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Parents of ADHD Children

Talking Back

How do you handle it when your ADHD kids talk back?

My son just turned 11 and has started talking back and giving us attitude. 

With our oldest son, we “nipped it in the bud” by shutting it down immediately (“hey! don’t give us attitude”, “I don’t want to hear you speaking to me that way”, etc.) and that was it.  He learned quickly that it wasn’t accepted and other than the odd situation here or there, we don’t get much from him anymore.  He knows life is easier to jump up and do things without the attitude.

With our youngest (the ADHD kid), nothing we say or do seems to make any impact.  We’re firm and not excitable (or we try really hard to be), but it seems to no nothing.  Taking it up a notch (punishments, yelling, etc.) end in more drama.  But we can’t just let it go!

Any brilliant ideas?


I try to empathize and figure out the real reason for the frustration or the attitude, if there is one, but, to tell you the truth, I’m subscribing to this thread to read the other answers ‘cause I’m in the same boat.

My son turns 11 next month, and the attitude is getting quite rude and nasty at times.  I think it’s worse late in the day when the meds are wearing/worn off, and part of it is the age (according to a behaviorist with whom I spoke), but I totally get what you’re saying about the usual methods being totally ineffective. 

I’ve tried talking to him, I’ve tried telling him every time that the tone is unacceptable, I’ve tried disengaging until the mood passes, I’ve tried ignoring it, I’ve tried rewarding for positive tone of voice and taking away game time for snotty tones, but nothing seems to be working.  He is doing it in front of other people when the mood strikes now, and it just breaks my heart to see my typically fun, goofy son turning into this nasty, disrespectful human being.

I, too, am at a loss for ideas.  I’m sure some people on here will have some great suggestions.  Glad you posted this!

Posted by JAMurphy on Sep 08, 2013 at 4:30am

If only we had answers!  I’ve had a tough time with this one too. I usually try to ignore it (negative attention is still attention, right?) but the siblings ask “why can he get away with that and not me” - a valid question.  But honestly, if I punished him for every swear word he says (particularly when his meds wear off) then our relationship would be nothing but negative.  And that’s not good long term.

So - I ignore it as much as I can.  Or I say “Looks like your ADD is acting up” or “Please use nicer words because those hurt my feelings”.  BUT - if he ever swears at me, or is disrespectful in public - than a swift heavy punishment. No computer for 3 days - or something like that.  I’ll let things slide at home because I know it’s his ADD talking and he can’t control it all the time - but not outside of the home. He can usually control it then (and he’s usually on his meds).

Not sure if this helps, but that’s what happens in our family. I’ve also gone for counselling - and highly recommend it.

Posted by staypositive on Sep 08, 2013 at 5:27am

The other respondents have already given very good advice and we all have to keep trying things until we find out what works.

Something I have the most trouble doing, but has had the best effect, is staying calm through the drama and waiting for it to pass. With the impulse control that ADHD children have restraining their behavior, including being disrespectful, is very hard for them. That’s not an excuse for that behavior, only that the same punishments don’t work for them because they happen after the fact. Punishments afterward have just been a disaster for us although they’re important. They just can’t be too harsh otherwise it will just end up hurting their self-esteem and making it worse.

If I just stand there and look at him when this happens eventually he’ll say he’s sorry. I remind him that it’s unacceptable behavior. He knows it and they don’t really want to have their parents disapproval.

I read that parents of ADHD children have to parent their child 5 times. 5 times what would work for a non-ADHD child. Staying calm through that requires the patience of a Saint, and I’m no Saint, but leading by example is all I can try to do as the phase passes and he gains more control over his actions.

Posted by Havebeenthere on Sep 08, 2013 at 7:06pm

Maybe try, instead of pointing out with your correction that he is giving you attitude, try asking him to rephrase it in a nicer way.  Attitude is born of frustration.  They want to be heard and understood and if they are being snippy it is because they DON’T feel heard and understood - and us parents pointing out the attitude is MORE missing the point.  Then we get the eye roll…

My husband and I have just started the Lefkoe Way parenting course, not too far along but heard an interview with her and she said “Wouldn’t it be great if instead of teaching your children to worry about what other people think of them (by saying that’s not a nice thing to say, or you hurt my feelings) but instead to teach them to consider the consequences”  And I say here here. 

I have tried in a small way with my son, to get him to rephrase something he’s said in a nasty tone of voice.  So instead of telling him he’s being “attitudinal” or “not nice” - which are just ways of saying he should care about what other people think of him which is a life squashing thing to have to deal with - but I will say “Do you think that asking me with that tone of voice is going to get you what you want?” Subtle, yes, but I am not challenging him or telling him what or how to say but asking him to consider, using his own faculties to communicate better.

Posted by YellaRyan on Sep 09, 2013 at 10:55pm

Honestly, sometimes for my own best interest, for my own sanity, for my own mental and emotional health, I just really need to HEAR nice words.  And what has happened is - and this sounds so tacky/silly that it’s hard to admit that I do this - since I will not hear those nice words from my 13yo daughter IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT, what I do is at that moment, I say them out loud to myself.  I literally speak for her,  Maybe it’s good for her to hear what her options are, in terms of how she could choose to respond. She hears someone modeling good behavior.  But really, good or bad or insignificant for her, I honestly don’t care at that point.  *I* just need to hear nice words.  Period.  So *I* say them.  I literally ignore whatever she has or has not said, and instead, I’ll say out loud, “Yes, mom, I’ll pass the salt.  Here you go.”  And I’ll answer, “Thanks, sweetie.  I appreciate that.”  Or whatever. 

I think it takes away the oomph of whatever snotty thing she may have just said.  It totally ignores it.  That didn’t happen.  It’s not worth my time or my energy or my attention.  And by the way, HERE is how things COULD BE between us!  See how much better that flows?  Didn’t you enjoy hearing that instead?  Those are my thoughts.  It also sort of shames her bad behavior.  By comparison, her negative or snotty or disrespectful words/tone ring in the air and are embarrassing, quite honestly.  And it says, I’m not dealing with the bratty child.  I’ll deal with the nice, polite, pleasant child, even if I have to have an imaginary one.  It’s better than that bad mojo you just dished out.

That’s how it goes in my head, anyway.  And yes, it does diffuse the situation.  Plus, it helps ME.  I need it.  Like a penicillan shot.  A little boost to ward off the anger, the confrontational atomosphere, the head-to-head fighting.

They KNOW what you don’t like.  But do they get to see and hear what you DO like?

It’s kind of kooky, but it works for me.  And it does lessen the tension.  Or it certainly doesn’t escalate it.  It does not add gasoline to the fire, is the point.  And it gets me what I want:  a respectful dialogue.  Even if it’s with just myself.  I actually don’t care at that point.  That is how important civility can be.  And I will have it in my home with or without her participation.

Posted by hitwcidb on Sep 10, 2013 at 7:46pm

hitwcidb - I do some of that, too.  When the unpleasant tone of voice comes out of my son, I repeat the phrase in a nice tone. “Sure, mom, that would be great - thanks!”  I just smile and walk away, not scolding him or anything.  I wonder if it sinks in.

Posted by JAMurphy on Sep 11, 2013 at 4:13pm

Good thing you’re only seeing it now at age 11!  My son’s 9, and it’s been an issue for awhile.

Great suggestions from the other replies.  I like the idea of talking out loud for the child in a nice way!  Great idea.  And it’s good to remember that there’s little or no filter sometimes (sometimes I think those same types of things, but just catch myself before saying them).  Here are some other things that have helped us:

-discipline is a chance to teach.  We realized that maybe he didn’t actually know what back talk was, how it comes across and why we don’t talk like that.  We started saying something like (quietly), “That’s back-talking; please say it nicely.”  Acknowledging the frustration and addressing that is a great follow-up.

-ignoring it at first, then if it persists, say “please talk nicely”, again in a quiet tone.  This approach pretty much cured whining for us a couple years ago.

-if he keeps going with a warning or two, then he loses a point from his rewards system.

-if all that still doesn’t work, he’s probably in or close to a meltdown and just needs to calm down.  Sending him to his room to cool off, read, get a drink, etc., then getting back to the issue later if needed seems to work.  Helping him see if he’s too angry to function nicely, then taking a break is a great idea.  I try my darndest not to fuel it, especially at this point.  I tell him, “you’re obviously upset about this and it’s really important to you.  I’d be happy to help you through it when you’ve calmed down.”  If he seems to not be able to let it go, I just simply refuse to talk to him about it—or do my best wink

These ideas have actually helped quite a lot.  He can be very argumentative and have lots of attitude, but this is one area that I feel is somewhat under control.  Good luck!

p.s.  I suggest reading, “The Explosive Child”.  It has helped me help him avoid or talk him down out of those intense frustrations.

p.p.s.  The “1 - 2 - 3 Magic” philosophy is perfect with this kind of thing, too.  Look up the book or video.

Posted by Stephanne on Sep 14, 2013 at 2:35am

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