Why Does My Child Talk Back to Me?

Although children who talk back often give their parents a hard time, there are specific reasons for this behavior. Find out why in this article!
Why Does My Child Talk Back to Me?
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

You may be asking yourself “Why does my child talk back to me? Even though rebellious children often give us gray hairs, these attitudes are the way they show their feelings. Gone are the days when your baby adapted to the imposed customs and demands, now your child’s seeking to reaffirm their personality.

There are several reasons that affect the formation of those children who talk back, as there are many causes that bring about unfavorable situations in their psychological and emotional balance. For that reason, in this article, we’ll tell you why your child tends to talk back and what action guidelines you should appeal to.

The problem of children who talk back

Why are there so many children who talk back? Why do our children lose their admiration and respect for us? There’s a simple and basic answer: It’s a phase of growth in which they try, from the age of 9, to dissociate themselves affectively from their parents and reaffirm their personality.

This is due to the fact that, during their growth, children need to differentiate themselves from their parents in order to form their own identity and, precisely, the easiest way out is to distinguish themselves from the only thing they know, their family. It’s there where the stage of the talking back opens begins, which extends until adolescence.

This stage marks the end of the prior stage in which little ones see their fathers and mothers as the best in the world: The most good-looking, the best, the smartest, and the strongest. Up to this point, children were emotionally dependent on the perception of their parents to build their own self-esteem.

However, as the years go by, this same feeling of admiration and adoration is ruined as it becomes more realistic, and children begin to observe their parents antagonistically, as they seem to do everything wrong and know nothing.

For this reason, the idea that children who respond are rebellious and disobedient is quite erroneous, even when the adult’s vision of this unfortunate behavior doesn’t coincide with that of a “well-behaved child”. In short, this behavior is necessary and positive in order to develop a child’s personality.

Children who talk back: What’s the cause?

Psychology explains the phenomenon of children who talk back by indicating a learning system based on the “action and reaction” duo, at which point this behavior is defined as either a future problem or a mere passing circumstance according to the position you adopt as an authority.

A father and child staring one another down.

In addition, a series of psychological investigations revealed that the act of talking back in children is a way of demonstrating their independence, freely expressing their own ideas, and revealing the ability to make small personal decisions.

So, although it’s difficult not to reprimand these attitudes, specialists agree that it’s better to investigate the causes of their anger and teach them to express their feelings properly, in a more acceptable way, and within the framework of respect and consideration.

The idea is to educate them emotionally because when children who talk back give a poor response, they express their anger, frustration, fear, and even show that they feel hurt. In itself, the problem isn’t the child’s feelings, but their way of expressing them.

Why do children stop idolizing their parents?

Considering their cognitive development

Considering the purely cognitive aspect, children stop idolizing their parents because their thinking, which is initially magical between 3 and 5 years of age, becomes more realistic and critical. Therefore, parents cease to be idealized and begin to be imperfect, little by little.

From the age of 6, children’s thinking gradually becomes more logical and rational, although the emotional bond with their parental figures is still very strong. Therefore, it will take a little longer for them to be able to see and understand that their parents aren’t omnipotent.

It will be between the ages of 9 and 11 when the child’s thinking will become eminently critical, so they’ll begin to understand that each action has advantages and disadvantages, so they’ll begin to measure and evaluate the actions of their parents and peers.

Tending to their emotional development

At the same time, the emotional development of every child causes some need to disengage emotionally from their parents, so they’ll question their parents for doing things wrong. Children who talk back criticize and stop complacently obeying what their elders order them to do.

A young girl who's angry.

As in the well-known “no” stage that takes place when the child is two years old, these respondent children, through their actions, seek to reaffirm their identity but, this time, they don’t appeal to tantrums. Rather, they achieve it through questioning and talking back.

What to do when faced with children who talk back?

  • Keep a preventive attitude. These normal child behaviors can be easily prevented by simply identifying and even avoiding those situations that trigger the child’s misbehaviors.
  • Find out what’s behind it. Children may tend to imitate situations seen in movies, series, or in real life, thus receiving an accumulation of inappropriate messages. Likewise, there may be a pattern to your child’s behavior when they respond poorly. Pay attention to their cultural consumption and imposed demands, but always listen to them and try to understand the background: what they feel, what they want to achieve.
  • Choose the battles that are worth fighting. First of all, evaluate “is this worth creating an argument over?”. If it’s an extremely important issue, draw the line and get into the habit; if it’s something inconsequential, save yourself the aggravation and give them the autonomy they crave.
  • Set the limit in advance. It’s essential that children understand which words are allowed and which are strictly forbidden. It’s could also be a good idea to explain to the child that they can’t and don’t always have to say everything that goes through their head.
  • Keep your composure. Ideally, don’t overreact or make a big fuss about the words or tone of voice used by the child. It goes without saying that we shouldn’t respond in the same way, as there’s no better way to educate your child than leading by example.
  • Manage your patience. Don’t argue or negotiate with the child in the face of an act of insolence as this will only reinforce their behavior. Simply warn them what the consequence of their behavior will be and, in case of recidivism, enforce it. Don’t punish or ridicule them in public, calmly explain that you won’t allow them to be rude anywhere and that there will be consequences.
  • Give them options. If you give your child a chance to make some choices during the day, you’ll lessen their need to assert themself offensively. So, whenever appropriate, give them opportunities to choose, without overwhelming them by allowing them to decide everything, but rather what’s most important to them. Of course, all alternatives must be acceptable to you and you must respect their decisions to a tee.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.