Dr Richard C. Woolfson
As your child reaches the age of three or four, he will begin to develop a mind of his own. No longer willing to placidly accept everything you tell him or ask him to do, he now prefers to think things out for himself and to reach own conclusions – and this may cause conflict. For instance, when you tell your child that he needs to be tucked in bed by a certain hour, he may demand to know why you have chosen that time and try to negotiate a later hour. Moreover, when you reprimand him for making such a mess of his room, he may even respond that your bedroom is a mess as well!
This form of “talking back” isn’t a sign that your four-year-old is becoming cheeky or that he wants to cause trouble. Rather, it stems from his natural desire to establish himself as an individual within the family, with his own ideas and opinions. He can do a lot more for himself now and is beginning to make choices on what clothes to wear, what games to play or what snacks to eat. This increased independence makes him feel confident enough to talk back to you. So, his behaviour is normal – irritating, but normal.
How To React
For a start, don’t lose your temper with your child. Remember that he is simply expressing the thoughts in his head and there is no malice behind his comments. Your anger would only cause an unnecessary confrontation. Your child may not even understand why you are annoyed with him.
Instead, give an honest reply. Tell him that his remarks upset you and remind your child that your job is to look after him, which sometimes means making decisions for him that he may not like. Remind him that he lives as part of a family and needs to consider the feelings of his family members too. You would probably say this to him many times throughout his childhood, but keep saying it anyway.
Add that other people would be distressed if they hear him talk back to you. His carers would be shocked, his grandparents, aunts and uncles would be very sad, and his friends would be troubled too. Set out the practical implications so he realises the effect that talking back could have on his personally.
To avoid creating a situation in which your child is afraid to say anything for fear of retribution, explain to him how he can voice an opinion without causing offence. Point out, for example, that he should not say anything that would upset him if someone else said it, and that he should not challenge you just for the sake of it but only when he feels strongly about the issue at hand. Teach him to express his opinion in a positive manner as well.
It is also helpful to acknowledge the times when he does what you ask, when he makes a positive comment to you instead of being rude, and when he doesn’t challenge something you say. Whenever such a moment arises, tell him how pleased you are that he cooperated fully with you. He is less likely to talk back if he sees how much better the two of you get on together when he is less challenging and hostile.
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