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Back-Chat & Boundaries
Episode 14329th February 2024 • How Not to Screw Up Your Kids • Dr Maryhan
00:00:00 00:29:56

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I get asked about back-chat a lot as I know it’s something we can really struggle with as parents.  

We usually associate this type of behaviour with the teenagers being rebellious and pushing every boundary, but it’s about what’s happening in our children’s internal world than something which is specifically related to a given age or stage of development. 

I’ll share my thoughts on why we are seeing this behaviour and I’ll share my top strategies to help and support. 

Here are the highlights: 

{1:18} Why are you seeing this behaviour?

{4:45} Give your child choices where you can

{9:11} Switch out of power dynamics

{14:10} Remember the 3 C’s 

{20:00} Daily connection with each child 

{24:00} Regularly check-in with yourself & your partner 

Listen to previous episodes mentioned during this episode:

Ep 6: Parenting & Co-parenting

Ep 13: Why punishments don’t work

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Hello, and welcome to the how not to screw up your kid’s podcast. So, pour yourself a cuppa, find a comfy seat and enjoy the conversation. This is episode 143.

And today we are revisiting a podcast from a couple of years ago, talking about back chat and pushing boundaries. Now get asked about this a lot because as you can imagine, it is one of the things that rattles riles and is one of the big things that we struggle with as parents when our children are constantly giving us that back chat and then constantly pushing out whatever boundaries that we have in place. We usually associate this type of behaviour with the teen years, sort of 13 up.

More recently, we've heard the term tweens to explain why we're potentially seeing this in younger children. So, lots of discussions about seeing this maybe in 10 and 11 year olds. And yet what I know to be true is that this pattern of behaviour is not limited to any specific age.

It's actually much more to do with what's happening in your child's internal world than being specifically related to any given age or stage of development. So, before I dive into my usual top five tips, I think it's important to understand why we might be seeing this type of behaviour in the first place and why it seems to be happening younger and younger. So, the theories are all speculative in lots of ways.

That's part of the sort of the beauty and the wonder that I love about psychology. It could be anything from the fact that we wrap our children in cotton wool to the fact that our children are super privileged. But here are my thoughts.

Children are mini adults in the making. They seek autonomy over their lives in the same way as we do. They want to feel in control.

They want to make their own decisions. As parents, in lots of ways, our desire and our drive and I guess the fact that we are so much more educated, not saying that in a derisory way, but we know so much. We've read so many books.

We've listened to lots of podcasts. We've read lots of blog posts about parenting and the consequences of parenting in particular ways. So, we have a real drive and a real passion and real motivation to raise our children in different ways than maybe we may have been raised.

And as a result of that, sometimes our desire to get things right means that we might be slightly overprotective. We might be slightly over controlling in how we go about things. And my feeling is that the reason why we're seeing a lot of this back chat and pushing boundaries is much more to do with our children trying to exert an element of control and autonomy over their lives than anything else.

So I want you to keep that front and centre in your mind, because what can be really difficult, and I'm sure we can all sort of resonate with this particular scenario, is we've all been there when our child has spoken to us in a way that has been pretty rude, pretty disrespectful, or they've pushed the boundaries repeatedly despite our clear and concise communication about what is and what isn't appropriate. And we find ourselves in that, whether it's an internal dialogue that you have with yourself or whether you verbalise it. This notion of, you know, how dare you? Do you not understand all that you have, all that you're privileged to have? How dare you speak to me like that? I would never have spoken to my mother like that.

Do you speak to your teachers like that? So, we find ourselves in all these narratives that happen. So I think if we try and keep, just certainly as you listen to my five top tips, if we try and keep that context in our mind, that ultimately our children are mini adults in the making, go back to that analogy about our children building their homes, a home that is something that they will inhabit, not one that we choose, but one of their making, one that's designed for them, they want to have an element of control and autonomy. Now that does not therefore mean that as parents, we simply need to be more permissive and allow our children to run feral and to decide on what the rules are.

But we need to be respectful of the fact that our children do want to exercise an element of control and we can allow them to do those within very specific parameters. So, if you can just keep that in your mind as you listen to my five tips, then hopefully that will make a lot more sense and you can see how you can apply these strategies at home. So, my tip, my first tip, as is often my tip in lots of these sort of scenarios, is that we need to give our children choices where we can.

Now obviously we cannot give them choices over whether they go to bed or not, whether they go to school or not, that's not what I'm saying, but what I am saying is where we have opportunities to give our children choices within the framework, within the parameters of what is acceptable to us and what isn't, then we should do so. So, at the really basic level, when we've got really young children, let's help them make those choices. For example, when we're making their dinner, do they want peas and broccoli or would they like peas and sweetcorn? It's those sorts of choices where our children learn, and there's the real importance for this, is they're taking control because they're making the choice, but what's also important is by making the choice, they're beginning to learn the consequences of making that choice and not because we want it to be punitive, but we want them to understand that all our decisions come with consequences, both positive and negative, so where possible we want to give our children choices.

So, at that simple level, that's what we might do with a young child. At the other extreme, which is often where we can get a lot of the pushing of boundaries and backchat, is our relationship with our teenage, our older children who really want to begin to have that sense of having control over their lives, being able to make decisions, and again we might we want to couch that within a framework, so it might be around, let's say we're talking about much older teens and going out, it might be around times that they come back from a party or being out with their friends, so this is where we have the discussion and then we encourage them to have choices. So it may be that you've got an older teen who is going to a party and maybe they want to come back at midnight, maybe that's when they want to be picked up.

Now it's about having discussions, so it's that acknowledgement that for them they would like to come back at midnight. Now that might be perfectly acceptable for you, it might not be, but whereas it isn't, rather than being dictatorial with it or authoritarian, it's about having that conversation of, I understand that it's really important for you to be at this party, everyone else is going to be there and you don't want to be, you don't want to feel like you're the first one to leave, so I can understand why you want to stay until midnight. However, tomorrow is a school day or tomorrow I need to be at work and so it's not practical and not really feasible for me to be able to pick you up at that time.

It's much more reasonable for me to pick you up nearer this time. It's having that discussion, so our children understand that decision-making process so that they feel a sense of autonomy and it's everything in between. So, for example, some of the challenges that we often see, back chat and pushing boundaries around technology, around doing homework, again we have a framework, our children need to do their homework for example, but we don't necessarily need to set a specific time as to when they do their homework.

So, part of that, giving them that decision-making and that autonomy might be, well, homework needs to be done before we eat our dinner. For example, this might be the situation in your home because after dinner is when you have relaxation time and so from the moment you get in at this time, to the moment we eat dinner at this time, homework needs to be done. Then have a discussion with them about when it feels right for you, when would be the best time for you to do your homework.

So, it's having those discussions and allowing our children, so if they decide to put off the homework and not do it immediately but do it just before dinner, that's a decision that they've made and then they see the consequences of that, and the consequences may be amazing. It may be that actually having that rest time makes them more productive and they're able to get the homework done super efficiently and with the effort that needs to be put into it and that's great. It could have an alternative consequence of not actually allowing them to have enough time and so what happens is it then spills over until after they've had their dinner, and they lose some of their rest time.

Either way, our children are learning, we're allowing them to make those decisions, we're giving them that level of autonomy and control over their lives and in the process, they are learning. So, I'm a really big fan, particularly in terms of reducing this this notion of backchat and pushing boundaries, about giving our children choices where we can and it's not always possible. So that's number one.

Number two is we need to switch out of the traditional power dynamics of I am the adult, and you will do what I tell you and you are the child, and you don't have a say. Now I know that in lots of ways we don't really play into that power dynamic as often as we like to think but it does happen when we are in this scenario where we are just telling our children. Now sometimes we have to tell our children, sometimes it is bedtime is bedtime and absolutely we need to do that but when we when we look at this particular strategy alongside the giving our children choices when we can, it helps us try and treat our children with that context of them being a mini adult.

How can I communicate with my child at what appears to be a more adult to adult level? Clearly our children are not adults, they're still children, they're there to learn from us, we're there to help and instruct and help them build their building by being the scaffolding but we want to do it in a way that is respectful, that that communication is respectful of their desires, their wishes, their thoughts and their feelings but also communicating back ours. So if we go back to the example that I gave around the older teenager coming back from a party, we're not doing that power dynamic that so many of us parents will remember from our parents of you know whilst you live under my roof you will follow my rules and in lots of ways that is probably what we're actually doing with our children but we don't need to communicate it in such an authoritarian way, we can communicate it much more from the perspective actually my role as your parent is to prepare you to live life independently of home and so the reason why we have some of these rules in place, the reason why we're not you're not able to do exactly what you want whenever you want it is I'm helping you make those choices and helping you by helping teach you and for you to learn some of the basic courtesies, values that are really important within our household so that you can then make the decisions as you leave home and you start your own independent life as an adult as to what values are important to you.

So, it really is trying to switch out of that power dynamic and this can be tricky at times so don't beat yourself up if you're not doing it all the time but also equally understand that that power play and those traditional power dynamics may shift very much between you and your partner if you're co-parenting in the same home you may find that one of you naturally adopts a more traditional power dynamic a more traditional authoritarian power dynamic and one of you maybe doesn't necessarily so understanding that really if we want to reduce backchat and we want to help our children feel that they are being given opportunities within the safe environment of home to practice those skills of making decisions and having that scaffolding there to catch them should anything go wrong it's also having those conversations with your partner about that and I would refer back to you for those of you that are listening to this and thinking gosh that is something actually that my partner and I really need to have a conversation around is go back to one of the early podcast episodes what we looked at in terms of parenting styles and one of the free resources which we gave away with that particular episode which is all about parenting style so it's understanding as a parent what go-to default more typical sort of parenting styles that are more natural to you that you go to what are your natural parenting styles and again it's not about one being better than the other it's just understanding what are your typical go-tos as a parent how do you typically parent and then your partner doing that so you can see where certain scenarios may be more challenging for one of you than another and how well you complement each other in other scenarios so it's being able to be able to understand that because obviously we can then switch things up we can be more aware and we can just make those small tweaks and adjustments where we need to so the two strategies we've talked about first so far have been about giving our children choices where we can trying to create an environment and a culture within our home where we give that autonomy to our children where they can so that they can experience decision making so they're not debilitated when they're older about oh my goodness me i can't make a decision but also for them to be able to see some of the natural consequences to the many decisions that they make both positive and also less positive and then it's us switching out of that traditional power dynamics of the authoritarian I’m the adult I tell you what to do you are the child you will simply do what you are told whilst you're living under this roof so it's taking those two together the third is to remember the three c's when it comes to household rules be clear consistent and use consequences rather than punishment so one of the things that we often get in terms of children pushing boundaries is that we've not necessarily been clear as to what the household rules might be we've not consistently applied those rules around household and we have not necessarily followed through on the consequences of not necessarily adhering to that children are going to test boundaries they are going to push boundaries because that's a typical part of their development they are learning who they are what their values are how that sits with their friends how they compare themselves to others so there is always going to be a natural tendency of pushing those boundaries even when we're clear consistent and we follow through with consequences they're always going to test it oh I wonder if I can actually push the boundary today so when we are clear when we are consistent and we follow through with consequences our children are much less likely to push the boundaries all of the time and test us in the way that we often rise to that creates these sort of slightly explosive scenarios so let's just talk through these a little bit so we've had conversations about household rules before and the notion of why punishments don't work so again go back to some of the previous episodes if you think that this is particularly something that you need to work on within your family but household rules should be super clear and everybody should know them in advance what those are and try not to have too many I’m a big believer in working on one thing at a time if you're listening to this and you're thinking goodness me but this is why we're getting we're pushing our children are pushing boundaries because we're not clear on our household rules we're not consistent and we don't follow through on consequences then of all of the other techniques that I’ve spoken about this may be the one thing that you work on i think part of the challenge that we have as parents is we're so bombarded in lots of way by lots of different bits of information a lot of which that makes sense and we think oh my goodness me i really ought to be doing that we can sometimes feel quite overwhelmed and so we try and shift and change and put into place multiple different things at the same time and as a result of those we're not really clear we don't necessarily follow through consistently and the consequences aren't consistently applied and so our children almost see it as oh what's the new thing my parents are trying this time and then it goes by the wayside along with everything else so work out what are the real sort of trigger points in your household what are the one thing that you could work on around household rules that would have the biggest impact on the rest on the family and in terms of harmony is it bedtime is it homework is it keeping rooms tidy is it doing what you're being asked to first time those are the sorts of things that you want to pick out on and then be really clear with your children and have those discussions as I’ve talked about before these family meetings they're not contrived sort of village meetings where everyone's sitting and they've got things a minute it is much more about connecting as a family regularly on a Sunday so that you can check through how's this week been for everybody what's worked what hasn't worked what's coming up at the week ahead what might we need to consider what are the things that we need to talk about what have we noticed as a family that have been consistent challenges and issues so it's about being clear where the challenges are and then being clear with your children what these rules are whether that's a specific time to go to whether that's devices being switched off whether that's devices being placed in a particular in a particular room whatever that might be it's being really clear and then consistently applying them so just choose one and the consequences which I’ll just touch on briefly for those of you who may not have listened to my why punishments do not work episode but i would strongly encourage you to go back to that is when we're remembering this notion that we are raising mini adults we have to remember that as an adult in the world that we live in other than obviously the laws of the land which generally speaking we do not break what tends to happen in our daily life is that there are consequences for our actions both positive and negative when we open the door for somebody who's carrying lots of things a positive consequence is that they'll smile and say thank you a negative consequence might be that if we do not deliver on a project on time a negative consequence could be a significant impact on our performance review with our employment or it may be that it delays the project from moving forward and that might have a financial consequence for the organization that you work for so we're really trying to teach our children the notion of consequences from the choices that they make so when we're clear and we're consistent around house rules and we're clearing the delivery of those consequences then our children push the boundaries less because they understand what the rules are the rules are consistently applied and they see a definitive link between their choice of behaviour and what will be a natural consequence so it's really being clear on those so the three strategies so far are giving our children choices where we can within parameters it's switching out of the traditional power dynamics of I’m the adult you're the child you'll do what I say remembering the three c's when it comes to household rules be clear be consistent and follow through with consequences the fourth one is about daily connection with each child so this is prioritising scheduling committing to spending time with each child 10 to 15 minutes now I know that we are pulled and pushed in multiple directions as parents we have multiple demands on our time we have got very little time quite often and it can feel like we're being pushed and pulled in multiple directions what I would say and so quite often that feeling is Maryhan, that's such a great idea but the reality is I cannot make that work now I understand that but what I would like you to do is to pause for a moment and consider how much of your time do you spend regularly each day and therefore each week pulling your children up for conversations around their back chat or pushing boundaries or dealing with the consequence of their back chat or pushing boundaries or dealing with something that is ignited among siblings because of back chat and pushing boundaries and my counter argument would be that you spend more time dealing with these things than you would do if you dedicated 10 to 15 minutes each day with each of your children now having that connection time with your children isn't necessary going to eliminate entirely back chat or pushing boundaries of course it's part of a multitude of things that we need to be putting in place to try and avoid this but what it does do is it allows you to spot issues early it allows your child an opportunity to connect with you sometimes back chat and boundary pushing remember is about where our children are at that time and it may be that they are desperate for your time and attention and any bad time and attention is as good as any time and attention so the back chat and the pushing boundaries may simply be about connecting with you so why not put that connection in place proactively by giving it to them each and every day and doing that regularly so what feels like a really arduous task not because we don't want to spend time with our children but it's like yet another task that we need to do yet something else I've asked to place on your to-do list but by committing to that and doing it every single day then we give our children that time and we reduce some of this back chat and pushing boundaries and what i would say is that that 10 or 15 time 10 or 15 minutes must be uninterrupted our phones must be away we must not be in the middle of cooking we must not be in the middle of another task or another chore where we're you know push our head over our shoulder and calling back to our child or trying to play a game with them whilst also doing something else that time needs to be we need to be fully present fully engaged with that child in that moment and we need to be creative about it because what we get back is so much more than what we put in and our children really value this so I think it's a really important thing and if you're listening to this and you're thinking god that's just going to be so hard start small commit to giving each child five minutes whether that's sitting with them at the end of the day in bed and having a cuddle and a chat commit to five minutes and build it up you will not regret that connection time and you will see a positive impact on that back chat and pushing boundaries reducing because they're having that opportunity to connect with you so let's go through the first four before I go through the last one so give your child choices where you can switch out of the traditional power dynamics I'm the adult you're the child remember the three c's when it comes to household rules be clear consistent and follow through with consequences make sure that we give our children daily connection time each and every day with each and every child and my fifth strategy as you would expect is regularly check in with yourself and your partner what can sometimes happen with this pushing boundaries and back chat is that it can escalate and become something that is quite explosive at times because of where we're at the time that we receive the back chat and the pushing boundaries or quite often how we're feeling in the time that what might be a natural subtle pushing boundaries we may react to and may be triggered by in an amplified way when we didn't necessarily need to we are human beings being a parent is one of multiple roles that we have so it is being able to remember that we need to nurture and take care of ourselves as individuals above and beyond our roles and responsibilities as mum or dad we need to understand that if we don't take care of ourselves if we don't check in on ourselves if we don't reflect on what's going on for us and what's going on in our lives and how we're feeling maybe we're tired maybe we're irritable maybe we've been working a lot of hours maybe we're resentful maybe everyone's asking us to do lots of things maybe we're being pulled in multiple directions whatever that might be that has an impact on how we react to the people in our lives not only our children and the situations that we find ourselves in if we do not regularly check in with ourselves and our partner doesn't do the same and we don't regularly check in together with our partner if we're co-parenting in the same home then we close off a whole load of opportunities to step back and fix those issues address those challenges that might then actually reduce any of this possibility of this back chat and pushing boundaries ever becoming as explosive as impactful negatively as they can be we have to check in on ourselves you know a lot of what we look at with parenting is looking at it from the perspective of what's my child done and what do I need to do to correct that but we also need to look at what's going on for me and what might I need to do to help myself so that I’m sort of when I’m presented with these situations as a parent I’m addressing them in the way that I want to I’m showing up as my best mum as my best dad in that moment given all the other constraints that I have rather than a depleted exhausted overwhelmed and irritable version so let me just recap on those five so it's give your child choices where you can within the parameters of the rules and the values that you have within your household where you can ask yourself the question can I give my child a choice here and if so make sure you do because that empowers them to make decisions they learn from making those decisions and they understand consequences as a result number two is we need to switch out of the traditional power dynamics of this authoritarian superior power in us as parents and the inferior submissive role that our children take on as children the third is remembering the three c's when it comes to household rules it's being clear so that everybody knows what the household rules are being consistent in the application of those house rules we don't apply them Monday but we forget about them on Tuesday and Wednesday and then they're back all over them on Thursday and that we consistently apply the consequences and the consequences relate to the rules themselves number four is that daily connection with each child because our children need that for us to be able to check in and for some children some of the backchat and pushing boundaries that you may be getting may well be the result of our children feeling that they're just not getting that connection time with us if it feels too much to do 15 minutes with each child start small but commit to doing it day in day out five minutes each child and be creative when you do it but be fully present no phone no cooking no other tasks to distract you just connection time and then the fifth tip is to regularly check in with yourself and your partner where are you at what's going on for you what might you need to be doing to keep yourself on that even keel do you need an early night do you need to have a difficult conversation with somebody do you need to eat more healthily do you need some time for yourself so it's checking in on that.

So, my gift this week is a checklist reminder of these five simple strategies so that they serve as a reminder and a prompt so head over to my free resource library where you'll find the link to download the resource all you need to do is pop in your email address and you'll get instant access not only to this week's resource but all the other free resources across all my other podcast episodes and for those of you that have resonated particularly around the parenting styles or the traditional power dynamics within the resource library you will find the parenting styles questionnaire which will help you work out you know what's your natural parenting style what's your go-to and if you can get your partner to do it as well that's a really helpful sort of foundation for you to have discussions around how you're parenting these particular situations around back chat and pushing boundaries.

As ever if you've enjoyed this episode, I would love it if you could follow and review this podcast so that others can find us and we can spread the love.

So, until next time…





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