“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?


11 Responses

  1. When you decide on what does not “fly” when coming to “LIP”, BE CONSISTENT on the discipline. When you conquer that objective, the other issues (some not all) will start to fall into place as well. Consistency is a wonderful tool!!! GOD bless you sweet friend! XOX

    • Thank you, Meghan. Your encouragement is meaningful. Hanging out with your family was so great for me. I love to see you parent with such gracious, fun, no nonsense love. It’s an inspiration. I’m loving getting to know you!

  2. It sounds like you’re doing a great job even if you don’t feel like you are! I’ve been wondering about all of the same issues lately and my daughter is only 7 months old. I want the same kind of environment as you do when my daughter gets older: open and non-threatening but at the same time I want her to know who is in charge. You brought up a great point about them being able to express their emotions. I think that’s really important! I don’t have any advice, but I enjoyed your post!

    • Thanks for the comment. A wise person told me once about being careful to let them feel what they’re feeling. Sometimes as adults we have a tendency to want our out of control children to shut up and behave. That squashes personality development, I think.

  3. I think you should ship her to John Mark and Beth’s house when she gives you attitude. Not that that would solve any problems because I would spoil her rotten! 🙂

    She is so smart. I think your two “no toleration” rules aren’t too complicated for her to understand. Since I have no parenting experience, I’ll refer to some sages in that area… the Duggers always talk about instilling a sense of “cheerful obedience” in their children. When the kids are tiny, they will give them a toy or something engaging, wait a few minutes, then interrupt their play, asking them to do something (even as simple as “come here, please”). When (if) they obey, Mom or Dad praises them and gives them some form of reward. Who knows if that is a magical formula for raising “cheerfully obedient” kids, but so far their kids are looking like decent and productive human beings. Sophia may be too old for that strategy, but it might be worth a shot since she responds so well to positive feedback.

    • Can I ship them to your house?! Oh, how I’d love to let you spoil them. That’s interesting about the Duggers… They’d have to have a hold on it with so many kids!

  4. Have you tried pulling her aside when she is yelling mean, hateful things and asking her to talk about them? For example, if she is screaming, “I hate you!!!” could you go to her and tell her that you understand that she is angry (I think its very important to let them know that you understand their feelings) and you’d like to talk about it. Give her the opportunity to talk about her feelings in an appropriate way, and if she insists on being disrespectful, then put her in time out (making these rules clear at the beginning, of course).

    To be completely honest, I have tried this a little with Oliver and it hasn’t worked with him. He always chooses to say something hurtful or cause physical harm, but perhaps that is a function of his age. Perhaps Sophia is old enough to begin reasoning when she is emotionally out of control and putting her feelings into a more productive outlet. I think that’s the root of the whole problem–toddlers don’t know how to express their emotions, especially when their emotions are already at the boiling point.

    Hope this helps. Good luck!

    • Hey Brandi. You know, she doesn’t yell mean and hateful things much anymore. When she does I have always talked to her about it (after time-out or spanking), and she’s always responded well to it. She always wants to be heard. I think it is age. She has so much maturity in that kind of thinking now. When she does get “emotionally out of control,” it’s usually in the form of crying or being unreasonable. And, at that point, there’s no talking to her. I usually just let her have alone time in her room until she can calm down and kind of forget about why she lost it… The problem with her isn’t so much outbursts and tantrums as it’s overall disrespect, as in she’s not doing what I ask her to do without some sort of sass or waiting until I count… Thanks for the thoughts, though. I know listening to her is very important and it’s easy to overlook.

  5. I’m so bad with this. You don’t want any “lip,” but you don’t want to be yelling at the kids all the time, either. And I’m sure it gets exponentially more difficult the more kids one has. I have a difficult time with just one. And three is a super tough age.

    • Yah, yelling at the kids totally backfires. It just makes the kids feel shame… and teaches them that yelling is appropriate when you’re angry… We’re really working on that here. Sophia reminds me when I’m not using my sweet voice. It’s difficult for sure. I know that the families who have quite a few kids “have to” get it under control, and then the older kids teach the younger ones. I think it feels more daunting with one or two because you haven’t learned the lessons that come with child after child… at least that’s the wisdom that I’m learning from my mom friends with big families.

  6. Good post btw. I came across yours from another person blog. I have to say I read it at the right time because my niece is the same age is your little girl and she can be handful when it comes to her mouth. It’s like you got to know when to say something and when to bite your tongue in public. People’s giving you the look like where they do that and like she unfit, since a lot of people’s think she my daughter. Your post has helped me in away and I shall see how it goes for me on here out. You ask good question and like you said you answer them as well. Believe respect she be taught to them at early age. I feel if we don’t start now and when they get older they going to be even harder to discipline.

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