Young children try to assert their independence by talking back.
"You're not the boss of me!" and "You can't make me" are two favorites when preschoolers begin to assert their independence and talk back to their parents. For full effect, they mimic angry adults by putting their hands on their hips and raising their voices. Talking back is a natural way for preschoolers to test their boundaries; your job is to remind them -- in no uncertain terms -- what those boundaries are. Kids aren't robots, so you'll probably never get rid of backtalk completely, but make it clear from the beginning that this is not an acceptable way to talk to you and it results in consequences they won't like.
1Show no emotion when your child talks back, because this might escalate the situation. Preschoolers love getting a rise out of their parents and also enjoy getting as much attention as possible, so if you lose it when your little one talks back, he's getting what he wants. According to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, "When parents don't rise to the bait, they discourage back talk." Calmly pull him aside, look him straight in the eye, and tell him he may not talk to you -- or other adults -- in that way. Make it clear to him that, if you tell him to do something, he has to do it. Period.
2Establish clear consequences that are logical and timely to help your child learn not to talk back. Young children learn best when consequences occur promptly after an offense and bear some logical connection to it. For example, put your child in time out, with no talking, for several minutes, after which he must come apologize to you for talking back.
3Talk to your child about more acceptable -- and effective -- ways to respond when they disagree or are angry. Kids this young aren't capable of extended logical debates or voicing exactly how they feel, but they can be taught to express disagreement in a less offensive way. He can sometimes bargain for a few extra minutes of play time, if he does it nicely, for example, but some things won't be negotiable. Empathize with your preschooler by letting him know you understand he doesn't always like what you tell him -- you don't always like everything your boss says, either. But remind him he always has to be respectful when he talks to you, even if he disagrees.
4Model the calm, non-combative type of communication you want your preschooler to learn. Don't engage in power struggles or verbal battles with your children. As tough as it may be, remain calm -- count to 10 multiple times if you have to. Avoid the "because I'm the mom and I said so!" type of response. Instead, help him put words to his emotions and try to defuse the situation. At this age, besides testing their boundaries, kids who talk back may just be overtired, scared or angry, but not know how to express those feelings.