Son Is Not Playing Nice with Friends and Is Talking Back - Help

Updated on January 10, 2012
A.S. asks from Lincoln, CA
13 answers

Morning Ladies,
This is actually a two in one issue. My son is 4 and is very strong willed. He is a leader and I've noticed over the past couple of years that the other kids tend to follow him in play and take direction from him. Within the last month though I've noticed a bit of a change in his behavior. The first issue is he has started talking back to both my husband and I as well as to his grandparents. We do not tolerate this and have tried time outs (he just laughs). Taking a special toy away seems to be what works. How else would any of you suggest dealing with this issue. I don't want this to get any more out of hand than it already is - since he is now starting to talk back to other adults - totallly embarassing and makes me feel like we aren't parenting him right.

Now to the second issue. Lately when his friends don't want to play what he wants he demands that they play what he wants. He gets very angry and forceful in his tone. One of his very close friends used to always go along with whatever my son wanted, but now this friend is coming into his own and when he doesn't want to play something he tells my son "no." If
friends don't play with him then he says they don't want to be his friend anymore and he doesn't want to play with them. He will then leave them out when playing with other friends and just isn't very "nice." My son is a good boy and is typically very nice. This seems to be a phase, but I don't want this type of behavior to continue. I don't think that I should just leave it to the kids to work out because feelings are getting hurt and we are trying to teach our son that everyone likes different things and that is ok. Any suggestions, advice would be much appreciated.

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answers from Tampa on

Wow.. this is a rough stage. They are pushing for more independence and boy it's tough... We have a 5 yo girl and we are still working on not talking back, although its not too bad.... she had a couple episode at episodes at school, and that stopped almost immediately, when we told her she couldnt stay for extended care time... if you cant be respectful, then you cant participate....
Parents also have to know how others talk around the child -- I'm kinda bad about being smart mouthed at times, and i know my child sees that, esp around my hubby --- so we are all working on it...
But being consistent and meaning what you say, esp with time outs does help... a friend of mine used 1,2,3, magic and it works for all of her 3 kids (9,7,5 - 2 boys and a girl)... I've kinda looked at it, but dont really use it... Good luck -- we all have to find an individual approach to dicipline that works for the kids and the family.

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answers from Redding on

Please don't take this the wrong way as I mean no offense to you, or to anyone else, but I fear that sometimes parents make the mistake of confusing sheer bossiness with "leadership" qualities.
Children come into this world believing that the universe revolves around them. That's pretty normal. However, as parents, we know that really isn't true and we have to help our little cherubs understand that.
When a child, at the age of 4, is used to being the leader (and in their mind being accepted as such), it can be a real shock to the system when other kids start demonstrating that they can make choices of their own. Of course the "leader" isn't going to like it.
It's only a "phase" if you put a stop to it. Otherwise, it will be an ongoing scenario that plays out as your son has less and less friends who like being "led" or in other words, bossed around.
If your son tries the "Do it my way or I won't be your friend.." the other kid(s) go home. Play time is over.
If your son tries to exclude one child in a group, the kids go home. Play time is over.
You explain afterward to your son that is not how friends play, talk to or treat each other. Talk to him about how he would feel if someone did that to him. Tell him it's something he needs to work on. Let him know that if it happens again, the kids will be sent home again, because he is not being nice to them.
Mean it when you say it and follow through every time. If the kids have to go home half an hour early, he can spend that half hour in his room by himself thinking about how he will treat his friends next time.

You say that you don't tolerate him talking back, but now it's spilling over to him doing it to other adults. Your definition of not tolerating it and his definition of you not tolerating it are apparently two different things.
You need to take the lead and get a little more clear on what no tolerance means. Time outs are funny to him, taking away a favorite toy isn't all that effective if it's continuing or escalating.
He is a child. He needs to know you mean business.
He is your kid. You love him. You want him to have friends and you want him to be polite and respectful.
Ditch the idea that he is a "leader" and give him some healthy perameters to work with because like any normal kid, he wants what he wants and apparently he's not afraid to voice that even when it's not appropriate.
You have to be the "leader" and you have to let him know that.
You don't want him to be 6, 7, 10, 16 and THEN try to get that point across.
Start now. Start before he gets into school and before he comes home upset because no one wants to play with him or you get notes that he back talks his teachers.

This is the perfect time to nip it. Again, I meant no offense.

Best wishes.

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

I feel that these roots of disrespect need maximum discipline, because they're just that; "roots" that will grow if he thinks it's not so terrible to talk back to you and boss people around. My son is four. He would NOT do that. Why? Because since age 3 when he first TRIED smarting off to us, he got an explanation of what he was doing and a chance to not do it anymore. He got warned the next time he did it that it was his last chance, and EVERY TIME after that, maybe 3 more times over the next year, he got a super stung bottom with a calm reminder not to do it again. I would have added in consequences on TOP of that if necessary, like toy removal after swats, but it never came to that because he got it right away since we were consistent with all "really bad" things-AKA things that would absolutely never be allowed.

Sounds tough, but he NEVER speaks rudely or snidely to people ESPECIALLY his parents. He hates to see other kids do it to theirs too. It seems counter-intuitive to be this tough when you want to "teach a positive way of dealing with people" but I can honestly say that everyone I know going light on this and trying to "model positivity" is having these exact same issues, and they do get worse. I cannot BELIEVE how some of my friend's kids speak to them, and you're right to be embarrassed, because it does show very poorly on the parent when a child does that. Meanwhile, the parents I know who clamp down on this big time (WITHIN a loving, fair home of course) have respectful kids. You have to ENFORCE right behavior, before it becomes a habit. You say removing toys works "best" yet it sounds like he is still doing this.
This book is really great on what type of offenses need what type of addressing and focuses on respect, especially in boys. Back to Basics Discipline by Janet Campbell Matson.

Similarly, you're right, you should step in and enforce after warning when he is bossing his friends around. One warning, and then they're done playing, or he loses his toy or whatever, and if that's not firm enough to stop it, resort to above. He is old enough to control this, and it is natural for him to try it. Be an immovable force and you'll have a respectful boy who channels that strong will for good.

Also, as for the leadership thing, my son is also a leader. He has no problem approaching a group of kids older than himself and "leading them" in a game at the playground, or sticking up for himself. He's the kid others defer to often, because he's big for his age and confident. Being firm on this will not take away his leadership ability, it will just make him more liked.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

With the backtalk, when my son starts saying anything other than an acceptable response (e.g., "Why?" or "I don't want to"), I just cut him off and say, "Yes, Mom" and then wait until he repeats it back to me. I don't think I've had to put him in timeout or otherwise punish him for talking back, because the "Yes, Mom" thing has always worked. I have a friend who will do soap in the mouth, though.

Now that my son is getting older and is genuinely interested in why he can't do something or why I want him to do something, I tell him he can ask "why?" only after he says "Yes, Mom," so that I know that the questioning is out of real curiosity and not a stalling or defiance tactic.

With regard to the second issue, my friend's son was always "the leader" and the most popular boy. My friend was always a little rueful that he could get bossy but you could also tell that she was really pleased that her son was "my little leader," as she would sometimes call him. As he and his friends (including my son) have gotten older, however, there are times when they do not want to go along with him or prefer playing with other kids more. He definitely has had to learn how to deal with it.

We tell the kids that they don't have to play anything they don't want but that if someone wants to play with them, they can not exclude anyone. I have had many private conversations with my son saying that not everyone wants to play the same games and that we can't control what other people want to do, that if other people don't want to play with him, his choices are to either play what THEY want to play, play by himself, or find someone who does want to play with him.

The other thing I tell my son is that if he doesn't want to play the same game as someone, there are nice ways of saying so. Like, "No thanks" or "Please stop, I don't like that." However, telling someone that you don't want to be their friend because they do something you don't like is not nice and is not acceptable.

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answers from Washington DC on

Find what works for him. If taking a toy is more effective than time out, then do that.

If I were an adult he talked back to and you addressed it right then and there, I'd figure you were dealing with it and not be too offended. Have him apologize and take him from the event for a little while. But not in a fun way. If he's at someone's house, go sit with him in a quiet room or make him sit right next to you for a little while.

When DD is demanding, we tell her to use a better tone and ask nicely. She doesn't get grape juice if she is rude. Practice this sort of thing at home so he gets the idea when he's out and about, too.

When my SD was rude to her guests (or very badly behaved during a sleepover or visit with a friend) we warned her that if she didn't change her behavior 1. they wouldn't want to come back and 2. we could call the parents and send the friend home. We only had to do it ONCE. You can imagine the impression that made. We also told her that since she was so mean/rude/bossy the last time, x friend didn't want to come play or we didn't think she had earned a visit, as appropriate.

I would encourage him to share, be nice, and take turns, and if it gets way out of hand, have the "going home" in the back pocket. Before I take DD to her friend's house, I remind her that she is to share, use her words and her manners. If they come here, I remind her that they let her play with their toys so it's her turn now. It seems to help.

When he does it right, like lead a game but take friend's input, then praise him for how well he played. Be specific. "Son, when you let your friend kick the ball even though you like throwing it, that was great! I'm proud of you for using your friend's ideas."

Give him the right words. Instead of "Put the army men in this bucket now!" suggest "I think the troops should move out. Can you please put them in the bucket?" Or "I don't really want to play with blocks, but if you do, what if you built a fort for my army guys?" Help him problem-solve and see more than just x and y.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Nobody likes a Bossy pants. Let him know his friends do not want to play with him anymore because he bosses them and then he talks back to grown ups. It makes other people think he is not being nice and kind.

Be honest about feelings.

Also if he laughs at time outs, his time starts over.
Time out should be in a boring area and he cannot get up and do anything or speak.

When he speaks back t you or any adult, he needs to be reminded, "we do not use that tone." He needs to say or ask what he said using his "polite voice."

Practice polite voices. He can use his feeling words instead of talk back.
I do not want to stop my game for dinner, may I have 5 more minuets?
I am sorry, but I do not care for cooked broccoli. May I have mine raw, please? Or with cheese or with ranch dressing.

"I am feeling frustrated with you mom. I need a time out to calm down. "

" I wanted to play with that toy, may we share?"
"Can we play your way for 10 minutes and then play the way I want?"

"I have an idea, will you please listen?"

"It hurts my feelings when people do not do what I want." ~ Mom, this is when you explain why you need him to do it a certain way.. "Lack of time", "just needs to done quickly", "less messy", "just no choices this time.. "

If you are out and about remind him, the first time he acts like this, you are getting into the car and going home so he can start his time out.. And then DO IT EVERY TIME!

Later let him know it sure was a shame you all missed out on all of the fun, because of his poor behavior (be specific). let him know you are sure he will do better next time.

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answers from Kansas City on

sounds like he is in control at home, and now he expects to be in control in every situation. any kid that "just laughs" at time outs hasn't actually had to do a real one, imo. (aren't we parents stronger physically, mentally, and spiritually, than a preschooler? OF COURSE WE ARE!!)

whatever your chosen method, BE STRONG and don't give in! firmness is needed.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

As far as the talking back goes, does he go to daycare or preschool or any other organized activities? Does he speak to his teachers/caretakers this way? If he only acts like this at home it would seem that maybe that's because that's what he's been "allowed" to do.
The time out needs to be a boring spot AWAY from the family. He won't be laughing after a while, no four year old likes to sit still for long. If he gets up, put him back, even if you have to do it over and over. Stay calm, do not yell, bribe, cajole, or ask him to be good, simply say "you will sit here until you are ready to be kind to us." Afterwards, at a calm time, talk about how family members treat each other, and give him lots of praise when he makes good choices.
As far as the friends go, it's true that many kids go through phases of bossiness and control. Over time children will avoid a kid who bosses them around, nobody wants to play with someone like that! Work with your son on what it means to be a good friend, role play, practice sharing, taking turns, etc. When you see him getting bossy with his friends just gently remind him what you talked about, "friends share and take turns, why don't you let your friend pick a game and then you pick the next one?"
It's just a matter of consistency and practice, and always keeping in mind that YOU are the parent, you set the boundaries.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I'm not quite there yet in terms of age (my son is 2.5) but I have a very strong willed child who has, on occasion modeled some older children's exclusionary behavior and poor social skills.

It's one thing I simply will not tolerate and it will immediately result in being extracted from the environment.

Sometimes, he seems ok with the punishment which irks me but I also know that is his way of getting under my skin. I talk to him very directly and frankly about why we don't disrespect others and how it makes them feel and that disrespect for adults or other children will not float period. Even passive aggressive behavior.

It's ok to let kids work things out on their own in general, but if you see a social behavior you don't approve of do not be afraid to nip it in the bud at this age. We reinforce to our children what is acceptable for how they interact with others and soon it won't be up to us.

My mom tells me he's too young to understand...I say that if they are old enough to exhibit the behavior they are old enough to have an age appropriate consequence and he will learn what I'm saying even if he doesn't understand the complexities of it in the moment.

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answers from Honolulu on

Perhaps, for the past 4 years, he was supported and praised in his "Leadership" skills and in how others took direction from him.
But now, his leadership skills have become obnoxious and he is talking back.
But to a little 4 year old, they must wonder why... they are now getting scolded about it, when previously they were complimented on for having "leadership" skills and/or being the leader of his friends and/or how organized he is and at directing other kids and telling them what to do.
Now, his tendency is turning... bossy and bully like.
But generally as you said, he is a good boy and typically very nice.

So the thing is, now he is getting contradictory feedback about his "Leadership" skills. Now it is "bad." Because he is talking back. And he gets angry... when others don't do what HE wants. But when he was younger... it was probably "cute" that he could lead all his little friends and organize them. And he probably got complimented on it.
So basically also, he is used to.... getting his way.
And so now, he cannot handle it... when he does not get his way.

He needs to learn the hard way. Sure, you can guide and teach him as a parent. BUT... he will not get it, unless he is directly affected by it. When his friends, don't want to play with him anymore etc.
And you tell him, he is being "mean."
Use the words with him, that are correct. Don't sugar coat it.
Tell him, he needs to "try his best..." and have him practice with you.
And he needs to learn "coping skills" for his anger and frustrations.
Otherwise, he will grow up to be a frustrated older child. And still be bossy.

I have a sibling that was like that as a child. No one wanted to be her friend. In the beginning, she'd get so many compliments on how "organized" she was and that she had such great "leadership" skills too. But over time and over years of being told that she was such a great "Leader" and organizer and good at telling others what to do... well it just gets to the child's head after awhile. And then, the child "becomes" more that way, but when they are so young and don't have maturity yet, they can become very... very bossy and even Bully like. My Sibling was like that and it took YEARS, of undoing that. Because for so long, she was told she was a good "Leader" and so strong and organized. So then, it got carried away with. Because her strengths became her weakness.

Young kids, cannot handle "power" well, yet. Not even some adults can.
Then when others don't do what they want... they get flustered and cannot handle that. Because, they are so used to others just saying yes to them or going along with them.
Thus, teach your child coping skills for dealing with frustrations. Otherwise he will become an "angry" individual.

All this time, people and friends did what he wanted... and because he was probably praised for being such a 'Leader" and being able to tell other kids what to do and organize them. But now... he can't handle it when others tell him no. Or don't go along with what he wants. He needs to learn, how he is not the boss, of others.
And his anger about it and his leaving other kids out when he does not get his way.... is mean. And you need to be direct with him.
In a sense, he is learning that everyone is different, only now... because all this time he was "allowed" to Boss everyone around. Because it was legitimized by him being called "a Leader" and it was probably a "cute" trait back then. But not any longer. Now he doesn't know how, to be any other way. And that others are tired of him being a "Boss." But previously all this time... he was allowed to do it.

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answers from Charlotte on

About his friends, I would exclusively have kids over to your house for a while so that you can monitor and deal with his behavior. I would talk to him before they show up and tell him "A good friend thinks about what his friends want to do. " Then show him a thumbs up sign. Then tell him that a good friend does NOT try to MAKE someone do something they don't want to do. Show him a thumbs down sign for that kind of friend.

Tell him when they are playing, if he starts to be mean because they don't want to play his game, you will remind him by showing him a thumbs down sign. Tell him if he ignores you and continues to be mean to his friends, you will put him in another room and let THEM play without him. Then make it happen.

It is your job to teach him to play well. Having playdates is a good way to do this. I would not want the other mothers to be there with you, because that's distracting to you and you don't want to have to train him in front of them.

As far as talking back to adults is concerned, hit that hard, A.. He goes into his room and doesn't come out for 10 minutes. When you let him out, he goes to the adult and apologizes. Or he goes back in his room for 10 more minutes if he won't apologize or if he says something else nasty. Explain to the adult what you are trying to accomplish, and ask them NOT to say "Oh, it's ok sweetie" or anything like that. They need to say sternly, "Thank you for the apology. Try to remember next time how you are supposed to ask for "x" or "whatever".

Do it now because whether this is a phase or not, if you DON'T deal with it, it will become an ugly habit. When he gets to school, he won't have friends because they will do what this other child is doing - they will say no first, and then they will shun him. And that will make him more difficult to deal with all the way around.

You're a good mama, A.. Bad parents just allow this to happen and make excuses. You aren't like this.


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answers from Santa Fe on

My son was very much like this at age 4!! Confident and strong willed and bossy and always wanting his way! He did not laugh at being disciplined though - usually he'd have a huge temper tantrum when having a time out and we would just ignore him and put him in his room. Boy, he'd get angry. Definitely do what works for you and be very consistent with discipline. Make house rules and be very black and white about them. As for being bossy with friends - talk to him about how this is not nice. I did this with my son and it was like he truly did not get it. He could only see his side of things for a long time. I would do role play with his stuffed animals with him and make one be bossy/mean to another one. I'd ask him how it felt. But when it came to his own play time and emotions he just could not see someone else's side. I would make him play nice and end play dates early if was very stressful, honestly. What helped was starting school and him maturing as he got older. Being in school did a world of wonders for him learning to play nice. I do a play date every week with different school friends and he plays with neighborhood kids often (he's very social). The other thing that I think really helped is there were 2-3 older neighborhood kids who used to come over and play with him all the time (Kindergarten - 1st grade). They are 5 or more years older and they thought my son was "cool" and cute and would come over to play hide and seek or play with his baby sister. One of them has been a mother's helper for me as well and I got to know these kids very well. Often they did not want to play what my son wanted to play. At first they would play what he wanted and then they would not give in and would go ahead and play hide and seek or whatever against his wishes. He really looked up to them bc they were they cool big kids. He HATED it when he did not get his way but would usually go along with them (he wanted them to like him so badly). After they left he'd have a meltdown and sob about how they would not play what he wanted. I would remind him that they did at first and that you have to compromise and take turns. Wow, he really learned a lot by playing with them. These kids no longer come over to play - they got to big to play with a little kid but one of them occasionally babysits for us. Anyway, show your son what is right. Make him do what is right. Talk to him a lot about it. Talk to him about others feelings. I am sure he will mature as he gets older and will get better at this with your guidance. My son is great at playing with friends now and happily take turns...I am happy to say I don't have to worry about this any more.

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answers from San Francisco on

Sounds like your little guy is really feeling his oats right now. I think I would handle both situations essentially the same. Send him to his room, door closed, period.

For the back talk, you can't let any little transgression slip by, including any muttering under the breath. When you see that, you need to make him tell you aloud what he is muttering. Then, I would send him to his room immediately when I heard any back talk. I would tell him that you will not tolerate disrespect and back talk and if he can't speak to adults with respect he can stay in his room because adults do not care to be around children who don't show respect. Remove him from the situation and leave him in his room for an extended period of time. Let him know you mean business.

As for the friend issue, I would do the same. If you see him not being nice to others, remove him from the situation. If you're at a play date, you immediately leave. If the playdate is at your house, send him to his room and allow the guest to continue playing with your son's toys. Again, leave him in his room for an extended period of time.

If he has to miss out on things, he may decide it's not worth it and shape up. If not, he'll spend a lot of time in his room, but at least you won't continue to be embarassed and your son will come to understand that these behaviors are not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

Good luck!

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