Mom: “No, for the tenth time, you can’t have those designer shoes that you don’t even need!”
Child: “But everyone has a pair! Do you want me to be the only one who doesn’t have them?”
Mom: “For the third time, please clean your room!”
Child: “Why? It’s gonna get messy again anyway!”
Does this sound familiar? Are you constantly dealing with a child who talks back and refuses to listen to you?
Well, to solve this problem, we need to understand what is back talk and how to deal with it?
There are different types of back talk. You may have a child who starts to delve into an explanation or justification as to why he is right or why he should be given what he wants when you’ve just told him he cannot have it. Leading on from this, you might have a child that wants to have the last word, where no matter what you say, he/she has a comeback. Your child may get angry easily or tends to give a sarcastic or snappy retort, thinking that it is perfectly acceptable to speak in this way.
A lot of back talk stems from what the child sees as normal from hearing his friends and peers, and even adult influences in his life. It can also stem from the media – movies, TV shows, or social media – cultures that are encouraging of this kind of communication. Whilst it is important to speak out against injustices, speaking back out of our own desires, especially to parents, is selfish and rude.
Our children have rights over us and we have rights over them. They deserve that we treat them with Ihsan (excellence), and Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) is also expecting them to treat us with Ihsan.
Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,
And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, [excellent treatment]. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word. [Qur’an: Chapter 17, Verse 23]
We want our children to avoid falling into the sin of mistreating their parents. Also, if we helped them and facilitated for them having a healthy relationship with us, this will bring immense barakah (Divine Blessing) into their lives.
We need to remember also that if the habit of back-talk begins at home and is not dealt with, it can translate into other areas of life, like in school towards teachers, or in the workplace towards managers and colleagues. It is not a healthy way to deal with conflicts, can cause resentment and is a negative representation of the Muslim student/colleague.
So, in this article, we’ll look at what you can do when your child talks back, and what are some tips to prevent backtalk in the future and help your children towards having good akhlaq (mannerism).
How do I deal with the back talk from my child?
1. Stay Calm
When your child acts disrespectfully towards you, you might want to yell and scream back. But doing so will make the situation worse. You will end up in a screaming match, a power struggle, that we all know no one ever wins normally. Stay calm by seeking refuge with Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) from Shaytan, press your mental stop button and purse your lips to hold it closed. The rule of keeping silent unless you have something good to say applies here. Abu Huraira raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) reported that our beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,
“Whoever believes in Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) and the Last Day, let him speak goodness or remain silent.” [Sahih Muslim]
Once you have calmed you are now ready and can then continue to these next steps…
2. Identify the nature of the back talk and respond
Try to identify: is your child justifying his actions or reasons why he should have something or does he just want to have the last word? Is your child being angry and rude or is he copying a behavior? How you respond next depends on the type of back talk.
If it is to justify: Acknowledge your child’s feelings or wants and restate the no: “I know that you really want to go to your friend’s but I’ve said no”. If he keeps responding then each time, empathize and repeat the no such as, “You’re upset that you can’t go but the answer is still no.” “It’s frustrating to not get what you want but no you can’t go.” After a while, your child will know that you won’t change your mind and will stop.
If it is about having the last word: Whatever you say here, your child will have a comeback. So it’s better not to encourage it by engaging with him. Answer your child with phrases such as “That’s nice”, “Uh ha”, “Okay”, “Good” in an uninteresting voice that discourages conversation. After a while, your child will realize that you’re on auto-pilot and will cease. After all, who wants to talk to someone who isn’t responding properly?
If it is an angry response or copied behavior: Acknowledge your child’s feelings or wants and explain the behavior that is not acceptable. Explain to your child that it’s alright to feel a certain way but it’s not alright to express it the way he did. Be clear on what he did that was not acceptable. For example, “It’s alright to feel upset but it’s not okay for you to yell and shout at me.” Or, “It’s natural that you want to fit in and do what everyone else is doing but it’s not right for you to copy being rude.” You can also ask peacefully if what he just did is a good behavior to copy.
3. Offer an alternative way
Show your child there is another way to act or react. If your child is shouting, then tell him to use his lower speaking voice. Help him to clearly state what he feels instead of yelling.
4. Try not to get drawn into an argument
Be a broken record and repeat what behavior is unacceptable and also repeat which behavior is correct. Walk away if you have to. Just remember that A’ishah raḍyAllāhu ‘anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) narrated that the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,
“The most hated person in the sight of Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He), is the most quarrelsome person.” [Sahih al Bukhari]
5. Remind the child of the rules and consequences
Just remind your child of the rules and consequences that you’ve set up earlier. For example, “In this house, we speak nicely to each other. If not then –“ or “Our rule is ‘to help each other’, if you don’t do your bit then –“.
6. Apply a consequence
If all the previous steps haven’t deterred your child, then it’s time to apply the set consequence. Be firm.
How can I prevent my child from talking back?
For parents who have not experienced this behavior, establish the following five ways to prevent back talk in your household immediately. The atmosphere of your household can be greatly improved when you make a conscious effort to change the way the people in your family communicate. As with everything, prevention is better than cure, so start when your child is young, to prevent him from learning any rude speech.
1. Model the way you talk
Look at how you talk to others. Are you argumentative, sarcastic, snappy, rude or disrespectful to those closest to you? Every time you talk to your spouse, your parents or your in-laws, your child is observing you. If you do these things then he’ll learn that it’s a normal way to talk to others whom he loves and one day it will come back to you.
So adjust these mannerisms to a politer form. RasulAllah ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to say,
“The most beloved to me amongst you is the one who has the best character and manners.” [Sahih al Bukhari]
Treat others with the best of manners and your child will see this and copy it. At the same time, you must try to leave arguments altogether. Abu Umamah raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,
“I guarantee a house in Jannah for one who gives up arguing, even if he is on the right; and I guarantee a home in the middle of Jannah for one who abandons lying even for the sake of fun; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Jannah for one who has good manners.” [Sunan Abu Dawud]
The other reward is that your child will learn to speak nicely to you.
How do you speak nicely? One way is to not answer back or argue with others. The other is to modulate your voice to low and try not to raise it. Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an,
“And be moderate in your pace and lower your voice; indeed, the most disagreeable of sounds is the voice of donkeys…” [Qur’an: Chapter 31, Verse 19]
2. Recognize your child when he speaks well
In other words, give your child positive attention when he is being polite. Shower him with attention and show him that you’re pleased. Smile brightly at him and say, “Masha’ Allah, that was such a nice way to say ___. You’re so polite!” As an added bonus, give a hug if possible. The more attention you give to something then the more important it’ll become.
3. Listen attentively
Pay attention to what your child tells you by looking at him when he speaks to you. Learn to read his emotions and reflect that back to him and paraphrase what he said. When you can do all this, your child will feel that you’ve listened and have understood him. Sometimes children get upset because they feel that they weren’t heard and have not been understood. They become angry and feel the need to justify their feelings and thoughts.
4. Change the way you command
Nobody likes to be told what to do all the time. As parents, we tend to order, direct and correct our children all the time. We also tend to nag when they don’t do something or if they do something wrong. This was not something that the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) did. Anas raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said,
“I served the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for ten years. He never said Uff and never blamed me by saying: ‘Why did you do so’ or why did you not do so?’ And the Messenger ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) of Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) had the best character among all of the people.”[Jami’ at-Tirmidhi]
You need to find other ways to get your child to do things. One way is to ask your child to be helpful. Change your command from “do this” to “please help me with this.” If your child has made a mistake, then instead of saying “that’s not how you do it” say instead “how can you fix it?” or “how can you do it better?” If your child has forgotten to do something, then just remind him using a single word. So instead of saying “How many times have I asked you to put your shoes on the rack?” say “Shoe-rack”. Your child will immediately make the connection without you ordering him.
5. Set rules and consequences
To help guide your child’s behavior, have a set of rules about how you talk to each other. It could be “no yelling at each other” and “we speak in kind low voices”. Another rule could be “we help each other”. Once you have your rules, agree on the consequences of each if and when they are broken.
Have you found these tips helpful? What other tips you have to deal successfully with back talk? Share with us in the comments.
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