Has your cute and cheeky child suddenly turned into an argumentative opinionated kid with an attitude to match? Do you find yourself saying yes to things just to prevent the battle? Let’s look into 13 ideas to deal with arguing and backchat.

Arguing and back chat

Back chatting (also called back talk, or talking back) and arguing is universal – all children do it at some point. And all parents hate it!

Arguing back or backchat is a normal part of your child’s development. It’s a way for them to assert their growing independence. The trick is to respond in such a way that your child realises it isn’t going to help them get what they want.

Easier said than done, but we have some tips to help you both along.

5 top tips to prevent arguing and back chat

Prevention is always better than cure. So we should first take a look at the things you can put in place to prevent arguing and back chat from becoming an issue in the first place.

  1. Allow negotiation around decisions. Teaching your children how to negotiate respectfully is an essential life skill. You may need to establish some rules for the discussion. Here are some ideas to get you started:
    • Set a time limit, maybe 5 minutes, if your child has a tendency to drag things out.
    • Set locations, eg, the middle of the supermarket is not the right time to discuss whether your daughter can get her ears pierced.
    • You might want to set a rule that your children will accept your decision if you’re both out somewhere, but have a right of reply when you get back home.
    • Decide what is acceptable language. You might decide complaining is okay, but not yelling or name calling. You might also decide a complaint is only allowed to be voiced once, to prevent the whiny repetition of things such as “but everyone else is allowed to….”
    • Everyone gets to have their say.
  2. Make sure your child knows what you consider backchatting or arguing back. Come up with a family definition. It might be something like ‘repeated complaining’, so they know a one off complaint is okay, but they are not to repeat it. Discuss with them why backchatting is a problem for you.
  3. Have regular family meetings so your children feel empowered as family members.
  4. Model good behaviour – speak to your children the way you want them to speak to others.
  5. Consider whether ‘no’ really is the best answer:
    • Try not to say no straight away – kids find that really frustrating. Ask them for some time to consider their idea, perhaps say if they want an answer straight away it will be no, but give you some time to think about it and it’s less likely to be no (but still possible!)
    • Before you make your decision, ask them for their reasons. Try saying “Convince me.” You may even find yourself convinced!
    • Remember to change as they do. Maybe they are now old enough to do what it is they want to do!
    • Make sure your child knows the difference between arguing, arguing back and verbal abuse. Swearing, threatening or name calling crosses the line over to verbal abuse.
    • At a family meeting, decide on consequences for backchatting and verbal abuse.
    • Ask them questions. Unless it’s really necessary, don’t say things like “do the dishes now!” Instead if it was agreed their job would be to do the dishes and they haven’t done it, ask them when they were planning to do the dishes, and see if you can agree on a timeframe that works for everyone.
    • Offer choices, eg. “Which would you like to do first, take the dog for his walk or do the dishes?”

5 top tips to deal with arguing and backchat

arguing and backchat

  1. Don’t engage with the argument – it takes 2 to argue, so walk away, ignore it or be the broken record by repeating what you have already said.
  2. Don’t change your mind because of the backchat. If you have already got them to try and convince you and you’re still not convinced, let no be your final word and keep it that way. Otherwise add backchat to their toolbox of things to get their own way.
  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If they are mumbling away to themselves about how much they hate washing the dishes and it isn’t fair because their friends don’t have to wash dishes as they get off the couch and walk to the kitchen – just leave them to get it out of their system.
  4. Don’t take what they say to heart. Backchat that consists of “It’s not fair, you don’t love me, if you loved me you would….” Is not an indicator of how much you love them at all.
  5. Describe what they are doing and remind them of the consequences the family agreed on, eg. “You have presented your case and I have said no. If you repeat your complaint once more, that is backchat and you will miss out on your computer time tonight.”

And afterwards…

Of course, it doesn’t just stop there. We need to build in consistency and reflection to really change the behaviour. This means we’re doing the same thing all the time, to reinforce the change, and taking time to think about it, to make improvements.

  1. Make sure you consistently enforce the consequences decided on, and make sure they make things right with the person they backchatted.
  2. Discuss the situation with them, particularly how you both could have responded differently (while still giving the same answer!) to prevent the situation escalating.
  3. Acknowledge the feelings they had in the situation, without permitting the behaviour.

Once you’ve done all that, pat yourself on the back, and know you’ve taken a few more steps towards helping your child turn into a respectful and resourceful adult.

If backchat turns to anger, then check out Dealing with anger and Helping children deal with anger. And for more great expert advice, check out our School age: Behaviour section.

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Frank McColl is a primary teacher and writes teacher resource materials for primary and secondary schools. She has one quirky toddler who keeps her on her toes.

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hi i would like to cite this article, however I do not see the dates in this article. would you ind provide me with the date?

barbara kane

My son constantly gives me back chat, really frustrating when I have a 2 year old child aswell, he is 11 going on 14, most of the time I want bury my head in the sand and not come out


I feel the idea of giving them choices really works instead of ordering them. Good n helpful article.

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