Addressing “Talking back”: A Biblical Approach for Parents

When your kids are talking back, “mouthing” or otherwise arguing when you give them instructions to do something –   do you ignore it or address it?

 I have to admit, I’m the pick-your-battles type of mom, and there have been many times I’ve simply walked away from a back-talking child in an attempt to diffuse the drama.

But one thing I’m finding lately is that by NOT addressing it, I’m also dismissing the disrespectful nature of it.

I’ve realized that if I want to raise respectful kids, I need to not only model respectful behavior, but also teach them how to express their opinions – and disagreements – in a way that honors God.

Image: Mom disciplining daughter for talking back

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What talking back really is, and what it isn’t

I think it’s important to clarify what “talking back” means, because I’ve seen some experts suggest recently that there’s really nothing wrong with it.

It’s just asserting your preference, enforcing your own boundaries.

It’s the stuff natural leaders are made of!

I have to disagree and point out that we’re not comparing apples to apples here.

While some kids seem to be more naturally passionate “debaters” than others, let’s not use a strong personality to excuse bad behavior.

Any child that we hope to be a good leader will have to learn discernment between letting his voice be heard when it counts – and knowing when to simply submit to the authority figures in his life – and ultimately to God.

It’s not having an opinion that’s the problem; it’s how we choose to assert it (and when).

So maybe we can partially blame it on social media or the Girl Power culture or the Disney channel for glorifying “sass” as something that’s witty or cute.

sassy behavior and back talk

But when we evaluate it a little more, we can see this behavior for what it really is: defiance and disobedience.

It’s that pesky sin nature that we all struggle with.

And we have a duty as parents to correct the behaviors that result from it.

With that said, here are a few ways to address back talk  by reinforcing what Scripture teaches about our words, actions and attitudes.

Want the ad-free version of this post? Get the full printable guide with worksheets and bonus Scripture printables here.

Remain calm but firm

So here’s an example: You ask your tween to unload the dishwasher and she promptly responds with, “But I’m tired!! Why don’t YOU do it?” or some other snarky remark.

(Tweens can be hormonal and snarky at times! It happens.)

Staying calm – and in control – is pretty much the #1 thing I have to remember when addressing any type of misbehavior with my kids. 

“I am the adult; they are not.”

If we expect our children to learn to be respectful, we have to control our own emotions and our words.

It’s really a matter of learning to operate out of our heads, and not our feelings.

It’s choosing to respond instead of just reacting.

And sometimes it’s much worse than just argumentative back talk.

Our kids can hurl insults, throw our mistakes in our faces and even try to humiliate us in an effort to manipulate the outcome of certain situations.  

One tip I learned from the book (and video series) Have a New Kid by Friday was not to just ignore the rude remarks from my kids, but to teach them empathy and also model how to appropriately express feelings.

For instance, you can say, “That was really hurtful and I’m very upset by what you just said.”

And THEN very purposefully, walk away.

Do not engage in an argument or worse, a shouting match.

Do not allow them to gain power over you in this way.

Read next:  Get Kids to Listen Without Yelling- and End the Power Struggles

Let natural consequences teach the lesson (whenever possible)

Let them deal with the realization that their words matter.

It might be one of the most powerful natural consequences a child can experience, especially when this becomes our pattern of response.

A pertinent Bible passage that addresses controlling our emotions is James 1:19-20, which states:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

Showing restraint from lashing out in anger is important in teaching our kids what righteous behavior looks like when faced with insulting/disrespectful behavior.

Because that’s over-arching goal, right?

Not just to end this one negative behavior…not just to teach respect or empathy or any number of character traits (although we want that too)…but that these traits we’re enforcing will produce in our kids a desire to do what’s right.

We want our kids to do what’s right simply because it’s the right thing to do, and it pleases God.

So after walking away from a back-talking child, give them some time to think about their actions.

walking away from talking back behavior

Read Next:  5 Tips for Raising Responsible Kids 

Should you ask for an apology for back talk?

Some may disagree, but I don’t think it’s helpful at all to demand an apology for back talk.

I am sure I’ve done this before, and I know my husband has demanded the kids apologize to me a few times.

Here’s the thing:  an apology that has to be solicited is never sincere!  Especially in the heat of the moment.

Kids will apologize just to “get it over with” but I don’t think that action necessarily means anything when it’s coerced.

Image: mother and daughter- talking back behavior

How to know if you’ve addressed the issue

At this point it’s up to you as a parent to decide if you want to press the issue further.

You may choose to enforce a specific consequence for talking back after you’ve walked away and given some cool-off time for both you and your child.

I tend to wait until I can gauge if my child seems repentant or not.

You might be surprised by this, but 9 times out of 10, if I just walk away and don’t talk to them for a while, don’t try to re-engage — they will come to me and apologize on their own.

Sounds too simple to be true, right?  It has taken a lot of practice to get to that point.

But I can tell you that any time I lose my cool and respond in anger- they typically won’t be coming to me to apologize later.

And then, of course, we’re both at fault!

If they do not seem sorry at all for their behavior, I think it’s good to discuss the incident again after the cool-off period.

Talk about the impact of our words.  Point to scripture about the “power of the tongue” and submitting to the authority of our parents and to God.

The deeper root

In these moments, my kids will often confess the real root of their defiance (especially if I take time to dig).

Sometimes it has little to do with whatever I asked them to do and more to do with other feelings or thoughts they didn’t appropriately express at the time.

Read next:  Learning to navigate the minefield of your tween girl’s emotions

And when they can finally glimpse this insight into their own behavior, this is what lays the foundation for wiser choices in future words and actions.

A few more tips on diffusing back talk

Hopefully the above points give you an idea of why it’s important to address “talking back” instead of just ignoring it like I have done far too often!

appropriate punishment for talking back-tips and reminders

Practical things to remember – to help to decrease defiant behavior in general:

  • When giving kids chores such as cleaning their bedroom, consider giving them a timeframe rather than “right now”.
    • As adults, we would rarely ask an employee or a friend to go and complete something right now unless there was some emergency.
    • Telling them the room needs to be cleaned before dinner or bedtime is usually sufficient.
    • If they don’t complete the task, simply enforce an appropriate consequence.  Less tech time, no tech time…or better yet, let them do one of your regular cleaning tasks in addition to cleaning their room the next day.
    • It’s most effective if the punishment relates to the crime in some way!

  • Make sure you have times during the day for positive, intentional connection with your child.
    • Kids will seek attention in negative ways if their emotional tank isn’t being filled by the time, attention and love they need.
    • Keep in mind, depending on what’s been going on in their day, these needs might be greater on some days than others. 
    • If our main interaction with them is reminding them of chores and lists of instructions…they are going to go on the defense because they also need a balance of down time, FUN and positive interaction with you! 
      (Just speaking from experience here, because I’m a do-er and I have to be really intentional about the relational side of family life especially after a busy, disconnected day.)

  • Pay attention to your own words and attitudes toward others (not just your children). PRAY for wisdom in this matter. 
    • Respectful behavior and language is caught more than it’s taught!
    • Kids hear everything– whether we’re on the phone, driving in the car…they are forming their values and ideas of what is appropriate by what they hear from us.
    • I have to remember that I need to be appropriately submissive to my husband, authority figures and to God, if I want my kids to learn and value that behavior. (It’s a two-way street.)

Want to tackle defiant behavior further? Get the full printable guide below:

Ad-free version of this post • Reflection questions • 8 Scripture Printables! Find it here.

You might also like:

Showing Kids Unexpected Grace in the Trenches

Tips for Teaching Respect (without negativity)

Fear Based Parenting vs. Trusting God

How to Raise a Gentleman in Today’s Culture

5 Qualities Good Parents Have in Common

50 Questions about Faith and Family to ask Your Kids Tonight

Image with text: how to address talking back and arguing as a Christian parent

16 thoughts on “Addressing “Talking back”: A Biblical Approach for Parents”

  1. Thanks for these suggestions. I think slowly I can work these out in our house.Iam really struggling with back answer and irrespectful behavior.Thank you very much.

    1. When privileges are taken away it doesn’t usually take long to get compliance 🙂 But yes, if it doesn’t get done when it needs to be done (not just when they feel like doing it), I do it and enforce a consequence.

  2. Thank you for this! Question, when you say “that was hurtful” and walk away calmly, what do you suggest if the child doesn’t acknowledge that she did anything wrong and just goes back to acting normally, as if nothing happened? I find that if I bring the issue up after she’s gotten over it, things usually get worse. My daughter is not yet a tween, but has already started back talking in similar situations. Thanks for your input!

    1. That is a great question. I think the younger the child, the more immediate the consequence usually needs to be. I probably should have clarified that. Simply walking away may not work for a child who is also on the immature side or doesn’t seem to have developed a good “emotional IQ” yet. That takes time and some work on our part too. (Find stories you can read about hurt feelings/power of words, being respectful, etc to help them get a better concept of this. Berenstain Bears has a lot of great ones.) So with my 5 year old, for instance, when he’s out of control and yelling at me, I walk him to his room and do the love-and-logic approach: make him stay there until he can “be sweet” or you could say “until you can use nice words to talk to me” in this instance. Hold the door on the outside for a few minutes if you need to. I usually reserve this for really big outbursts and it’s pretty effective. He’ll give up trying to open the door and cry on his bed for a few minutes until he decides he wants to come out and be kind again. If he’s still angry when he comes out and stomping around — back to the room for some thinking time. And you’re right, sometimes bringing it up right after the fact can make it worse. I might wait until bedtime when we’re reading a story and can naturally work it into the conversation so it doesn’t make them feel like they’re being attacked after the situation is already resolved. Best of luck, Gena.

  3. I am raising my 11yr old granddaughter and I find the spikey attitude goes up after a visit with her mom. I know she is hurting and expressing herself with smarty mouth on top of emotions of just being a tween. But how do I handle this better? She is turning to food when things get out of her control, or tries to make jokes and says well it makes the kids at school like me more, but what I see is a young girl struggling to fit in and wants control, but by backtalk,,,suggestions welcome

    1. Hi Kim, it sounds like you have great insight into this situation already. You might check out this post on Managing Tween Emotions that might be helpful also in regards to showing empathy during the tween years (which can be difficult no matter what). Wishing you the best- this is no easy task!

  4. Thank you so much for this post. I have been seriously struggling with my 14 year old daughters back y’all and arguing. We have fought the last two nights because of it and last night I cried myself to keep bc I am at my wits end with it. I so needed this article today and I will be following you and reading more of your posts, like the one on girl drama that I saw mentioned above. Again Thank you so so much for this and God couldn’t have placed this in my feed at a better time.

  5. So much great advice here. I definitely struggle when my 12 year old gets snarky.. mostly bc I’m still caught off guard by it… oh those teenage hormones! Thanks for sharing some Christ-like advice 🙂

  6. You have given some great tips for that pesky back talk. You’re so right that the deeper lessons are self control and respect. For both parties. 😜
    Parenting is such an intentional mission. And we are all guilty of those counterproductive reactions. Thanks for the gentle and inspiring insight.

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