealing with it right away are both super important. Putting off something that will happen later is not going to work- it needs to be an immediate reaction.

2)Stop what you are doing and look him in the eye. Take his hands and say calmly and clearly " You just told me 'Back off' . We do not say that in our family; it is rude and mean. I don't want you to say that. Now we are not going to watch your show because you were rude to mommy"

3)Make sure he understands that HOW we say something is as important as WHAT we say. A little later, when you are having some quiet time together,repeat 'back off' to him in the EXACT same voice he used to you. Talk about a mean sounding voice or a nice sounding voice and that it is NEVER ok to use that mean voice with mommy or daddy or whoever.
Have this little talk over and over and over - not making it a big deal, but just repeating it whenever the situation comes up or every couple of days. It is just going to take repetition for it to sink in.

4)Get your son in the habit of acknowledging what he said and APOLOGIZING for it. Tell him, " When you say that in a mean voice, it hurt my feelings. I would like you to apologize to mommy and promise to try hard not to say that again" Then have him say he is sorry AND what he is sorry for ( saying back off, talking in his 'mean' voice, etc.)

None of this is going to make him perfect- all he can do is TRY, and remember, trying is HARD for a 4 year old! But this keeps it in his mind, makes him realize what he did- and hopefully trains him not to just blurt it out next time!

Honestly, I have to come out and just say DO NOT 'punish' by cutting back on reading books to him!! Reading aloud is THE #1 way to make your child into a proficient reader. Don't short change him on that just because of some idea of punishing him. Cut out TV or an ice cream treat or a toy- ANYTHING but reading time!!!

IMO, the same thing goes for playing with his daddy- most kids don't get to spend enough time with dad as it is, and dad has to be the 'heavy' when the kid is in trouble- why cut out any of the good time they have together? Get dad on the program with the little talk about what we say and how we say it.

If your son mouths off to him, have dad stop playing immediately and say "ok, now we have to stop playing and talk. Let's talk about what you just said to me" go through the drill. If he feels like your son was listening, etc. then have him say " If you understand and are going to promise to TRY not to say that again, we can play some more. Can you promise daddy to try hard to watch your mouth and not say that again?"

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

First of all there was a case here in Austin at a day care where the woman had used hot sauce and slapping as punishment and the State has closed down her day care. She said "it was just a drop here or there" and "the small slaps were to help the kids behave and listen to her."

I have never agreed with making a nap or going to bed a form of punishment. It will lead to fights about going to bed at some point.

3 and 4 year olds want some control. Give your son choices. So what he does not want to wear what you all picked out last night, don't you change your mind when you wake up in the morning? Even if it is not a "put together outfit" does it matter?

Pick your battles.
The potty training, sounds like maybe he needs control over this.
Instead of saying "go to the potty". How about trying "in 2 minutes, you need to go and try to potty." set a timer and hand it to him. You can find them with clips to wear on his waist band. In 2 minutes have him go on his own. Congratulate him when he goes.

Let him know when you are proud of him for doing as you ask.

I agree with always using manners with each other. You will feel like you are in a play with your husband and son, but modeling the behavior so that it just becomes part of your everyday conversations, will make it easier.

Give him a heads up on what the day and schedule will be like. Please pick up your toys in 3 minutes. Please put on your shoes, we will be leaving in 5 minutes. When you start getting ready for transitions, allow your son to know so he can also transition.

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answers from Dallas on

I'm not trying to sound harsh, but it seems your son knows he is in charge. Yelling at his parents and saying no back off are signs of disrespect. I would put him in his room on his bed and tell him he can come out, Untill w he can speak nicely. Yes you will have to do this continously. Untill he understands that you are the boss. If the behaivor continues then I would take privileges away untill he understand that being ugly gets ugly results and being nice to others will get good things. Conistance is the key. Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

Well, first I would quit asking him to do things. we tell our 3yo to do things. We are the parents and he knows that he needs to be the one asking, not us. Just be firm with him.

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answers from Pueblo on

I know some people will argue against this but when my kids try to yell at me like that or tell me "no" I give them 2 chances. First time it happens I get in their face and firmly tell them that I am the boss here and they DO NOT tell me no. Its ok to get mad but it is not ok to talk to me like that. And then I give them a fair warning, If I ever heard that again I will slap your mouth. and then I follow through. As soon as I heard "No..." again I slapped their mouth,not hard enough to even cause a fat lip just enough to get their attention, and I reiterate what I said, they do not tell me no and then I make sure they do what it was they were told to do, even if I have to force them.

Now on the flip side if I tell them to do something and they cooperate and we have no problems I am all over them with praise and hugs and positive reinforcement. I know my suggestion sounds harsh but I have 5 kids ages from 10-2yrs and I don't have any problems with my kids obeying me and we never have back talk issues or angry outbursts.

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answers from Honolulu on

in addition to all the other suggestions:

one thing that you may try is to make things a TEAM... with him.
So he knows/understands that it is not just him against the world... emphasize FAMILY and that you are ALL a TEAM... and what that means.

Ask him: "how can you help the family?" "How can you talk to show you care...?" And show him... teach him that concept of family and being a team... and that HE is a PART of it all TOO.

Next, when a child comes home... they are often at their wits end and tired out from ALL day at school. Then they come home and deflate.... and vent it out. They have to "transition" to it. They spend ALL day doing what is told to them... and being dutiful, and being at the end of "orders" and continuous EXPECTATIONS upon them. This is real hard for a young child to endure, all day. Then they come home and its a storm.... as they deflate, and de-stress. So allow him a bit of time... after he comes home... to just transition, to deflate, to unwind... and just do nothing. Nothing. And feed him a snack. Let him talk about his day/vent... and validate him. Show him you are "hearing' him and him telling you about his day. Conversing.
This is what my girl just NEEDS after coming home from school. Some days she comes home and just looks SO drained and tired. And I know she is at the end of her patience. So I ALLOW her to just gel... and hang out and relax, unwind. It helps a great deal.

Next, the book "How to talk to kids will listen and listen so kids will talk" is REAL great. You can find it at Amazon or E-bay or any bookstore. There is also a book I heard about on this site called 'Have a new kid by Friday." Which you can also get at Amazon and read the reviews there.

Then, I would also just talk with your boy... and see why he acts like that? Does he have a reason? Does he feel "good" acting like that to you both? Ask him. Tell him you all love him but cannot be happy when he talks so disrespectfully to you both. Tell him you are all a team... and that means "trying your best...." and helping the family to be happy and to work through problems TOGETHER... not against each other.
Teach him how to express his feelings.... positively. He can say for example: "I'm grumpy. Please leave me alone for a moment... when I"m ready I will say so..." or, " I'm frustrated... I don't know why. I just need to lay here.... and relax..." etc. My son is only 3.5 years old... and he will actually tell us these things. I am proud of him. He knows himself and will express what "he" needs at the moment. I encourage that in my kids.
One time my son actually told me "I'm not happy with you Mommy..." and INSTEAD of getting mad or scolding him, I asked him "why." And he said its because I am rushing him to get ready. He was looking for something before we got in the car. And I was PROUD of him for saying that and I told him I respected that... because also, he did NOT tantrum about it. But said to me, how he felt and what was wrong.
This kind of "conversation" SKILLS is real important... all around, for the child AND the parents.
I could've just got mad and scolded him or something... but I as a parent has to be able to also know that kids have a voice too... and as parents we can't just silence their every emotion. To me it is guiding their communication, for knowing themselves, and teaching them proper ways of venting as well.

All the best,

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Flagstaff on

give him choices, instead of telling him to go to the bathroom ask him if he needs to go now or in 5 minutes- if he chooses 5 minutes, set a timer and when the timer goes off then he needs to go.
check out love and logic website, the more choices you can give him (both are acceptable solutions in your world) then it will make things easier for all involved.

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answers from Indianapolis on

Our 3.5 year old was "Captain Crank Pants" (our favorite nickname for him along with Cupcake) last night. He just couldn't get it together.

So, we took his favorite things at night away. He lost access to his TV shoes, no stories and no pre-bed snack. When he woke-up this morning and was having a rough time because he wanted to wear something different than we'd picked-out last night, we asked if he wanted to lose those privileges again today. He didn't and started acting human again.

One thing we're really trying to do (in addition to being consistent in our discipline) is praising him even more for all he does well, not just correcting what he doesn't. If he says "please" "thank you" "excuse me" or "May I" without being asked, we give him a lot of verbal praise and tell him how proud we are of his nice manner and how nice he's acting.

Then, he'll turn around and kick his little sister, and we're back to where we started.

Good luck. My husband and I were joking on Facebook yesterday about getting a dog crate and using that for time outs - we had to put the caveat that it was a joke so no one reported us to DCPS.

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answers from Houston on

The one suggestion I have is that whatever form of punishment you choose stick with something that is immediate and then be consistent. I found with my kids that "future punishments" --going to bed early that night, or no books at bedtime, or no friends over tomorrow, etc. -- just didn't work. Punishments needed to be something that they received right away at the time of the misbehavior. I would stick with timeouts given his age and then also have a small reward system for when he does follow through appropriately when told to do something, stickers, candy, whatever but again make it something that he receives immediately, not a future reward that he has to wait for.

Good luck,

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answers from Albuquerque on

I also have a four year old back talker. We have made great strides lately by just walking away. It may seem like that is lack of punishment but it works really well for our daughter. She has learned that talking to us with love gets her much farther.

Example: When your son yells "no" at you, simply say "your daddy will not read to you unless you do what we ask and you talk to us with love." then walk away. Don't discuss the situation any more. If he comes up to talk to you about something else just tell him "I'll be happy to talk to you about that once you have done what I've asked." Then walk away again. Don't forget to talk to him with love! No yelling.

It seems the calmer you are the the quicker they get the idea. They just want to rile you up. Besides, it takes so much more energy to fight back and forth than to just walk away.

Of course he doesn't do it wil other people, he is testing you out first. If he can't get away with it at home, he won't try with other people. If he does get away with it at home, he'll start doing it everywhere. Nip it in the bud and stick to it!



answers from Wichita on

What we do is 'a slap on the tounge'. A friend of mine read a book by a Christian woman who would touch the top of a Tobasco bottle & touch the child's tounge when her child back talked. Yes it burns a little, but it is like a 'slap on the tounge'. It has worked well for our oldest (he is not 8 1/2).
Another friend of mine had her kids brush their teeth with a toothbrush that had a drop of liquid hand soap on it, but you have to make sure your child can spit it out.

God bless!



answers from Savannah on

I'm so curious what responses you will get. Our 4 yr old daughter has started back talking too and she does not do this with anyone else. She has lost privledges (i.e. her play time after dinner or tv time) and she has spent time in time out and a swat on the butt doesn't work either. She does apologize after but she'll do it again anyhow.

She just started this so I'm hoping she'll learn to not do it soon. It's annoying and embarrassing when she does it in front of people. I guess it's a 4yr old phase.

If I discover anything that works...I'll let you know. :)



answers from Phoenix on

I like "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Tedd Trip. Blessings!!



answers from Kansas City on

For biting my doctor said to get the straight lemon juice and squirt a little in my daughters mouth each time she would bite. Unfortunately, she liked it! Maybe that would work, but we ended up having to use hot sauce on the tongue. Only a small dab and we used Tabassco sauce, but we have not had a biting issue since then!!

Hope this helps,



answers from Philadelphia on

i am going through something similar, my son is 3 and he tells me, not his dad, no. what i do is make him take a nap, sit in time out, or take something from him he enjoys. u said that u do all of those things and it doesnt work so maybe i would talk to his dr. and she can refer u to a child specialist who specializes in behavior. good luck



answers from Phoenix on

When I was growing up, if we back-talked or said things we knew we weren't supposed to, we got our mouths "washed out" with soap. The bar soap tasted absolutely disgusting. It was an effective enough remedy that we usually didn't mess up more than once or twice... and we got the message.

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