How to React to Smart-Mouth Kids

Whether you are dealing with a hot-tempered 5-year-old or an obnoxious teen, reacting to smart-mouthed kids takes practice, patience and restraint. In most cases, children who act out using inappropriate tones and words are vying for your attention; whether it’s good or bad. Approaching your own smart-mouthed child doesn’t have to differ from how you would react to another child talking back. Extinguish the behavior by letting the child know his tone is unacceptable and establish consequences for foul attitudes.

Nip the behavior in the bud immediately. Don’t allow the smart-mouthed attitude to continue until you are ready to explode; address the tone and vernacular immediately, so the child knows that you aren’t going to allow for the behavior. When you identify a rude behavior or tone, stop the conversation and address the situation. Tell the child said that what she said--or how she said it-- isn’t acceptable and to correct her tone or language. Calling the child out on her behavior isn’t a one-time deal. You must identify and correct the behavior every time it occurs. The child will continue to push boundaries to determine if you are truly serious about these rules.

Pick your battles. Sometimes pouncing on every remark can dilute your stance on smart-mouthed behavior and undermine your point. When it comes to teenagers, rolling eyes and sighing may become a subconscious way of life. Instead of calling your teen out on every eye roll, consistently focus on overt smart-mouthed behavior. Also, sometimes speaking to your child after the behavior occurs, instead of during, may provide more perspective on how the tone or words impact others. For example, if the kids were “trash talking” each other, pull your child aside afterward and ask him if he would have liked being spoken to in the same manner. Ask him to analyze his behavior to determine if a different approach may have been a better strategy.

Develop a signal to let your child know she is dangerously close to crossing boundaries. For older children and teens, simply raising your eyebrow or even shaking your head can bring her back into reality and let her know her behavior is becoming unacceptable. A non-verbal cue also can help the child save face in front of other kids and adults, so that the child can self-correct and maintain dignity.

Follow up with punishment. Empty threats or even violence will not deter the problem. Continuing to tell your children he won't get to go to the party, but still letting the child go sends a clear message that you don’t really mean what you say. Also, spanking or hitting your child may only exacerbate the problem, creating a more violent individual with a bad attitude.

Instead, establish punishments and restriction scenarios and follow through. Take away privileges such as computer and T.V. time and clearly communicate how long these privileges are banned. Encourage the child to earn back privileges by demonstrating proper behavior through positive reinforcement and coaching.


Never stoop to the child’s level by shooting back an equally biting or offensive comment. It only encourages the behavior and establishes a pattern.

Establish clear rules about what you will and will not tolerate in terms of snarky behavior. For example, if mild sarcasm falls under smart-mouthed behavior, tell your child before handing down punishment so everyone understands the rules.