I talk to a lot of parents on the progressive side of parenting who are not phased by backchat because they can see what they child is trying to communicate, or they see it as a red flag that the child needs something.
Many of us have partners that are not as far along on the progressive parenting journey and don’t see backchat like this.
For some couples, the difference of perspective is a niggling stress that they wish they didn’t have to deal with.
For others, it is infuriating and resentment-building that you have to deal with your partner’s feelings as well as your child’s because they’re not able to recognise backchat as a normal behaviour.
Let’s unpack the standard advice with backchat, why I don’t recommend that and what I suggest you do instead.
Do you need your partner to be on the same page about backchat?
Probably the most common advice about handling, well, just about anything, but specifically backchat, is to get your partner on the same page.
But let’s look at the differences in your perspectives and how challenging it would be to get on the same page about this.
The more progressive view is that if our child is backchatting, there’s something in the conditions around your child that means they’re not getting their needs me. So if you just figure out what the issue is, you can get their needs met. From this perspective, you don’t feel the need for your child to have adult-level communication skills, it’s ok for them to communicate to you however which way they are able to in the moment.
Generally speaking the less progressive parent will see that a person should not expect the conditions to be ideal in order to behave respectfully. So therefore kids need to learn how to behave appropriately, regardless of conditions.
Getting the less progressive parent to see backchat as a red flag that the conditions need to change is extremely difficult. People will tell you to send them another article, or just explain to them why it’s ok for a child to not have perfect behaviour all the time but when I’m working with a parent who is not progressive, I don’t start there with those approaches. It is the hardest way of all the hard ways to get them to understand!
So, don’t expect your partner to recognise that backchat is a red flag that the conditions need to change.
Do you need to get on your partner’s page?
If your partner says “he’s not allowed to speak to me like that” and you falsely jump on your partner’s perspective, your child knows that’s not how you handle it when they’re not there.
Your child will rightly question why there are two sets of rules.
It also sets you up to be presenting a “united front” which means your child sees that they are the opposing team to you and your partner.
Your child will also see this as you taking sides rather than considering their perspective.
That doesn’t sound like where you’re wanting to go, right?
Should you require your child to speak respectfully no matter what?
Another strategy often given to parents is to say something like “I’ll be able to get you a snack when you can speak kindly to me” and then you hold the boundary until they ask in a respectful way.
The reason this doesn’t work is that backchat stems from one of two root causes.
First, your child is either dysregulated or on the way to being dysregulated. If you come back with a hard line, your child’s nervous system will see this as a threat and escalate their dysregulation.
Second, is that your child thinks it’s funny or is experimenting with power. In this case, coming back with a message that their backchat is not acceptable might work, but is more likely to have your child feel misunderstood or just want to double down on their approach.
So while it might work, it’s not reliable and I don’t recommend it.
Become the backchat translator
So what DO I recommend?
If we look at this from your child’s perspective, what they are trying to communicate isn’t getting through to your partner.
We could say that as the adult, your partner should be the one to be able to be mature enough to accept your child backchatting.
Besides being the slower option, if we instead help our child find a respectful way to say what they mean, they can get heard.
Not only by your partner but also by their siblings, friends and other adults.
So rather than treating backchat as unacceptable, we’re finding a more effective way for your child to communicate and help them get heard.
How do we do that? It’s a lot quicker than you might think!
What are they trying to say?
In the beginning, figuring out what your child is trying to say can take time and effort, but it gets quicker as most kids have a few really common needs, and the more often you do it, your child will start to learn to think in this way in the first place.
Let’s use an example.
When they say “You’re not the boss of me!” what did they mean by that?
When I ask that question, clients will say “they feel like they have no power” which is so broad that it doesn’t really help us understand their perspective.
And if you say that to the less progressive parent, they will say “They shouldn’t have power! They’re the child!” While we could unpack that, we’re taking a quicker path!
What they might mean is “I don’t want to stop and tidy up because it’s arbitrary that it needs to be done your way and when you want it done. You want the place tidy as soon as you walk in the door, but I’m in the middle of playing.”
Or maybe “you haven’t played with me all day and I don’t know if what’s important to me matters to you… if I matter to you”.
My usual caveat applies here – I use a lot of words. You don’t have to, just focus on getting the meaning across.
When your child backchats you say “do you mean…” and clarify if the way you’ve expressed it gets to the real problem your child is trying to communicate.
Then your partner can see your child’s perspective and focus on solving the problem, rather than on whether the communication is respectful.
And, the more you do this, the more your child will associate their experiences with clearer ways to express themselves, so they’ll backchat less often in the first place because they know how to get across what they really mean.
When do you need to translate backchat?
Translating backchat as often as you can will help your partner get into the habit of seeing your child’s perspective without having to discuss your different perspectives on parenting.
It also helps your child to start recognising what’s underneath what they are saying and see that if they’re clear, they’re more likely to be heard and get the real need met.
So do it as often as you can, whether your partner is there or not.
This is something you can build up over time, so don’t worry about being consistently perfect at it, or worrying about it at all when you have nothing left in the tank. Do it when you can, let it go when you can’t.
And for extra credit
To help your child understand your partner’s perspective and help your partner communicate more clearly, you can also translate your partner’s messages any time they’re communicating in an unclear way.
In this case it’s incredibly important to be careful that you’re not undermining or correcting your partner. You’re translating what they really mean into a respectful and clear message.
That means you’re not using this as a chance to get your partner to change what they mean or to passive aggressively let them know they’re being unfair.
You’re literally only translating what they are saying to what they mean.
If you think your partner is wrong to say what they’re saying and can’t recognise a deeper, valid message that they’re trying to communicate, we have a little work to do on understanding your partner’s perspective, so skip this for now and focus on your child.
Want to cut through the trial and error?
If you’re stuck on recognising what your child is really trying to get across, book a free 15 minute call with me. You give me a run through of what the common examples of your child’s backchat are and I’ll help you figure out what they might be trying to get across.
Book your free 15 minute call here.