How to Discipline a Sassy Child when Back Talk Ticks You Off


What can I say, sometimes we bring it on ourselves…

I walked into the kitchen this morning where my son was sitting perfectly happy…

Until he saw me.

Not to say that my presence makes my son unhappy – that would make me sad.  But, lately, he’s been on a mommy hold me kick and will manufacture situations where he is sad and needs me to hold his hand through the whole thing.

Today, it was the dishes.

“Mommy, can you help me with the dishes?”

“No Dude, that’s your job.  I still need to get ready.”

But, it’s not FAIR!  Not FAIR!

Ok.  I turned around, climbed the stairs and ran as fast as I could from that tantrum.

(Not all tantrums need to be met with hugs and understanding)

1 minute later as I’m putting on makeup, I hear my Google Home announce a broadcast.  Oh… he’s going to page me.

“I don’t like to be downstairs alone…”

I took a deep breath, put down my eyelash curler and marched over to that Google Home.

“OK, Google broa…”

I stopped myself.  Nope. IN my frustration, I was about to start a fight.  What I wanted to say was “Well, if you weren’t crying and screaming I would still be down there.”

Wouldn’t have helped.  It was my own sassy comment that doesn’t help teach him how to handle his emotions.  All that would happen is he would feel shame and then cry even more.

Instead I said, “Bud, come up and talk to me after you’ve finished putting away the dishes.”

I heard his crying get closer and closer until he appeared in the bathroom.  He rubbed his eyes and I held him.

The situation was still far from fixed, but at least I had stopped it from escalating.

Talking back to parents is a common behavior concern,

We hate when kids talk back to us.  We don’t deserve it. How dare they give us attitude when we are so good to them?

Read: Your Kids are NEVER Justified for Treating You Badly

But there’s usually something behind it.

Sassy talk in young kids is developmentally appropriate.  Usually, they use that talk to feel powerful.

In fact, we all use that talk to feel powerful.  I feel snark comments coming out of my mouthwhen I feel powerless in a situation.

But it’s all learned…

We like to blame that new knowledge on peers or friends.

But sometimes it’s us.  (Eeeek, I don’t like to admit that)

Sometimes, we cause the sassy.

Often our quick retorts to our kids are exactly the things we don’t want them to say.

First, know that your child is a mirror.

Now I’m not perfect, I let sassy comebacks slip out of my mouth.  

Someone told me once that kids are the best mirrors.  If you want to see WHY your child acts a certain way, you can often see the same behavior in yourself.

When my son gets overwhelmed and cries, I do that.

When my daughter clams up and won’t talk to anyone when she’s upset, that’s me.

My kids have inherited a lot of my good qualities, too.  And I don’t view these traits as having cursed my children.  

They’re a gift to me as a parent.

Because when I see it in them, I can pinpoint exactly what they’re feeling because I’ve felt it myself.

Simply being aware that my kids mirror what they see allow me to gain control of it.

Read: How to teach Kids Empathy

But the sassy backtalk doesn’t always come from us.

Take my 10-year-old daughter.

She was sitting at the office computer writing a post for her blog about rides in Disneyland and trying to describe the motion of the silly swings in California Adventure.

“Mom, what do you call the motion when the swings spin in a circle but they also go up and down?  You know, like this?”

I looked at her dumbfounded.  I honestly had no idea how to describe that succinctly.  Yes, I knew what she meant, but to put in a concise phrase… no clue.

“I have no idea”

“No…you know, it spins around and go up and down.”

“Ya.. I don’t know.”

She sighed one frustrated sigh and snapped back, “Didn’t you go to school?”

Umm… excuse me?!? I have never spoken to her or anyone (in my adult life) like that.

When you’re mad, leave the room.

I closed the lid of my laptop and rose from my chair.

“Well, that was a hurtful thing to say to me.  I’m going to leave the room now.’


No… it wasn’t a real sorry. It was one of those “sorrys” where you feel you should say sorry but you don’t really mean it.

I kept walking.

Before I could think rationally again, I needed to get out of that room.

As soon as you’re calm, share your feelings.

30 minutes later, she came downstairs and refused to make eye contact with me.  

By then, I had calmed down and I approached her.

“Sweetie, I was trying to help you and it made me sad that you said that to me.  You insulted me.”

Then, she apologized.  A real tears in her eyes, I’m sorry.  She hadn’t realized what she did until her frustration disappeared and she saw how it affected me.

Our kids mirror what they see.  I’m sure one of her friends said something like that to her and it came out.

It wouldn’t have helped her if I had reacted. Instead, by leaving and taking the time to think I was able to logically explain it to her and she was receptive to listening because she calmed down as well.  

We don’t have to be perfect as parents.

When you worry about disciplining a sassy child, know it doesn’t have to be complicated.  

Simply know that it’s the kid’s reaction to feeling powerless at the time.  Once you realize this, it’s easier to gain control of your anger at the comment so that you can leave the room before reacting.

Once calm, tell your child exactly how the comment made you feel.  

That’s it.  No magic. No creative consequence.

The consequence of sassy behavior is that she pushed you away from her and made you feel sad.  That doesn’t feel good to a kid.

Keep sharing your feelings and eventually, your kid will understand how her sassy backtalk effects other people,

That’s the best lesson you can teach her.

JoAnn Crohn

CEO/Founder at No Guilt Mom
JoAnn Crohn, M. Ed is a parenting educator and life coach who helps moms feel confident in raising empowered, self-sufficient kid while pursuing their own goals & passions.

She’s an accomplished writer, author, podcast host of the No Guilt Mom podcast, and speaker who appears in national media. Work with her personally in Balance VIP

Similar Posts


Comments are closed.