Why does my toddler talk back?

Here you are enjoying the fruits of your labor raising a little human. They started at the newborn phase (smelling oh so good) and relying completely on mom & dad for everything. Once you got them sleep trained and sleeping through the night you had time to get some sleep and catch your breath during the infant phase. We just love watching them learn to: crawl, explore, touch, feel, and eventually walk.

Then they transition into the toddler phase; learning to talk and continuing to learn about the world around them and become more independent. Your little one is oh so sweet and you are loving this new phase until, BAM! You wake up one morning and your little cutie (who is always bright and chipper in the morning hours) begins back talking and giving you more lip than a NYC taxi driver! Where do you go from here? Do you allow it? Ignore it? Put them in time out? Discipline them? Explain to them the consequences of their behavior? Bribe them with a reward? Well, all of these are correct but I am sure you have already figured out that not one thing works- all of the time. You need to keep an arsenal of tools in your tool box. 

The Science

The science behind this behavior is your child is developing and learning how to identify with their emotions. They are learning empathy, frustration, anger, and sadness. They do not have the capacity yet to feel two emotions at once. For example, an adult finds out their best friend is moving out of state for a big job offer, you would be happy and sad at the same time, bitter-sweet. A toddler cannot do this yet. 


As parents we do our best to build an emotional relationship with our child and nurture them along this life journey. The best thing we can do for ourselves and for them is to educate and understand that they aren’t doing this to hurt us. They literally are learning to differentiate and identify with the copious amount of emotional swings they experience on any given day. Some of the things below have helped us instead of raising our voices and yelling, which will only teach them that this is a viable response. 

  • BEHAVIOR REWARD CHART: Find a behavior reward chart online and copy it into a word document to personalize it for your child. You can use smiley faces or stars to reward them for good behavior and remove them for unwanted behavior. Teach them when they behave they get rewarded. After a certain number of good marks they get a treat or prize.
  • TIME OUT: This is a good way to give them time to reflect on their behavior without any stimulation. Let the punishment fit the crime, meaning that if they did something minor, then 1 minute of timeout and something major, 2-3 minutes. 
  • EMPOWER THEM: Toddlers love to help. Allow them to help with day to day tasks and activities- put them to work as, “your little helper.” This allows them to learn and also build confidence since they will be completing tasks and helping you in the process.
  • LOVE LANGUAGE: Most kids have a unique love language, but there is one that they all can identify with and that is affirmation. Give lots of encouragement and affirmation when they behave the way you want them to. This lets them know you notice everything and no good deed goes unnoticed.
  • MODELING: This one is great for siblings. You can encourage your toddler to model good behavior to “show” the younger sibling how a “big boy” or “big girl” acts. This will give them a sense of ownership of their behavior and a sense of pride. 

We are dealing with feelings and emotions here, not food or what outfit to wear, so be sure to take mental notes throughout the whole process. We are learning about our child as much as they are learning about themselves and the world around them:-)