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Behaviors At Home

The Smartmouth

Action: Why is my child behaving this way, what unmet needs does he or she have, and what specific things can I do to help him or her behave better?

Primary Causes of Misbehavior

This child may already have accepted himself or herself as a failure, but still has a strong urge for power.

The smartmouth may be demonstrating hate through the language he or she uses.

Primary Needs Being Revealed

Escape from Pain
The smartmouth is usually experiencing a great deal of pain at school or at home.

Secondary Needs Being Revealed

This child needs to learn how to be assertive without striking out verbally against people.

Somehow this child needs to feel a sense of positive power.

This child feels he or she becomes "somebody" by obtaining attention through verbal abuse.

Actions to Take
  • This child never gets what he or she wants: acceptance and respect. And there's an obvious reason, even though your child never sees it. That's why a private discussion is a must. In private, let your child talk about his or her anger. Ask, "Why are you angry?"

  • Then, talk to your child about two subjects: hurt and trust. Say, "You don't want to hurt people—why do you?" Then explain why—because he or she can't trust. Talk with your child about why he or she is afraid to trust. You'll find the answers will give you an entirely new perspective.

  • Next, ask your child to try trusting you. Also, ask if you can help. Keep in mind, this will take time.

  • Because this child probably thinks he or she is getting the short end of the stick, help redirect his or her behavior and claims of superiority by forcing the child away from his or her protective shield.

  • Don't challenge this child. Rather, ask your child to demonstrate his or her true abilities through specific activities.

  • Don't attempt to force your ideas on this child or to be dogmatic.

  • Don't contradict what your child tells you. Just listen. And never, never argue.

  • Most important, unless you are pushed to the point at which silence is impossible, do not respond in front of other family members. In your child's eyes, such a response is a betrayal of your trust. Privately, show your child that you aren't violating the trust—he or she is. This one revelation can make this child change.

  • Treat this child in an objective manner.

  • At every opportunity, simply pull the facade away, never becoming a smartmouth yourself. If your child talks back, don't make a retort that will reinforce his or her feeling of weakness. Only positive, objective, friendly guidance can make this child move away from the negative behavior.

  • Finally, find an activity that allows your child to get rid of his or her anger. And tell your child what you are doing. Such an outlet can make changing behavior easier for your child.

  • Be aware that you can easily get into a win/lose situation when dealing with this child, by taking his or her abuse personally. Remember, this child talks this way to everyone.

  • When you find it necessary to punish a child, be sure you are making an adjustment to whatever is causing the behavior, and that the child is included in the adjustment process. Experience will show that if you simply make a change without including your child in the adjustment process, he or she will not assume any responsibility in the new situation. Your child might even regard the problem as yours rather than his or her own. Then nothing is learned, and the behavior does not change.

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Please Note
We are labeling behaviors, not children! For the sake of convenience, we will describe behaviors with terms such as The Whiner or The Interrupter.

Never use such labels when talking to—or about—children! Doing so could cause many new problems and seriously damage the teacher-student or parent-child relationship.