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Raising Mary: Dealing with back talk

Coincidentally, as in the
nursery rhyme, ‘contrary’ is
an adjective befi tting six-year-old
Mary, my fi rst-born daughter. It
means, “inclined to disagree or do
the opposite of what is expected
or desired.”

Typically, Mary is joyful, full of
silliness and bestowing of hugs.
She makes friends and wants to
please. She’s (mostly) nice to her
four-year-old sister.

There has, however, been
increased verbal insolence this
past year.

“Could you please clean up
your markers and papers,” I ask,
ever-so politely. “You do it!” is the
swift reply. Or “You want me to
do this all by myself? YOU have
to help me!”

Whoomp, there it is. Back talk,
at six. Wasn’t this supposed to
happen at, like, 12?

When she’s been snarky for
too long, I send Mary to her room
until she can speak nicely. This
year when she was sent for timeout,
the response was loud and
simple. “NO!”

It’s one thing to pick up a
defi ant toddler and carry them
where they won’t go. But have
you ever tried to lift and transport
a non-compliant, 52-pound sixyear-
old? I almost threw my back
out a few months ago doing just
that. (Now, I take away a bin of
toys if she doesn’t comply.)

Sometimes, all it takes is a
‘no’ on a seemingly tiny issue
and Mary turns on a dime from
“you’re the best Mommy ever” to
“you’re the worst Mommy ever”.

While Mary is becoming
more thoughtful, logical and
sophisticated, I reluctantly admit
that she is back to throwing
tantrums. They are rare, but
when they happen, they are big
and lengthy.

Once this summer when she
didn’t want to join her Dad to
run an errand, she screamed so
deafeningly, a neighbour came
to the end of her driveway, hands
on hips, to see what was going
on. That’s the very meaning of

Exasperated, I looked into this.
I learned that back talk is fairly
normal at six years. Obviously
you can’t always let kids get away
with extreme rudeness, but some
oppositional behaviour has to
do with self-assertion. This is
perplexing: you want your kids
to (mostly) obey you and respect
your authority, but not to become
overly obedient teens and adults
who don’t know how to say ‘no’.

By the time you read this,
Mary will have had another
birthday. If the back talk stage
passes, seven will be heaven.
A mom can dream.

Tracy Cooper is a stay-at-home mother of Mary, 6, and Adelaide, 3.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2012.

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