“No Lip” or How much talking back is okay?

I’ve been thinking a lot about behavior lately–namely, whining and back talking.  I’ve recently taken on a no nonsense discipline strategy that been really effective.  There’s a lot of things that I don’t tolerate, and the girls get disciplined immediately for it.  It’s been great in a lot of ways.  It’s helped them understand their limits, and it helps me “parent without screaming.”  But as my 3-year old ages, she is becoming mouthier and more independent by the day.  I’ve been blaming this on her figuring out who she is coupled with early language that she doesn’t fully have a grasp on.  Early language or not, though, it’s time to reign in the mouthiness.

I guess I’ve been waiting on feeling like she is aware of her behavior, capable of being responsible for what she says–not sure if that makes sense, but her language is FAR beyond her understanding of it.  She’ll yell all kinds of things that she doesn’t understand.  Like, “This is NOT MY responsibility!  It is YOUR responsibility!”  She doesn’t know what responsibility means, she only regurgitates… and, she regurgitates so stinking well.  She’s often mistaken for being older than 3 because of how well she speaks and has conversation, but her emotional maturity lags far behind.  So, I’m in this weird place: “Is she old enough to reign in her emotions, or at least reign in her disrespectful behavior toward me?  Is she old enough to learn respect?”

Here’s where it recently hit a head.  Sunday night, cookout.  I took the girls by myself.  Cookout with a whole bunch of people I didn’t know and a small few I did.  When it was time to go, I gave the 5-minute and 1-minute warning and tried to round the kiddos up. Sophia ran away from me, and Abby started screaming with the loss of my immediate presence.  Everybody froze.  Abby’s screams will make the toughest mothers crumble and the less seasoned ones FLIP OUT.  To say she’s a drama queen is a serious understatement.  I nearly had to drag Sophia by the arm, and I had to rescue my screaming Abby from the arms of a well-meaning complete stranger.  I haven’t felt so judged, so “all eyes on the mother who doesn’t have it together” in a long time.  I couldn’t yell my usual countdown to get Sophia to obey… I had no weapons.  I already got stares from merely calling her name in a loud-ish voice.  By the way, countdowns… They used to work…  But, now I only get compliance when I count.  That’s not good.

At this very moment, I realize I need to start small.  I need to pick a behavior, make it plain to her that it will no longer be tolerated, and henceforth make consequences for it.  The question, when it comes to all things “talking back,” what behavior is the worst?  Where should I start?  Obviously, “I hate you.”  “I’m gonna kill you.” “I’m gonna throw you in the trash.”  Those aren’t going to fly.  But, what about, “No!  I won’t do that!”  Or, “I don’t want to!”  Or, “BUT,….”

My mother used to tell me, “No lip.”  What exactly is “lip”?  All things “talked back” when given an order or instruction?  And, how much is too much?

Some would say that any “lip” is too much, but here’s what I wonder: At some point, she may have a legitimate argument or opinion, one that I should be available to listen to.  For example, I see her hit her sister.  I immediately send her to time-out.  According to my mom, any bit of “lip” would be saying anything before going to her room.  “But, Abby bit me!” would be legitimate “lip” in my opinion… I never tolerate hitting, but I do think she deserves to be able to defend herself both physically and verbally.  And, I should know what happened.  (I realize in this situation that asking what happened would be a better place to start, but you get the idea… And, when it comes to parenting in the moment, I’m not perfect.)

I want to create a tone in the house where my girls feel like they can talk to me.  I don’t want to cut them off from their emotions.  I want them to have their feelings.  If they’re angry, they should be allowed to be angry.  If they’re sad, they should be allowed to be sad.  And, we should be able to talk about it if she wants to and it’s appropriate.  In time-outs I always let Sophia scream and moan and say whatever she’s feeling, but what about other times?  And, what about when her anger and sadness come out badly, sinfully…

As I write this, I feel like I’m answering my own questions.  Two things shouldn’t be tolerated: Telling authorities (Mom and Dad, first) “no,” and a nasty tone of voice (yelling and what-not).  She needs to learn respect.  And, she needs to learn that her voice will only be heard if she uses a tone that is appropriate.  That’s not too much to ask, right?  It’s hard to narrow my focus.  I also want to discipline her tendency to be overly bossy and snippy or just altogether disagreeable and no fun…  3 is a hard age.  For daughter and me.  I don’t want to baby her, but I also don’t want to expect too much.

Ultimately, I want to teach my girls to be kind, patient, compassionate, loving and respectful.  I also want to foster an environment that is available and ready to hear with compassion and love.

You have any ideas for me?  What back talking and whining and tantrum throwing do you “tolerate” and what do you hammer down on?