My Daughter Is Sassy! What Should I Do?

Filed under: Expert Advice: Tweens, Expert Advice: Teens

Dear AdviceMama,

My daughter is almost 12 years old. She is very good about doing what I ask, but sometimes she responds to me in a disrespectful way, saying something sassy like, "I heard you!" Other times, as I'm leaving the house she'll make a comment like, "Are you wearing that?" How can I teach her respect toward me and others?

Daughter With a 'Tude

Dear Daughter With a 'Tude,

You addressed the most important part of this question in your last sentence -- or actually, your final word, suggesting you want your daughter to show you respect because you understand the importance of her being respectful to others.

In most situations, her willingness to be polite with you will have very little to do with how she treats other people. While that doesn't mean it's OK for her to treat you rudely, I want to reassure you that she probably reserves that sassy tone for you and you alone, and thoroughly understands that it isn't OK to address other people in that way (although there are exceptions to this.)

Still, I am a strong believer in good manners, and the best place to teach them to children is to establish a climate at home that emphasizes the importance of polite and civil interactions.

That isn't always easy when you're dealing with a tween. In today's pop culture, nearly every "kid-friendly" TV show has young teens dialoguing with one another -- and with their parents -- with sass and sarcasm. The laugh track plays every time Mom rolls her eyes after her daughter says something edgy, but the subtle message is interpreted as it being OK, even "cute."

Each family has its own communication style; there are families where cheekiness is a little bit of everyone's delivery, and families where everyone seems to yell to be heard. But, generally speaking, while being a little brassy is fairly common among 12-year-olds, parents do their children no favors when they tolerate downright insolence or disrespectful language.

Ask your daughter if she wants a "do-over" when she's fresh with you. Explain -- politely -- what your expectations are and let her hear exactly what you mean with real examples of how you'd like her to voice her opinion.

And, by all means, use "the look" if she speaks in a smart-alecky tone. Just don't make it into a power struggle, or fuel it with the kind of drama and reaction that perpetuates the behavior by making it interesting! In other words, don't give her sassiness too much attention, or you'll feed the fire.

Most of all, model respectful language -- and behavior -- in your interactions with your daughter and the rest of your family, encouraging everyone to share their opinions, as long as they do so with love and respect.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.