7 Ways to Deal with a Sassy Child

Don't let your child get away with being sassy.
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Whether your 5-year-old says, "You're not the boss of me!" or your 15-year-old says, "You're so stupid. I'm not listening to you," sassy replies are a serious problem. If left unchecked, disrespectful kids will turn into rude adults.

All children are sassy at one time or another. As toddlers, they often talk back in an effort to test limits and gain independence. At that age, responding isn't so hard.

As your child ages, though, there are fewer excuses for sass, though nearly all children go through mouthy phases at one time or another. While you want to pick your battles, this rude behavior shouldn’t be tolerated. Teach a sassy child how to be more respectful with these strategies.

1. Offer up a “Deactivating” Response

As much as you want to throw a sarcastic comeback right back to a sassy kid, resist stooping to your child’s level. Instead, respond with a neutral phrase that shows your child that you heard what he said, but you’re not going to react.

Options include, “Thank you for your opinion” or “That’s interesting.” If it’s a teachable moment, use it as such. In response to a sassy comment about doing chores, say “A more appropriate response would be something like, ‘I’ll shut the TV off and come help you right now, Mom.’”

2. Cut Back on TV

There are a myriad reasons why screen time isn’t ideal for young ones, and it includes their mimicry of sassy characters on TV.

They’ll pick up words and phrases from shows (either their own favorites or even one of yours) and parrot it back to you without truly understanding its meaning.

The way to stop that sass? Turn the TV off. You might think children’s TV is probably OK, but when you really listen to some characters’ dialogue, you’ll be shocked at the disrespectful language that’s thrown out.

When you discover characters using sassy comebacks, talk to your child about why saying those things is inappropriate. Say something like, “That was a rude thing to say and it might hurt someone’s feelings. What could he have said instead that would be nicer?”

3. Take Back the Power

Part of a child’s mouthiness is an attempt to gain a little bit of power in the parent-child relationship. If you respond in an irritated manner, you give their words strength.

Instead, take back the power that belongs to the parent. When you tell your child to complete a task, and she responds, “Do it yourself,” don’t allow that to stand. Be clear: “I instructed you to do it, and I expect you to do it as I asked.”

Avoid getting into a power struggle when your child tries to lure you into a debate. Arguing with your child only helps delay how long she can put off following through with your instructions. So rather than get into a lengthy debate, simply enforce consequences if she’s not compliant.

4. Ignore It

Selective ignoring is another way to take back the parenting power.

If you simply don’t acknowledge the disrespect, your little one will figure out quickly that it’s not going to get your attention or change the circumstances.

Simply look the other direction or walk away without saying a word. This is an effective message when you know your child is trying to get your attention and her words are meant for shock-value. The lack of response will send her the message that inappropriate words won’t get the attention she’s looking for.

Re-engage again when she starts to behave appropriately. And when everyone is calm, hold a conversation about the importance of using kind and nice words toward one another.

5. Provide a Single Warning

Sometimes kids need a reminder that sarcastic responses aren’t appropriate. So whether your child says, “Duh Mom, you’re such a loser,” or he mumbles, “Whatever” under his breath, address it. Stay calm, and say, “That’s inappropriate. If you are disrespectful again, we’re going to go home.”

It’s especially important to address your child’s sassy comments if he’s showing off in front of guests or if he’s trying to look cool in front of his friends. Make it clear that you aren’t willing to tolerate that type of disrespect and tell him what will happen if he does it again.

6. Follow Through with a Consequence

If your child’s sass doesn’t stop after a warning, or if she said something extremely inappropriate, follow through with a consequence. Appropriate consequences might include leaving the playground immediately, time-out, or loss of privileges.

Make sure the consequence is time-sensitive. Telling your child you’re going to take away his trip to Grandma’s house next week isn’t likely to be effective. Find something that will work right now, so he’ll think twice about being disrespectful next time.

7. Model Respect

Make a household rule that emphasizes the importance of treating other people with kindness and respect. Then, make sure you follow that rule as well.

If your child regularly sees you giving sass to those around you, whether it’s your significant other, your mother or a restaurant server, don’t expect to tame his mouth. Model respectful, polite language in all aspects of your life.

Respond to sass with respectful behavior as well. Stay calm and use polite words to address misbehavior. Show your child how to deal with anger and frustration in a socially appropriate manner. 

While you might have to get somewhat used to sassy comebacks, as they’ll probably pop up through your child’s teenage years, rest assured that it’s likely a phase. Do what you can to minimize the backtalk, but keep in mind that other parents are dealing with the same issue as you.

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