Many parents are very reactive to disrespect from their children. Often this stems from being raised in a household where that kind of disrespect was not tolerated, and often when it was punished in a very harsh way. It can also come from a need to feel in control, or when we feel like the way our kids behave is a direct reflection of our parenting (hint: it often isn’t!)

So I’ve come up with this handy list of phrases to use when your kids sass you, backtalk, yell, act bratty, or whatever you want to call it! Memorize it, post it somewhere, practice it, keep it handy, repeat them ad nauseum, and when your kids come at you with eyes rolling and limbs flailing, you’ll be better prepared to keep calm and avoid yelling right back.

  1. Please speak respectfully to me, and then we can talk about it. (It’s important to phrase things in terms of the behavior you want to see, not just “stop whining” or “don’t use that tone with me!”
  2. As soon as you __________, we can _____________. (“As soon as you clean up these toys, we can watch your show”/”As soon as you put your coat on, we can go to the park”)
  3. What could help you calm down? (suggestions may include hugs, bubbles, breathing, counting, calm down corner, etc.)
  4. You are very mad, and you wish we could __________ right now. (validating feelings, sometimes this is enough to get kids to calm down)
  5. It’s OK to feel mad about it. It’s not OK to hit/kick/scream/destroy things. (Setting boundaries, validating feelings)
  6. I’ll race you to ______. (Redirection/turn it into a game or something silly or fun)
  7. Would you like __________ or _____________? (provide limited choices – make sure both options are actually acceptable, do not offer a choice that you will have to say no to)
  8. You can do _________ or I will ________________. (decide what you will do – “You can turn off the video game, or I will put it in the closet” – this will be most effective when used in a calm tone, not used as a threat or punishment)
  9. What do we need to do next in order to _______________? (“What do we need to do with these toys before we get out new ones?”, “What do we need to do next in order to be ready for school on time?”)
  10. What was our agreement? (agree in advance, then remind child of agreement – “We agreed that your chores would be done right after school”, “I know you want to play right now. What was our agreement?”)