How to Handle a Smart-Mouthed Child

Parents scolding teenager
Two parents talk to their son repsctfully as he sits in a chair. (Image: JackF/iStock/Getty Images)

A child with a “smart mouth” may talk back, curse, mimic or speak disrespectfully to you when he’s feeling angry, frustrated or in need of attention. If your child can’t curb the bad habit, he may get into trouble with teachers, classmates, teammates or siblings who may see him as rude or argumentative. Use motivational and behavioral techniques when you interact with your child to help him speak politely and treat those around him with respect.

Step 1

Set a good example by speaking respectfully when you address your child and other adults. Be a positive role model by speaking calmly and rationally when you have a discussion or argument. Avoid sarcasm, insults or cursing that will lead your child to believe that it’s acceptable if she speaks in the same manner.

Step 2

Establish boundaries so your child knows what type of language and tone you’ll allow. Develop a simple rule and consequence that you can enforce consistently, recommends the North Dakota State University Agriculture and University Extension website. Tell your child that if he talks back to you when he doesn’t get his way, for example, he will lose video game privileges for a day or he will not be allowed to go to a friend’s house.

Step 3

Walk away if your child won’t stop smart mouthing you. It’s important not to engage in a debate if your child is being disrespectful, particularly if you fear you’ll lose your temper and resort to negative language yourself. Tell your child to retreat to her room until you can both calm down and discuss the situation rationally. Teach her that it’s more effective to discuss disappointment, frustration or anger calmly than to show dissatisfaction by talking back.

Step 4

Motivate your child with money when you’re working to eliminate a smart mouth. Gather enough coins to equal your child’s weekly allowance and tape the coins to a piece of cardboard. Each time he talks back, remove a coin from the board. At the end of the week, he’ll only receive the coins that are left.

Step 5

Create a sticker chart if you’d rather promote good behavior than punish the bad. Use a marker to draw rows of squares on the cardboard. Let your child add a sticker each time she addresses someone properly or resists the urge to talk back. Provide a reward, such as a trip for ice cream or to the movies, when your child fills the chart.

Things You'll Need

  • Coins

  • Cardboard

  • Adhesive tape

  • Marker

  • Stickers

Tip

Teach your disrespectful child how to vent anger or frustration if he’s using bad language to express his feelings. Encourage your child to practice deep breathing, do jumping jacks or dance to release negative energy rather than yell or curse, recommends Kidshealth.

Warning

Consult your physician or a school counselor if your child’s behavior doesn’t improve. A professional may be able to uncover a cause for the bad temper that you can resolve with counseling or behavioral therapy.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES
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