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Dealing With Back Talk

While Emily Fagiano of Peterborough, NH, was driving slowly with sons Lawton, 5, and Thomas, 2, Thomas kept opening the car door. After her third warning for him to stop, Lawton noted: "At this point, a more intelligent parent would have set the child safety lock." A withering remark, but "all I could do was chuckle," recalls Fagiano.

It's hard not to beam when your child pulls off a snappy comeback, even when it's at your expense. Still, it's best to stifle those smirks, says Audrey Ricker, Ph.D., author of Back Talk: Four Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids. Publicly delighting in his barbs will only encourage more sass. And while it may be funny when a preschooler parrots a surly "Whatever," he'll sound more smart-alecky than smart come grade school, particularly to his teachers. Ricker's plan for curbing back talk:

Acknowledge when your child says something disrespectful. Don't let it slide, whether the remark fazes you ("You're a bad mommy") or not ("Daddy's a pea brain").

Pick a penalty you can implement immediately (or at least soon). It's pointless to punish Wednesday's flip answer by canceling Saturday's zoo trip; your child will miss the connection. Tip: Withholding a favorite activity or treat  -- the park, TV, dessert  -- works wonders!

Enact the penalty. Resist the knee-jerk "If you say that one more time..." and act decisively.

Ignore protests. Regardless of how loudly your child complains, resist being drawn into a debate. Disengage completely until the griping subsides, as it will once your child realizes dishing flak won't help her cause one bit.