“Mom! I don’t want to clean my room now! I only have four more minutes left of this YouTube video!”
“Practice my times tables AGAIN!? Noooo! I just did homework before martial arts and I’m EXHAUSTED.”
“Mom! Stop yelling at me! Ugh! I HEARD you the first time!”
To some parents, an eight-year-old saying these things to his mother is disrespectful, or maybe even worthy of punishment. As a psychologist, not only do I believe that this kind of “back-talk” is not disrespectful, but I actually welcome even the sometimes-whiny-and-annoying dialogue that ensues.
Here’s why I let my kids talk back to me:
- Research shows that kids whose parents allow them to voice their dissent (authoritative parents) grow up to have better self-esteem, social skills, and are more resourceful than kids whose parents punish disagreement (authoritarian parents).
- When my kid is arguing with me, he is accessing his emotional state and advocating for his immediate needs/desires. These are vital life skills that should be cultivated and reinforced, not squelched. My son’s ability to identify that he is indeed too tired to concentrate on math shows mature self-awareness. His ability to reasonably negotiate for his desires (five more minutes of this video? Can I just throw my socks in a drawer instead of matching them?) is a skill that will take him far. And—bonus—his ability to tolerate “no” is vastly improved when he feels that his perspective has truly been considered.
- My kid shouldn’t be punished for his feelings or perspectives, as long as he’s respectful when he speaks. Dissent is only punishable in a dictatorship. He’s a person, not an extension of myself or a robot.
- I want my kid to be comfortable expressing his feelings and perspectives. Some day he will be navigating important relationships (with adult friends, co-workers, a spouse, etc), and I want him to come to expect that his feelings are worthy of consideration, even if they are not agreed with.
- By my consideration of his perspectives (even if I don’t intimately agree or conceded), I am modeling the human decency and respect I want him to show his brothers now and his spouse someday decades from now. People are more easily validating and empathic with others when they feel understood and supported themselves AND when they have a model of what it looks like.
- I want my kid to have a mutually respectful relationship someday where he and his partner are used to expressing their perspectives and listening to one another. The calm and respectful back-and-forth with me will prepare him for such a relationship.
- I want my kid to get in the habit of thinking for himself instead of blindly going along with authority. Often times authority asks something of a person which is not consistent with that person’s value system, and I want my child to consider this throughout his life. (On the other hand, I also tell him sometimes going along with authority even when it makes not sense to you, is just easier and makes sense, so long as it doesn’t cause any harm.)
- I am not perfect, and I want him to know that when I have made a terrible call (misjudged him or mismanaged my anger), he has a valid voice that is worthy of hearing out. He will take that sense of worth with him throughout his life.
- I give my kid enough credit to know that he can understand the difference between “arguing/disagreeing” and being hurtful and rude. I use the times when he crosses the line into rude as opportunities to teach empathy and the art of the humble apology. None of this messy but important relationship stuff gets practiced in a dictatorship.
And there you have it, the reasons this psychologist lets her kids talk back to her. Even though it’s harder in the short-term, the long-term benefits are worth it.