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Home | Insights | Dear Heartful, My 5-Year-Old is Talking Back and Mocking Me. What Do I Do?

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Dear Heartful, My 5-Year-Old is Talking Back and Mocking Me. What Do I Do?

Dear Heartful,

My challenge right now is having my 5-year old son listen and take direction. He is consistently talking back and mocking me. I’m not sure what I can do because I can waste my whole day telling him what to do, and he won’t do it! I have exhausted myself.

Thanks,

K.M.

Dear K.M.,

I’m so sorry to hear that you are struggling with your 5-year old. Five can be such a magical time, but also a time of big feelings, an increasing desire for independence, and high energy.  Here are some thoughts that may help as you work to build a better connection with your son:

To answer your question, I think it will be helpful to have an understanding of one of the fundamental concepts behind positive discipline. This is a style of parenting that I suspect would make a world of difference for you and your son.  As we dive in, it’s important to know that there are four primary styles of parenting, and they run along competing axes of firmness and kindness.  The research shows that children who are raised by parents who manage to balance kindness with firmness, at least most of the time, have the best outcomes socially, cognitively, and emotionally.

This is called authoritative parenting.

Parenting Styles

You mentioned that you are regularly struggling as you try to give your son direction and will “waste your whole day telling him what to do.”  While this is a very common issue for parents, it often arises most when we find ourselves falling into authoritarian parenting, where we are providing lots of firmness, boundaries, and directions, but are trending low on the kindness piece.  In other words, when we are trying to get our children to do “because we said so” without giving them much say.  For some of us (me included!) this is our default method of parenting, and is so easy to fall into.  It definitely takes some work and intentionality to back away from that.

To be clear, however, kindness does not mean letting our children get away with whatever they like, but it does mean parenting from a place of empathy and mutual respect and understanding that a misbehaving child is a discouraged child.  When we can parent from that perspective, it opens space for us to be more effective.

Here are a couple specifics you might try:

  1. Focus on building a relationship with him that is based on mutual respect.  Easier said than done when you’re in a cycle like the one you describe, but you can start by simply changing the way you respond to him and making sure that you invest your energy into speaking to him calmly and respectfully and using HUGE doses of empathy—even when you want him to Just. Do. It. (whatever “it” is in that moment).

  2. Invest time and energy into connecting with him.  Put the phone down (my biggest downfall), turn off the TV, put away distractions, and enjoy being with him.  Play, be silly, and do things that interest him.  When children feel deeply connected they are less likely to engage in the behavior you are describing.

  3. Based on what you describe, I suspect your son is seeking a sense of belonging and significance in his life by exerting power where he can. He may have the subconscious belief that he only belongs when he is the boss, in control, or can prove that no one can make him do what he doesn’t want to do. So then the question becomes where can you give him power?  You can redirect his comments by asking for help, offering limited choices, not engaging in the battle with him, focusing on being both kind and firm, setting reasonable limits, and walking away when you need to.  Routines may also be very helpful to you, but not to the point where there is no flexibility.

  4. Your son may also be seeking that sense of belonging and significance when he can get even with you—exert some level of revenge.  In that case, it is important to acknowledge his hurt, to avoid punishment or retaliation, to focus on building trust, to engage in emotion coaching, and  to teach him how to make amends.  You do this best by demonstrating it!

None of these approaches are an “overnight fix” but with steady, dedicated effort toward building connection and respect you really can build a new relationship for you and your son that is loving and kind and FUN!

Best of luck to you!

—Christy

Christy Keating fun headshot

Christy Keating is a certified parent coach,  positive discipline educator, and motivational speaker. She is the founder and CEO of The Heartful Parent Collective, which includes Heartful Parent Coaching, Savvy Parents Safe Kids, and Heartful Parent Academy.

The mother of two amazing daughters, Christy strives to build a happier, healthier world - one child, one parent, and one family at a time.

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