My 10-year-old daughter has started using a sassy tone with me whenever I ask her to do something like clear the table or turn off the TV. Her teacher and friends' parents tell me that she has wonderful manners but these days, she is often rude to me. Even if it is just the age, I don't think she should be disrespectful to her mom.
Sometimes it seems as though our youngster is two different children rolled into one: the delightfully cheery one that shows up at school or as a guest in other people's homes, and the rather unpleasant, uncooperative one who sleeps under our roof! Here are my thoughts:
• Raise your eyebrow. I'm a big fan of the "arched eyebrow." Rather than delivering long-winded lectures about the importance of respect, say nothing, but deliver a look that suggests, Did you really just speak that to me in that tone of voice?
• Consider the connection. When children are feeling close and connected with us, they feel less comfortable behaving disrespectfully toward us. Notice if the sassy, back-talking behavior happens less often when you spend one on one time together having fun, or if it is more likely to take place when you've been preoccupied with other demands.
• Consider the setting. A child is likely more vigilant when she is at school or a guest in someone else's home; the fear of getting in trouble helps him or her follow rules and exercise restraint. When your daughter is home, she can relax, effectively letting that governing instinct go "off duty." This doesn't mean that she should be allowed to speak or behave rudely. It simply explains why children are often sloppier with their manners when they feel safe.
• Don't add to the drama. Your daughter has a developmental imperative to test limits. Sassing back is one of the easiest ways to experiment with asserting herself and trying on her voice -- and her power. Avoid taking your daughter's behavior seriously -- or personally. The less you react to it, the less interesting it will be to her to continue the behavior. You can certainly discuss the fact that in your home, there is a standard of politeness which everyone needs to adhere to, but don't make a power struggle out of each and every sassy moment.
• Watch what she's watching. Many of the shows targeted for the tween audience feature a sassy, edgy tweens as the primary character. If you her favorite shows feature kids who get a lot of laughs for being rude, let her know that if she'd like to continue watching them, she's going to have to rein in the ways she is mimicking that edgy behavior.
• Model good manners. This may seem obvious, but many parents are unaware of how often they speak sarcastically to their children, spouses or others. If you pay attention to the tone you use with those around you, you may find that your daughter has been mimicking you!
Countless parents of tweens find themselves scratching their head when their youngster's teacher speaks in glowing terms about how lovely and cooperative their child is, leaving them asking, Are you sure you're talking about my child? Respond rather than react, say less rather than more, and keep your connection strong, and that sassy attitude will start to disappear!
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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