Talking back is one of the top office referrals in many public school campuses. It is at those times that we may hear/say the in-famous "Get out of my classroom, I've had it with you", which translates to: "I do not think you are worth it, I do not care about you, I lost control and now I need you to leave MY classroom." Don't feel bad, I've said it too. But somethings gotta give and ineffective is ineffective. At home it might sound something like this "Get out of my face or I will loose it!", which translates to "I am not in control of my emotions and I don't want to talk with you".
Our children do not know how to communicate. So sometimes what sounds like "talking back" is really the child saying "You are making all the choices and I need to feel like I have power over something". I am going to share two personal experiences below.
Me: "It's time to take a bath!"
My child: "NO!"(she is not saying no to "disrespect" me, she is saying no to the bath, not to me. So I don't take it personal)
Me: "It sounds like you need help getting ready. (acknowledge her) Will you take a bubble bath or a quick bath?" (offer choices with limits)
My child: "No! I am not your friend any more!" (She is three, has no clue what that means and right now she is resisting my limits)
Me: You are mad. It's okay to feel mad. (acknowledge) You will take a bath to be healthy. (redirect) Make a choice: bubble or quick? (parrot choices not engaging in power struggles she want to pull me into)
My child: "No bath! No no no!" (runs away. Again, the child is resisting my limits. This is not about trying to make me mad but to try to use her new found three year old independence to choose beyond my limits)
Me: You ran away from me. That is not safe. I will help you now by picking you up and taking you to the safe place.
There, She made a calming choice and after going back to calm in about 5 minutes, I repeated the same exact choices (never add a new one, or give in at this point just because they calmed down. Now is the time to teach, now that the brain is calm again).
My child: "Quick bath. I am tired. Sorry I yelled"
Me: I accept your apology. I do not like it when you yell at me. Next time, come to the safe place.
My child: "okay mommy"
After that, she took a bath and went to sleep without resisting the pijama choices and the new limit of not co-sleeping and sleeping in her new preschooler bed without any other choice expect with stuffed animal goes to bed with her that night. I went to sleep right away too. This is exhausting. I was not raised this way. I am learning too. Learning is some hard work people. Did not do the dishes that night LOL It took all my emotional energy not to just spank her like I was at that age. But I did it!
Me: L. the timer went off. (reminder) What are you supposed to do? (provide opportunity to speak)
L: Switch stations. (he knows what to do)
Me: I need you to do that now.
L: No. I like this one. (he is choosing not to do it.)
Me: L. I understand you like that one. (acknowledge) But now we need to switch. (restate directions) That is the kid choice to make. (link directions to a classroom rule "Make kind choices" is one of our 4 rules)
L: Leave me alone! I just want to do this! (child is loosing control. not to disrespect ME, but to gain control over a preferred activity)
Me: I will count to 5. Then you will chose if you switch by yourself or if you need my help. (Not switching is NOT a choice. I count)
L: Ok... (switches station lays his head on table)
(The child is off- task but he just followed a direction so I give him another choice)
Me: I saw you swtiched. That was kind. Now I will set the timer. Will you need 3 minutes or 5 minutes to go back to task on the new station? (opportunity to speak)
(when the timer went off he did not go back to task)
Me: I see you are not going back to work. Now choose: will you work on the station or a worksheet? I will count to ten and if you are still not working on the station I will give you a worksheet to work on. (provided a choice with limits)
L: No, no worksheet, look I am working again. (gets on task)
This may sound like a long process but due to the strategies, the child was not deprived from instructional time by going to the office. He learned that switching is expected and required, that there are real consequences, and that being on task is an expectation and not an option. Because this is a school age child, providing opportunities to speak generates a conversation where talking back IS expected and not an adult having a monologue where the child is expected to listen without speaking.
In real adult life we are expected to reply and to be assertive, flexible, good communicators to grow in our careers and relationships. This situations are the opportunities for our children to learn and practice how that looks, sounds, and feels like. By providing choices with LIMITS, staying in control of the situation and our own emotions, by not taking it personal, by modeling respectful communication, we are providing children with the tools they need, decreasing inappropriate behaviors and creating positive spaces for growth.
Wishing you a happy rest of the week,