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Moody Eight-Year-Old Talks Back and Doesn’t Listen


​​​When my 8-year-old son gets in his “moods,” he talks back to me, doesn’t listen and thinks he can do whatever he wants. How do I handle this without losing my cool? Please help.​


moody 8-yr-old

​Thank you for contacting the Boys Town National Hotline®.  The situation with your son has to be very frustrating to you, but it's great that you are reaching out for support. Here are a few things you can try.

First, set clear rules and expectations for your home and explain them to your son. It is also important that every adult understands, agrees with and enforces these rules in the same way. If you do not get a handle on your son's behaviors, they most likely worsen. 

If your son breaks the rules, stop him and describe the problem behavior. If he loses self-control, stop the interaction until he calms down. Then give him a negative consequence. Describe the positive behavior you want him to use instead. At another time, when everyone is calm, have him practice the behavior you want him to use. It is important to be consistent and remain calm as you are going through this process.

Make sure you give him positive praise when he is using positive behaviors. He has to learn what appropriate behavior is, and the way to accomplish that is to teach and model the behavior you want him to display. Just giving negative consequences when he misbehaves will not make it more likely that he will start using the positive behaviors you want to see. As a rule, find four positive behaviors to praise for every behavior you correct.

Do not engage your son when he is talking back to you. Stop the conversation and let him know you will resume talking when he is speaking respectfully to you. Describe his negative behavior in specific terms, but only respond when he is being positive and respectful. 

Also teach him listening skills. When you speak to him, he needs to respond by stopping what he is doing, looking at you and acknowledging that he heard you.  

When he behaves appropriately, be very specific in your praise and praise him often when he is doing well. Many families like to use a chart to document a child's positive behavior. He can help create the chart, writing down items or drawing pictures to represent the behaviors you want to see. He can also pick out the stickers you will give him to put on the chart to keep track of his positive behaviors. You can give him a larger reward when he uses good behavior for a certain amount of time.

Set up expectations for these reward so is able to earn them. For example, if he has issues every day, you may want to set expectations for daily rewards. Rewards do not have to be expensive. In fact, some families use a "joy jar," which gives a child access to a variety of rewards (written on pieces of paper), including time with an adult, a trip to the library or getting to choose a favorite meal. Have your son help write down the rewards he likes on the pieces of paper and put them in a jar. Then, when he uses a positive behavior, he gets to draw a reward from the jar. You also can set aside time to spend together when he is using positive behaviors. 

Whenever you are addressing his behaviors, remain calm, speak in a calm voice and don't show your emotions.   

If you would like to talk more about this issue, call the Hotline. Crisis counselors are available 24/7at 1-800-448-3000. There are also some great resources available at