23 June 2009 10:22 AM

Sassy Kids

by Dr. Rick

“What can I do with a kid who’s always talking back?”


“I can’t stand the eye-rolling and the constant sarcasm!”


“She won’t listen – all she wants to do is talk back.”


“Kids talking back” is a topic we hear a lot about here at Dr. Rick Blog.  When I was a classroom teacher, with hordes of sometimes grumpy, hormonal teenagers not always keen on learning about the apostrophe, I heard a bit of it myself.  Like you, no doubt, sometimes I was successful in dealing with it, sometimes not so much.


Here’s some advice, suggestions culled from my own experience as well as the wisdom of my more-patient colleagues.

  1. Calm down.  This seems to be the first step in just about any emergency, doesn’t it?  Including when you’re so fed up with your sassy child’s snarkiness that you want to lower yourself to his level and engage in a sarcasm tournament that you just know you can win.  This is when you need to take a breather, remove yourself from his vicinity (or zip code), and give the little dear the benefit of the doubt.  Fatigue?  Hunger? Bad day at school?

  2. Be a role model.  When you’re calm enough for some introspection, recognize that kids learn their behaviors from us adults.  Does your family interrupt, sass, act sarcastically, and yell at one another during “discussions”?  If that’s the only way he’s seen the family disagree with one another, well, he’s only doing what he’s been taught.

  3. Teach appropriate ways to communicate.  Chances are, yours is not a family of screamers, so this is probably just a “phase” he’s going through.  (When I was thirteen years old, I overheard my mother say to one of her friends, “Just when he’s at an age when we can stand him, he can’t stand us.”  I’m pretty sure she was talking about me.  Phases are a part of life.  Passages.)  Let him know that you still expect civility in the family – such behaviors as listening respectfully and speaking without yelling.  These are skills he’ll find useful in life.

  4. Don’t take it personally.  He’s merely expressing an opinion, even if he’s doing it clumsily, maybe even rudely.  A sense of humor always helps.

  5. Don’t engage in the heat of the moment. “I won’t talk with you when you’re acting like this.  We’ll finish the conversation later when you’re ready to treat me with respect.”  When he’s ready, this could be another “teachable moment,” when you guide him in speaking without sarcasm – the preferred language of adolescents – and establish some ground rules for polite (or at least, quieter) communicating in the family.

  6. Give a little.  It’s an awful truth not easily learned, but people don’t always behave the way you want them to.  Face it, though.  It’s a fact of life.  Do your best to teach him civility, respect for others, and empathy.  Show how those values are important to you and the family.  Live by them.  Have high expectations for him.  But, ultimately, he’s either going to learn these values or he’s not.  At least not for now, or until someone else – a wife, a boss, a drill sergeant – teaches him, without your kindness and patient love.

  7. Remember when you were this age.  Kids are always moving toward independence, but it’s never a straightforward route.  Sometimes they take several steps forward, then take just as many back.  This back-talking could be nothing more than an awkward attempt at independence, at growing up.  Recognize it for what it is.  Don’t fall into a trap by overreacting.  He will grow out of it.  Someday.

  8. Balance.  Balance is the secret of life.  Sure, it’s hard to find the right balance between having high expectations and ignoring stupid behavior, between being tough and being understanding, between losing your temper and holding your tongue.  But the more you’re the calm adult, the more he’ll see that he’s the one who must change.

  9. Praise good behavior.  When he shows restraint, when he listens respectfully, when the eye-rolling subsides, let him know that you notice it, that you’re pleased, and that you’re proud of him.

  10. Talk to someone older, wiser.  Maybe your own parents who’ve been secretly waiting for this payback day, maybe a teacher who’s dealt with this over the years with hundreds of other people’s kids, maybe a friend you admire who always seems so in charge.  You’ll find out no one has The Answer.  That’s a comfort.

What’s your family’s secret for dealing with sassy kids?  We’d love to hear from you.  Click on “comment” below and share your wisdom or humorous stories.




6/25/2009 7:26:40 AM

This are very useful advices, follow them, we can avoid the stress, in particular, I agree with the point about the sense of humor.


7/13/2009 10:40:23 AM

One important tactic is to partner with your spouse and present a united front.  Also coach each other.  Its easy to get overheated but we need to remember that this are children and we adults need to be thinking how to teach them rather than getting too involved and becoming part of the argument.

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11/8/2009 9:47:31 PM

Calming down and never take it personal, just like you say i think those two are the most neglicted components when talkin to our kids that we tend to not apply well

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11/11/2009 12:04:57 AM

Praising good behavior is key. It fosters more of what we want and displaces the bad behavior we don't.

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