Back chat in a precocious 5yo - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 5 Old 02-15-2012, 04:57 AM - Thread Starter
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Well i'm here again!  I hope you ladies can help me as you have done in the past!


DD1 is now 5yo, 6 in 6 weeks.


She is pretty amazing - very intelligent, very verbose, funny, fun and usually pretty wonderful.  Recently though she's been back-chatting a LOT, and been really quite disrespectful.


We (OH and I) mainly raise her, but she does also see a lot of XP (her bio dad) and he has her overnight once a week and sees her twice midweek.  We're a really cohesive family (DD1 calls OH "daddy" and DD2 calls XP "uncle" - he's over for dinner twice a week, we spend a lot of very civil time together) so there's no particular tensions surrounding that BUT XP's style is less respectful than ours, he does tend to name-call, in a joking way, but still, she's 5 and identifies when "joking" is appropriate and when it isn't poorly.


To give a few examples - every request is met with a stream of backchat:

Me: okay, your teeth are done, wait a minute while i do your sister's and we can go to bed...

DD1: (opens the door - DD2 (20months) tries to leave)

Me: DD i asked you to wait, close the door please.

DD1: (very "attitude" tone) well you say "don't open the door" but i wanted to go out, and my teddy is out there, and anyway i don't WANT to wait here, and... (at this point i cut her off and said i didn't want to hear more, and she started again to deride and i raised my voice a little and said "not one more word" - i don't feel great about that as a response, but i really didn't appreciate being spoken to like i was crap and i guess that's the ugly truth of how i automatically deal with it.)


Or in a pizzeria:

Me: DD what do you want?  Just the normal?

DD1: Pepperoni.

Me: ok, do you want garlic?

DD1: No Mama, you tool!  I only want pepperoni!

(i will admit at the point she called me a tool i said "did you just SAY that out loud to me!" in horror and she immediately apologised - the "tool" thing is one of XP's and he has since agreed to not use it and discourage her from using it, but he still will say she's a spanner etc.  I don't love it but i can't control him.  Plus to be honest it's the tone of derision that i don't like, more than what she's saying).


She's had a big growth spurt recently, and has had a few problems with another girl at school, and has been otherwise VERY loving with me (to the point of being jealous of her sister at times).  I do think some of this is developmental, some hormonal, and some because with starting school she's grappling with totally new challenges.


I feel bad for her - just now i'm being stern and telling her it's not going to get her anywhere to speak to me like that, but i really think there's a better way to deal with this than punishment and i just don't know what it is.  I wouldn't have dared to speak with disrespect to my own (gentle) parents, nor would OH.  XP did a LOT of backchatting and was punished (physically) for it profusely which made no difference, and he always likes the last word even now, but he's also hard to give the last word to - if you let him have it he just keeps escalating until he gets another reaction, he finds it hard to let things go.  We all want to help DD to control the feelings of wanting to hurt with words, and also for her to not feel so frustrated that she feels that way in the first place.


Any ideas?

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#2 of 5 Old 02-15-2012, 03:47 PM
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Hi, GoBecGo.


Tough stuff.


It really sounds like you're conscience of the circumstances (XP's habits/influence, growth spurt, a social challenge at school, jealousy, etc) that may be at least partially triggering your daughter's behavior. It does seem like she's processing a lot right now and probably needs a little extra help dealing with it all in a balanced way.


In my experience, you can totally address this firmly without punishing or shaming her. For me, the level of success I've had in diffusing similar situations depends almost exclusively on my initial emotional response to the "attitude". Naturally, when a child speaks to me in that way, my first thought is to become offended and to challenge them, threaten them (with punishment/withdrawal of affection/manipulating "natural" or "logical" consequences) or shame them as a means of defending myself. But fighting fire with fire has never really helped me. It's only fanned the flame.


It really does sound like your child does of course respect and love you with all of her heart. You're her mama and she feels safe to let loose with you. That can be frustrating, but it's also a sign that she feels safe and loved. It sounds like your daughter is going through a complicated time that makes your unconditional affection exceptionally necessary.


Anyways, here's my personal step-by-step(ish) policy on dealing with manifestations of "attitude":



  • I don't get offended. I consider the behavior 100% circumstancial and/or appropriately experimental. I do not take it personally. This is the hardest and most critical part.
  • I meet any immediate needs that might be triggering the behavior. If I feel like the child's ability to speak kindly might be hindered by low blood sugar, I offer them some calories before addressing anything else. I might say, by way of offering, I feel like you might be talking to me in an unkind way because you're hungry. Can we try eating something before we talk about this?
  • I do my best to speak in a loving, leveled tone. Assuming all needs have been met, I address the behavior. I make sure that the conversation is never about shame. I say things like, I love you so much. The way your talking to me is not okay or healthy or full of love. It hurts both of us. Let's talk differently. I need you to think of better ways to tell me what you need so that we can think up a plan together. I want to help you take care of the problem. Are you feeling frustrated? We need to talk about it in a way that will help us work together to change things? Let's get healthy. For me, this is a practice. Getting into the habit of solving problems this way takes time and a change of ways for both the child and myself, but it's so so rewarding when a child begins to automatically default to this type of language to explain themselves before problems start. I was so proud yesterday when the child I spend the most time with declared, "I'm frustrated and tired but I'm trying to think of words to say that are healthy so I can be kind and feel better".
  • I offer inclusive problem-solving for the future.  Prevention is key. A neutral, authentic, non-shaming voice is important here for me. I might ask, what do you think we can do to avoid situations in which you feel the need to speak unkindly? Where do you think that unkind voice comes from? I always ask with a genuine sense of curiosity and respect. I need to know the answers to these questions in order to do my job. And the child learns that I'm genuinely interested in their perspective, and feels empowered in their role as self-moderator. I know that decisions that are made in this environment will have a better chance of being respected and acknowledged next time, than any decisions I make about how their behavior should be.


With one of the children I work with (4 years old), we have a code word - purple lollipop. Whenever she feels like she might snap for some reason, she says it - loud or soft or silly - so that I know there's a problem to address before she loses her cool.


We talk a lot about mindfulness together. She has this book, which uses the language of gardening to talk about the importance of "watering the peaceful seed" vs her "angry seed". This has led to hours of conversations, and she can identify an angry-seed-waterer from miles away now. We discuss this as a matter of health. Over the holidays, we also read books like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and A Christmas Carol. She's Jewish and Muslim, but has holiday books from many traditions. Together, we noticed that The Grinch and Scrooge were basically the same two characters - both had needs gone unmet in their lives and both were responding by watering their angry seeds until they understood how healthy it was to be peaceful and kind. We now refer to her more attitude-ish moments as "humbug moments" or "two-sizes-too-small moments". We laugh about that.


Good luck, Bec! Tell us how it goes!

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#3 of 5 Old 02-16-2012, 09:12 AM - Thread Starter
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Oh thankyou so much for such a long and full response!

What you say makes so much sense - my feelings of hurt and defensiveness ARE getting in the way, and things do go so much better when i'm observing her emotional responses rather than being wrapped up in ny own.

I will have a go at what you suggest, we already know the grinch and have a few other stories around where people are mean due to having mean things happen to them. And we also know the poem "the apple tree" (i was angry with my friend. I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe. I told it not, my wrath did grow. And i water'd it in fears, night and morning with my tears. And i sunned it with smiles and with soft decietful wiles.... can't remember the poet) and have talked about it before.

Thanks again for helping, i feel much more empowered in this now. There's nothing more miserable than getiing it wrong an knowing you are but not knowing how to get it right. X
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#4 of 5 Old 02-16-2012, 02:42 PM
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What I'd add to the good advice you've already gotten is a couple of phrases that get a good workout at our house:


"That sounded rude, please try again."

"That sounded rude, did you mean..... (phrase it like you'd like to hear it)"

"Take a deep breath. Let it out. Now, try that again."


Our dd has emotionally very intense, and when she's upset, angry, hurt, disappointed, hungry, tired, or any other number of different things, her tone of voice can be very very rude. It really sets me off, and so we're working hard on proper tone. It's part of good manners. And because our daughter, like yours, is verbally precocious, she can really hurt someone's feelings by not watching how she talks. (It's the worst when dh or I are also tired, hungry or upset. Then we just feed off each other. I've found that a cooling off period really helps.)


On the other hand, most kids this age have very little social filtering. Our dd is 7, and we're seeing some improvement, but it's slow. Last year, dd wrote in a thank you note to her teacher "Dear Mrs J., I love you. I love it when I learn new things from you. I never thought I'd learn a thing from you, but I have." Just this thanksgiving, she wrote in a note to her brother "'Thank you for being nice most of the time (even though I hate you sometimes)." If she thinks it, it comes out. She also needs to be constantly reminded that just because she thought something, doesn't mean it has to happen right away. Patience is not her strong suit.


Remember that while it comes off really bad, they have to be taught the more advanced rules of politeness. We never had to do this much with our quieter son because he just didn't have the number of opportunities to screw up the tone.





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#5 of 5 Old 02-18-2012, 06:06 PM
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Her responses in the examples don't seem that bad,except the name calling one. In the first it sounds like you weren't clear about only wanting her to wait in the bathroom and she was trying to tell you why she didn't think that idea was that good. Even if she did talk back I think it is important to look at why. In the bathroom example there seems to be no reason to keep a five year old in the bathroom while you brush her sister's teeth. If you make a lot of requests that to her seem boring and pointless then she probably is going to express her frustration by talking back or whining about things she sees as unfair. Kids this age often start wanting to be more independent and finding ways to let her make simple choices might help her feel more :n control of herself and less resentful of unnecessary limits.

I think you should also focus on what isn't allowed in your house by reminding her of the rules and consequences for breaking them. Kids this age and younger are very capable of understanding that there are different rules in different settings and even between different parents but it may help more to sit down with her and reiterate your rules around these issues.
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