How do you deal with a smart mouth kid?

How do you deal with a smart mouth, nasty-toned kid when the use of a 2×4 is illegal in all 50 states?

I wish I knew.

There are days when I want to throttle my kids for their mouths. Even the simplest statement or criticism is often met with sighing, unnecessary tone, and unacceptable comeback—especially between my wife and daughters. If home mediation was a paid gig, I could have probably quit my day job with my oldest daughter.

She’s getting better now (at 20), but she spends a lot more time away from the house. Our 11-year-old, however, is about to board Alice’s “To the moon” express. And therein lies the problem. As much as I would like to give her a good smack to the kisser when she pops off, she and I both know that its just an empty a threat as Jackie Gleason’s character made.

Making it even worse, I can take away pretty much everything she owns and it doesn’t phase her. I am currently in possession of her cell, her laptop, and a lot of her time. She’s stubborn and strong-willed. After about a day, she no longer cares what possessions of hers we hold captive. She’ll just do something else.

At one point, I even put her in “hard labor.”* I had her out in the backyard area pulling weeds from a large overgrown patch where we aren’t supposed to grow grass. Even that didn’t work. She enjoyed it—and did a pretty good job.


After searching around the internet on this issue, I came across several forum boards and articles on the topic. It was rather apparent that I am not the only one facing this issue.  Advice typically ranged from Don’t let them act that way to ignore them. Very helpful—thanks a ton.

One  article I found from Pop Sugar, entitled 6 Ways to Handle Your Teen’s Attitude, got pretty close. Author Mary Beth says (paraphrased):

1 – Stay Calm: Keep your cool, politely tell the child they need to stop, do one-on-one time in a valuable way, and back up if you feel yourself losing it.

2 – Provide Tough Love: Do not be their “friend”, have prescribed rules in the situation.

3 – Enforce Consequences: Self-explanatory. Stick to your guns when carrying out corrective behavior.

4 – Keep Your Perspective: Choose your battles. All (most) teens have times of attitude. It will get better with time.

5 – Don’t Cave In: Acknowledge they are growing up, but do not lose your stance. You are still the adult and deserve the respect of age and being their parent.

6 – Remind Them You Love Them: Hug them harder. Re-enforce positivity – they are still good kids…

Well? Yeah. Ok.

As I stated earlier, I know I can’t beat them, but killing them with kindness and being saintly patient only ends up getting you walked on. Sorry. Maybe in a perfect world a polite yet stern talking to would work, but here in the really-real world? Not so much. At least not with my kids. The “planned ignoring” technique does work about 60-70% of the time, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

When I was a kid, I got a mouthful of Lava bar soap or got my ass cheeks reddened. I learned quickly not to pop off in a manner reserved for adults. I was always taught that I could say what I wanted, but I needed to watch how I said it. My opinion of things was never stifled—just my delivery. Unfortunately, those tactics will land you in jail these days. Kids are taught  to use 911 indiscriminately, and your 3-5 year old could land you 3-5 years, if not more.

So what do you recommend? What has worked on your kids’ unacceptable behavior or smart mouth?


*Before anyone calls Human Services on me, I made absolutely sure she took breaks every so many weeds or minutes, made sure she drank plenty of water and had snack foods, and got her out of the sun before it got too hot. Relax. Photo credit: kurichan+ / / CC BY-NC-ND


The Beginning
About Brandon P. Duncan

Brandon is a dad, husband, US Soldier, and co-founder of Dads Round Table.
When not knee-deep in one of those things, he can often be found tinkering with a woodworking project, writing, drawing, or Photoshopping something... or napping... or he's hurt himself again... or... something...

The Maintenance Habits of the…

If I were the highlighted animal in a televised … [Read Article]

Reducing Noise Pollution Reduces…

A quick Google search will reveal countless … [Read Article]

7 Things Horror Movies can Teach…

In my almost 40 years of life, I have watched … [Read Article]


  1. Amie T says:

    How to manage children’s behavior keeps coming up on DadsRT. My favorite resource is Love & Logic. It stresses empathy and natural consequences. It’s the easiest and hardest technique to use because parents have to examine their behavior, too. It forces every person in the dynamic to stop, think, and react from a place of calmness and respect. L &L also recognizes parents aren’t perfect people. If it doesn’t work, you try again. When your teen is blowing their top, you can say, “I only talk to people who talk to me respectfully.” Walk away. Ignore. Repeat yourself (calmly) if necessary. We teach everyone in our life how to treat us, including our children.

    • Sounds interesting. And I know I am probably not the model teacher on behavior. Being naive is not something I struggle with, lol. Do you have a link to your book/program? Maybe it will help some folks.

      • Amie T says:

        They have various books, CDs, programs for parents and educators. You can buy them from their website or bookstores. Many libraries have these books, too. I’ve listened to their podcasts and watched youtube clips and still have moments/days where I’ve totally blow it as a parent. I want to raise my kids differently than what I knew growing up and this is a good fit.

        • That, I understand. There is a LOT I intend to do differently than my parents. Thanks for the link.

    • We’ve been using Love & Logic since my daughter was 2 and son was 4. It’s not immediately intuitive for parents/adults, but with practice (and we get a lot as parents), it’s extremely effective.
      Amie, you’re completely right, it does force parents to examine their behavior. And, since behavior is learned through modeling/actions, our children tend to follow suit.

      • Amie T says:

        I did mess up on one thing: Love and Logic says, “Only say it once and walk away.” Obviously, I’m still a work in progress, too! My daughter is running out of clean clothes because she won’t sort her clean and dirty clothes off of her bedroom floor so the dirty ones can get washed and folded. She’s worn dirty, rumpled clothes to school. I bite my tongue. It’s killing me. She’ll run out of clean clothes and she isn’t in any danger. But, it’s tough not fighting about it.

  2. I’ve got to be honest here, you sound like you’re a little bit high-strung these days. Kids sense that. You can’t just be a calm actor around the kids; you’ve got to *mean* it.

    • I don’t want to put words in your mouth, Brian. Can you explain before I comment in return?

      • When I see so many references to hitting and punishing in such a short space (I count no fewer than 4), I start wondering what the article is *really* about. The way I see it, the only thing restraining your hand from giving your kid a good whack, or you use the word “throttle,” are the rules that say you can’t without getting in trouble. So even though you don’t particularly care for the rules, you follow ’em; you’re a rule follower.

        Contrast this with your child. You make it clear enough that you’ve made her aware of the rules, but she clearly doesn’t like them. You two are the same to this point: you both know the rules, and you both dislike them. Then you diverge. She isn’t a rule follower. You are. The fact that she won’t follow the rule, regardless of what she thinks of it, seems to frustrate you. (You use the word “unfortunately” to describe the fact that the rules prevent you from stuffing some Lava in her mouth and smack her around a little bit. Sounds like frustration to me.)

        Frustration makes you come off as high-strung. All I’m saying is that the source of your frustration might not be what you first expect. You’re a rule follower. She isn’t. She surely feels your frustrations; kids are incredibly perceptive like that. And when that starts to happen, situations spiral out of control. You say you count to ten, etc. and that’s just acting. She knows it. You know it.

        Because the overarching problem isn’t that she isn’t following a rule. It’s that you are.

        • Ah, ok. That’s kind of what I thought you were getting at.

          This, while frustrating sometimes, is written with a heavy dose of sarcasm and with hints of humor. I suppose it didn’t come off with the humorous undertone I intended.

          Nonetheless, you are right. Kids are very intuitive. As far as smacking one, no. I have “spatted” on diapers just to startle and make a point/quick correction, but I learned a long time ago as a somewhat irresponsible and unprepared barely 20 father that spanking doesn’t accomplish much and should be used as an absolute last resort, if at all.

          For the record, I would never wash my kids mouth out with soap—not just because it happened to me, but because is asinine and my mother never won any awards, let’s leave it at that.

          Now, as to the rest, how would you handle it? Obviously by your logic, I can’t NOT follow the rules, so how do we begin to make HER follow them?

          • Susan Diane Tallent says:

            Did the soap work? I rest my case (proof) Mine was a backhand swat across the lips from Mom it worked first time too.

          • Becky says:

            Brandon, I too feel your frustration. I see nothing wrong with what you wrote! I actually understood and felt your words. I’m a single mother to a son. I am constantly working on his back talk and disrespect. Thank you for NOT making me feel alone in this!

This is what I think...