My 7-year-old daughter has recently begun speaking to me in a manner that can only be described as sassy. She talks back, uses a defiant tone and complains and rolls her eyes as though she were a teenager. I was completely unprepared for this kind of behavior at this age and I am at a loss for what to do. Is this normal for a 7 year old? What can I do to get my sweet little girl back?
Looking for help,
Congratulations! Your daughter has mastered several crucial developmental skills that help her feel confident and competent in her life. These competencies give her the courage to take risks and try new things, and unfortunately for you, some of these new things include behaviors that surprise you and cause discomfort. As your daughter tests your boundaries, it is important for you to maintain firm commitment to enforcing appropriate restrictions on acceptable behavior while also allowing room for growth and risk taking. This, as you are discovering, is a delicate balancing act, requiring thoughtful planning and proactive parental guidance.
The first step is to carefully examine your daughter’s current behaviors and specific speech patterns that cause you the most distress. If there are many, identify one or two behaviors you’d like to prioritize and initially target.
After you clearly identify the target behavior, have a straightforward, yet gentle conversation with your daughter at a time when she is not exhibiting the behavior and can be more receptive to the conversation.
“I’ve noticed recently that sometimes when you answer me, you use a tone of voice that sounds like this: … “
Having this conversation at a time when you are both calm keeps negative emotions at bay and can help minimize defensiveness.
Clearly articulate the reasons why the target behavior is unacceptable while recognizing that your daughter may not be aware of the negative connotations that her new form of communication carries. Give her the opportunity to explain herself if she’d like and is able.
“When you (complain/talk back/mimic in a singsong voice/roll your eyes) it seems like you are saying _______.” What are you really saying?”
Tell her what behaviors are unacceptable and brainstorm ways to eliminate the behaviors and give her some ideas of things to say and do instead. Try role playing to practice alternative responses.
Keep your daughter’s attention span in mind and do not prolong the conversation too long by turning it into a lecture!
After you have had your conversation, remember to give her time to identify and change her own behaviors. When she inevitably reverts to unacceptable manners of talking and interacting, give her a signal to help her notice what she is doing and an opportunity to correct herself.
“I’m sorry? I didn’t quite understand what you were saying. Would you like to try that again?”
“Excuse me? Could you repeat that please?”
Due to the fact that you have clearly communicated what your expectations are, your consistent yet gentle reminders should be enough to help her self-direct in order to make better choices in how she interacts.
If, on the other hand, you succumb to negative emotional reactions and react punitively or respond to her in the same manner in which she talks to you, the situation may easily escalate as you find yourself drawn into a cycle of disapproval.
Give opportunities for self-correction
Model appropriate, respectful behaviors
Good luck and best wishes!
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