If you’re a parent, it’s almost a given that your child will ‘backtalk’ you at some point. But not everything we consider backtalk is bad.

When children express disagreement or dissatisfaction, that’s a good sign, indicating they’re developing a sense of self, autonomy and independence. These behaviors often peak between ages 2 and 4 and again during teen years, but it’s not uncommon to see them throughout childhood.

It’s important to remember that our goal as parents is to teach kids how to think, not what to think. While your children may not have the right to make the final decision regarding a situation, they do have the right to protest. The point is to teach them how to do it appropriately.

Disrespectful responses are a good place to draw the line between what is and what is not acceptable behavior. While children are entitled to their emotions, including anger, they are not entitled to cuss, yell, hit or be rude to others. You can help your child learn productive, appropriate responses in two primary ways.

First, provide structure. A lack of adequate standards, rules and structure in the home (or at school) gives children carte blanche to talk back. Instead, develop rules and consequences for behaviors you want to change. Communicate them to your children and allow them an opportunity to ask questions and even protest. Then, be sure to adhere consistently to those rules.

For example, if your three-year-old is prone to throwing tantrums when you won’t buy her something she requests at the store, you can tell her the consequence will be leaving the store for a timeout in the car (or whatever consequence you find most effective with your child). If you’re concerned about your teen staying out too late, you can establish an 11 p.m. curfew. If he returns home after curfew, you can take away his car keys for a week. Then the next time your child breaks the established rule, be sure to follow through with the consequence promptly and without emotion.

As you develop rules and consequences, it’s important to acknowledge your children when they follow the rules. It’s easy to forget when your child is behaving the way you want, but paying careful attention to positive reinforcement will encourage your child to continue on the path you’ve defined.

Second, be a good role model. If we model rude, disrespectful behavior — regardless of where it’s directed — or we use authoritarian tones when our children are rightfully exercising their autonomy, those are the same behaviors we can expect to see from our children. On the other hand, if we’re firm, fair and friendly, we’ll eventually be able to rely on that same kind of response from our children.

Often, children don’t respond well to being told what to do, especially when they’re in an especially independent stage. Modeling is much more subtle and much more effective. In fact, developmental research has shown that even when children go through harshly rebellious periods, they typically come back to the values they’ve grown up with.

As with most parenting techniques, they’re far easier described than executed. Timeouts, for parents as well as children, are a good resort when things get emotional. Taking a few minutes away from the situation can help you regain perspective, remember the structure you’ve established and reflect on what you want to model for your child.

As published in the June 2006 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.