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Back Chat - What DId You Just Say?

Back ChatMy six-year-old is six going on 13. I'm not sure how or when this sudden transformation occurred, but one thing is for sure, if this is what the pre-tween years are like then I am seriously dreading the teenage years! For the most part my eldest daughter is a pleasure to have around, but every now and then the ‘evil teenage fairy' takes over and I'm left reeling at the prospect of having a teenage daughter in the house. You see, although she has only spent a few years acquiring her communication skills, she already knows just what to say to push my buttons! Backchat is something I did not realise I would be dealing with so early on in the child rearing game.

Over the past few weeks I've noticed that every time I ask her to do something for her sister I get the following response: “Aw mom, do I have to? Just because I'm the big sister, I have to do everything around here”. Surely a response such as this is only to be expected in the teenage years? I did a little research on ‘back chatting in toddlers' and discovered that my perception of the situation may just be wrong.

The first time you hear your dear, sweet, innocent child backchat either you or someone else your first reaction will probably be shock and horror! We often forget that most of what our children do and say stems from what they have witnessed from us, as parents and adults, and sometimes they have the uncanny ability to imitate words even in the correct context. They inexplicably seem to understand that these words are a form of power in the world and they enjoy exercising this power, often at inappropriate times (and often much to our embarrassment!). How do they know this? Well, we as parents and caregivers have set the example and they are simply conscientious students!

But before you resort to extreme measures to correct the situation you should consider that although there may be times when inappropriate words may be used in an exchange which could be perceived as ‘backchat', there may also be times when our kids may merely be expressing themselves in the only way they know how, and this may make them seem disrespectful, when it is in fact not the case. For instance, when Caitlyn expresses her dislike of having to do everything because she is the eldest, I should first consider whether it is not her trying to tell me that although she is the eldest of my two children, she's probably still a little too small for me to expect her to do all the minor tasks that I ask her to do. And in a way, she is right. Is it fair of me to expect so much more of her than her younger sibling just because she is able to carry out requests accurately?

Of course, when the backchat is unwarranted and in the form of a rude word or remark, then it needs to be seriously addressed. How do kids know how to use swearing in context and usually when granny pops around for a cup of tea? Whether we like it or not, swearing has become part of the expressive language of modern society, and it is generally accepted in an adult, but not in a child. Hypocritical? Yes. So if you don't want to hear it from a child, you have to eradicate it from your repertoire as a parent.

Possible reasons for backchat could be that the boundaries and limitations you set are being tested. Remember that your child knows exactly how to get a reaction out of you and she may use backchat as a way of getting attention. Children quickly learn that an inappropriate word or phrase used in the right way will result in your full attention, so they use opportunities to do just that. The best way to handle such situations is to explain to your child that you are disappointed that they chose to say such words and leave it at that. Try to ignore these inappropriate words or phrases as this will soon make your child realise that these words no longer have ‘power' and will not evoke the type of reaction sought. It's especially important not to laugh (as hard as it may be) when rude words are used in context. Although we may find it funny at the time, laughing at the situation will only encourage your child to do it again in order to obtain a similar response from you!

If your child is rude when asking for something you should not tolerate this behaviour nor fulfil the request until such a time as the behaviour or the manner of asking has been modified. A little mutual respect is required when it comes to teaching our kids manners, so ensure that you speak to your child in the same way that you would like them to speak to you and others. Polite expressions are always appreciated and even though you may have to keep reminding kids to be polite, they will eventually learn to do so on their own. Again, remember that you set the example – don't expect politeness from your child if you are not able to show the same.

Exposure to television and other media is also a risk, even at this age. Little ears should really be restricted from hearing anything that is inappropriate. A child is hugely impressionable and continued monitoring and limits will have to be set if you don't want your child mimicking or learning inappropriate words and language.

And on occasions that your child chooses to be polite and courteous without any prompting on your part, be sure to give praise where praise is due. Listening to your child and showing appreciation for the use of acceptable language will prompt your child to continue using the appropriate language and ultimately she can learn to choose words carefully and thoughtfully – after all pleasing you is what it's all about at this stage, so make the most of it!

Article written by Tracey Garde & published with permission: RaisingKids Aug/Sept 2009
(c) TLG Publishing (Pty) Ltd.

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