The back talk, disrespect and whining started the second he got into the car with me.
“I’m not eating that!” he scowled.
Apparently, the after-school snack I brought didn’t cut the mustard. He tossed it onto the floor of the car, giving me the death-stare.
Motherhood. Is. Bliss.
Once we returned home, little did I know, the waterfall of emotions was only just beginning. I touched the blanket wrong. I sat in the wrong spot. I made dinner wrong. And worst of all, I breathed.
In his world, everything was horribly wrong and no one was going to talk him out of it.
I validated and coached him using this 3-step parenting approach. I firmly set some boundaries and helped him problem solve through the tumultuous feelings. I even used my surefire technique for how to stop a whining child.
And yet, the whining continued.
I was on the verge of going hulk mom (brutal honesty here). I can only take so much incessant whining and back talk before I’m about to lose it.
I realized what was going on.
Through my Language of Listening® training, I learned to dig deeper in these button pushing situations to see the big picture (which is super hard).
Because in those moments when you feel disrespected, you’re a hundred times more likely to feel the need to push back HARD rather than dig deep and hold steady.
There is so much behind the scenes work you do for your kids that they don’t see or understand. The laundry you’re folding at midnight. The job you’re working to earn money for the roof over their heads. The nights you can’t sleep because you’re worried about your kids’ breathing.
And man, you’re just plain tired.
The mere thought of digging deep in these situations only exhausts you more. It feels much easier to close the door on your child’s emotions (preferably one with a deadbolt lock).
But I promise, digging deep will change everything.
So…I started digging.
And what I discovered was startling.
Behind the child, who whined and refuted every seemingly inconsequential thing happening in our home, was a child who was asking me for one thing:
By taking a step back and shifting my perception, I was able to squeegee off the mud covering my eyes and see clearly.
Instead of a seeing a child personally attacking my every move, I saw a child who felt left out at school and needed help processing that.
Instead of seeing a child talking with blatant disrespect, I saw a child who needed help to make a better choice in language.
Instead of seeing a child throwing a snack onto the floor of the car, I saw a child who needed help coping with anger.
Perception is everything.
Russel Barkley (a child psychology guru) nailed it when he said, “The children who need the most love will always ask for it in the most unloving ways.”
Kids really do ask for love (and help) in the most unloving (and irritating) ways. This is the hardest part of parenting: You have to look past those unloving behaviors to see what is really happening underneath the surface.
How to handle back talk and disrespect.
Backtalk, whining and disrespect is always about meeting a need for power. Which means, when a child is digging their heels into all these unfavorable behaviors, s/he is likely feeling powerless.
It was the one puzzle piece missing from my 1,000 piece jigsaw.
Once I found that piece, I was able to transform the way I handle backtalk and other misbehaviors…in 3 simple steps.
1) Shift perception.
When you shift perception and understand what is really happening, you’ll handle the situation differently.
Because if what you see is disrespect, you’ll react as if you’re being disrespected. But if what you see is a child asking for help, you’ll react as if someone genuinely needs help. So we aren’t changing your reactions, only your perceptions.
2) Fill that power cup.
One way I do this is by looking at my kids and saying, “You know, it looks like you’re angry about something and you just need to get it all out. When you’re angry, you can hit this cushion right here. You can take your fists and pound it right into the cushion. Like this…”
I show them (and honestly by this point I have anger to get out too) and I say, “I’m Angry!” and pound my fists into the cushion. The kids always find this entertaining, and they’ll pound their fists into the cushion too (in between trying to stay angry and giggling).
This simple exercise is a great way to break the tension and help you both get out frustration if you are both at your breaking point (aka about to go hulk mom).
In the past, some parents voiced concerns that I was promoting violence, but I chose this exercise for a reason: kids live almost completely in the physical world. Getting anger and frustration out in a physically safe way is a beautiful tool that works quickly.
Because I like to save this strategy for when we are at our breaking point, here are some calmer (and less physical) ways to fill your child’s power cup:
- Use these 4 words to diffuse a power struggle.
- Try this 4 step method.
- Use these routines to help kids feel in control.
3) Power first, teach second.
Until kids are able to get their anger and frustration out in some way, the logical brain will send an “out of office” reply. And this “out of office reply” will continue until the emotional brain finishes rifling through it’s paperwork and gets organized.
Once the emotional brain files away the anger, frustration and powerlessness, the logical brain turns back on and is available for messages about better choices.
Shortly after everyone is calm, I love to sit down next to my son and talk about difficult moments.
Just yesterday I inched next to him and said, “You came home today and you were so upset about everything. It was hard to figure that out. Next time when you come home frustrated and angry, you can hit the cushion, get some space in your room away from everyone or talk to me about what happened.”
You are a parenting warrior.
When I picked my son up from school the next day, he hopped in the car, and I handed him the same after-school snack that generated a death-stare the day prior. His shift was a complete 180 degrees:
“Wow. Thanks mom!” he smiled.
I looked back, nodded and half-smiled knowing what I knew all along:
It was never about me.
It was always about him. Simply needing one thing–help.
Learn more about Language of Listening®.
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