Having the last word is another of those really annoying behaviours that children and particularly teenagers engage in, that makes parents and other adults, such as teachers, feel incredibly frustrated. It is often a secondary behaviour that occurs following a request to do something or after challenging their behaviour. There are a number of reasons why people do this:
It is a last bit of defiance as they try to demonstrate their independence of you.
They may feel that somehow they have 'won' the argument by having the final say and this may be a way of releasing a little of the stress that has built up.
Some people can get really anxious about having the last word and it may likened to an obsessive compulsive behaviour where they will struggle if they don't have the final say.
Sometimes it is about appearing to save face in front of others, particularly classmates and other social peers.
Dealing with the last word
What ever the reason for your child having the last word the best way to deal with it is usually to ignore. This can be difficult to do and you may need to fight your own desire and sense of entitlement to have the last and final word on the matter. It is worth considering that there is no rule that states that the adult must have the last word? Letting go of this need to have the last word yourself will prevent much of the frustation and annoyance you experience during this situation.
When you reply to a child's last word, often or not, it ends up with another comeback by the child. This can then quickly escalate into the 'battle of the last words' and lost tempers on both sides.
The 'last word' can also be seen as a distraction from the original behaviour. If the child complies with whatever instruction you have given them, then it is best to ignore any last word mutterings. If remaining silent to these mutterings is difficult then it may help to pre-empt them with a neutralising comment added to your instruction. For example:
'I want you to go and tidy your room now and I'm not listening to any more you say about it.'
A zero tolerance approach to any answering back and the 'last word' from children tends to require immediate and severe sanctions. Though this authoritarian approach may work for the adult, like most things in life, there are potential consequences for the child. Authoritarian parenting approaches often undermine the confidence of their children and increase their risk of developing anxiety, resentment, depression and aggression.
Talking to your child about answering back
Though it is usually the best approach to ignore the 'last word' from children, this does not mean that this behaviour should always go untackled. It is important that children and adolescents are made aware of any of their behaviour that is rude, disrespectful and irritating etc. Ideally, you should challenge your child over this at a separate time for the reasons stated above. But the reality is, that often it is difficult to not be drawn into an argument over this aspect of their behaviour. If this is the case, it is still worth revisiting this later when the situation is more calm.
Talking to your child should involve:
Focussing on the behaviour not the child
Using 'I statements' explaining how their answering back makes you feel
Acknowledging how difficult it for them to not want to say something but gaining agreement that they will try harder
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