How to Discipline an Eight-Year-Old Backtalker

Discipline is training that develops moral character and pro-social behavior. If you have a child who has something to say every time you give a directive, you have a problem that will likely grow into something bigger and more unmanageable if it remains unchecked. Fortunately, you can teach your child to behave respectfully.

Set clear expectations for your child's behavior. Let your child know in no uncertain terms that back talk is absolutely unacceptable. Sit down with him and say, "When you ask "why" after I've asked you to do something, you are not being obedient. When I ask you to get ready for bed, I expect you to do so without arguing." Some parents make their expectations part of their home decor. Consider hanging wall art that says "In this house, we do respect, we do fun, we do forgiveness, we listen to one another," or something along those lines.

Let your child know what will happen if he chooses to talk back to you after he knows your expectations. Have this discussion when you are both calm -- before the back talk has occurred. Don't make statements in the heat of the moment such as "The next time you do that, you are going to get in trouble." This type of conversation is vague, unhelpful and invites further misbehavior. Instead, say "We treat one another with respect in this family. If you choose to be sarcastic when I express my opinion, you'll be giving up your television time that day."

Use natural consequences whenever possible. For example, if your child complains when you ask him to pick his clothes off his bedroom floor, let him know he'll be responsible for going through the house and taking everyone's dirty clothes to the laundry room. If your son tells you that your choice of fast food restaurant is "stupid," take him home and make him a peanut butter sandwich instead of treating him to a kid's meal.

Follow through and be consistent once you've imposed a consequence for back talk. It is likely your child will whine and protest the consequence. This is normal. Stick to your original statement and refuse to engage in an argument with him. Consider using the "broken record" technique, in which you simply repeat your original words until your child realizes that your answer is not going to change 1.

Look for opportunities to reinforce the behavior you want to see. For example, if your child responds immediately to a request without making an unnecessary comment, stop what you are doing and say, "I really appreciate how you took out the trash without comment. You must be growing up!"

Model the responses you want to receive from your child. Talk to your spouse, children and other people respectfully. Your actions speak louder than words and will teach your child how to treat others with respect.


Monitor media in your household. Often, children see other children behaving disrespectfully to adults on television, for example. Children can and do imitate what they see.