Dealing With Outspoken Kids
The American Heritage Dictionary defines outspokenness as being, "Marked by frankness and lack of reserve." However, parents with outspoken children know there is more to their child then the ability to speak freely. The trait of being outspoken may often become the essence of a child's personality.
What is Outspoken?
"Outspoken children are generally those who feel they have all the answers to each and every question that is asked in their home, at school or with their friends," says Martha Pieper, co-author of Smart Love and columnist for Chicago Parent magazine. "These children tend to share what they know about any given subject with anyone who will listen, appropriately or not, without fear of consequence. Outspoken children may be described as bossy, a know it all, or even rude. As these things may be true descriptions, the terms should be avoided when talking to children about their outspokenness. Terms as these may tend to make children feel bad about themselves, which is not the result parents want."
Regardless of what parents may do to curb their child's outspokenness, these children may still speak their minds freely at the most inopportune times. "While discussing with a friend why I had my children at such a young age, I explained that they weren't actually planned -- they were accidents," says Lynn Rexroat, a mother of four "outspoken" children. "My oldest daughter had overheard the conversation. Now, whenever she feels the need, she repeats the story of how she was an accident."
Parents of outspoken children often find themselves in simple situations where they feel they are safe from any type of outspokenness. Generally, they're wrong. Rexroat learned that no situation is out of bounds for an outspoken child. "My son is small for his age but has never let his size keep him from doing whatever he wants to do," she says. "During a baseball game, the coach began to inform my son that he could not play catcher for various reasons. When my son disproved each of these reasons the coach then informed him that he could not play the position because he was not wearing an athletic cup. My son tried to convince him that indeed he was. When the coach didn't believe him, my son showed his determination by pulling his pants down to prove he was wearing his cup. He then said, 'Got anything else?' Needless to say, my son played catcher that game."
Outspokenness in children can begin at a very early age. However, once they begin to show the trait, parents can look forward to living with an outspoken child for a very long time. "My daughter is the most outspoken of my two children," says Crystal Cook, a mother from Knoxville, Tenn. "My daughter became a 'smarty-pants' almost as soon as she learned to talk. I suspected it even before then from her actions. She didn't want me to hand her the cup. She wanted to get it herself. Now, she simply has to be right all the time. She doesn't like to listen to any other opinions, and will generally tune out anyone trying to help her. Now that she's a preteen, it has escalated to almost unbearable proportions. She'd argue with me over the color of a tree's leaves. I'd say 'green'; she'd say, 'No, it's not green, it's emerald.'"
Dealing with an Outspoken Child
How does a parent deal with an outspoken child? According to Pieper, it takes consistency and patience. "When dealing with an outspoken child, a parent must learn patience, understanding and tolerance to a point. Boundaries must be set prior to any major outspokenness. Let the child know where these boundaries are and what the consequences will be if/when they are crossed. When the child begins to become rude, overly bossy or just plain mean, a parent must be willing to step in and let the child know they have crossed the line of their set boundaries and it is time to pay the consequences. Stressing consistence does not even begin to tell how important it is. A parent must be consistent with the boundaries that are set and not allow the child to 'talk' or 'deal' their way out."
Methods that work for one parent in curbing outspoken behavior may not work well for another. Michelle Smith, the mother of an outspoken 7-year-old, says, "My daughter has been attempting to monopolize the conversation since she began to talk. I try to talk to her about the way that she treats people and we read books about being bossy. I ask her how her behavior is like the character in the book and she answers all my questions 'correctly' but does not change her behavior. It is a constant battle. I try to keep my patience and not break her spirit as I attempt to guide her along the path to politeness and do my best not to shame her."
When Is It Appropriate Behavior?
"Parents must be careful not to stifle their child's voice," says Pieper. "Outspoken children may be offering a reflection of what we see and hear in today's society." These children may not be expressing what we want to hear, but outspoken children tend to be truthful with their comments, questions and answers. In addition, the trait of outspokenness should not be label as wrong. In some instances, the ability to speak -- and speak freely -- holds advantages all it's own.
"Outspokenness aids children in their ability to stand up for themselves, voice their choices and offer alternatives to things they do not agree with or feel right about doing or participating in," says Pieper. "For example, if a child is approached by someone who wants them to partake in inappropriate types of behavior, the child will be equipped with the skill to either voice their opinion about the situation or tell the other child how they truly feel about them and their behavior. In this situation, being outspoken is a benefit. However, if mom and dad are in financial trouble and junior decides to announce it at the family reunion, this behavior should be dealt with appropriately and immediately."
Whether informing their mother of the right way to cook dinner or telling the neighborhood children about family finances, an outspoken child offers parents a challenge they may never soon forget. Along with the challenge, the stories that are created by an outspoken child's actions make for great family tales. "When announcing to my oldest son that we were going to have a new baby, he became upset and said, 'That's just great Mom, now we'll never get nothing,'" says Rexroat. "And then he continued to offer me a half-hour lecture on why we could not afford to have another child. Maybe labeling my children as 'outspoken' is a little harsh. Let's just say that they are open-minded children who speak their mind very freely. Maybe there will be a famous lawyer or politician in my bunch. They know how to use their words, so why not let them become rich and famous for doing it?"
"What some consider as rude others may consider comical. It is all based on a person's perspective," says Pieper. "Parents should embrace their child's verbal skills and hope for the best. After all, an outspoken child may grow up to have outspoken children of their own. Then where will they go for advice?"