Keeping An Identity: Communicating

When Georgia was 2, we joined a gymnastics class, now this wasn’t just a baby gym class, it was the real deal, a proper competing gym team. It was here that I first heard of ‘mouth’. Coach S, said to me, ‘Mouth – they start really young, especially girls, and it doesn’t stop!’.

I was confused ‘mouth’? I found out she meant was ‘answering back’, the instant, uncalled for spouting off. I didn’t believe it then, 5 – 6 year olds, answering back?! Little did I know…

Walking along outside the school building, Child A casually drags her hand along the rough, red brick surface. “Don’t do that,” and adult says, “You might get cut”. “No I won’t!” come the instant snap response.

In the Asian culture, this is especially true for the Chinese, there is reverence in the phrase ‘respect your elders’. You hold your tongue, full stop.

Having said that, I do come from a largely progressive family, we did speak our mind, fairly often, but always, ALWAYS with respect. You may have different opinions, but they were always shared, calmly, politely. Occasionally you even held your tongue, even if you were right!

Of course, there were occasions for frustration and anger, but on the whole, there was always an underlying sense of respect. There’s a Chinese saying of “Elders having eaten more salt” – meaning they have lived and experienced more and that always counts for something.

So, as Georgia now starts to assert her independent thoughts and opinions, I find myself once again at the cross-roads of the ‘East-West’ debate.

My immigrant friends (those living here in the UK and other places abroad) and I have always been completely in awe and admiration of the ‘locals’ for the quick witted come-backs, replies, the alibility to think and voice an opinion seemingly at bullet speed.

Our cultural up-bringing has always taught us to respond in very very measured ways. Would someone’s feelings be hurt? What would other people think if I said this?

More than anything else, there is almost an innate, instant assessment of ‘who are we talking to’, ‘how should we respond’.

Admittedly, this ‘assesment’ does not occur when we are among peers – we spout off too. Talking to anybody else, elder, though, it’s always very controlled and measured.

You might imagine then, the frustration, as Georgia started answering back, with no thought, no consideration as to whether her instant responses, make sense or are just a need to ‘have the final word’. A very curt, cursory ‘No it isn’t!’ ‘Yes it is’ always ALWAYS argumentative!

Having lived and seen it from both sides, the conclusion I have arrived at is really that neither ‘way’ is perfect or right.The ideal would be the middle path of being respectful and yet being brave and confident enough to voice an opinion and this does NOT include spouting off or answering back!

For now rightly or wrongly…our approach for now has been to ‘strongly encourage’ (at the risk of losing her favourite toys!), Georgia to hold her tongue, to take some time to consider if she really does need to give a response. And if she still thinks her opinion is right or valid, she is then welcome to say it.

So that is what we have done for now, but is ‘answering back’ a phase that all kids go through? Do they grow out of it? Does it annoy or frustrate you or does it just fall off your back? Have you had to deal with it? What did you do?

© 2011, Li-ling. All rights reserved.


  • I think it’s great that you’re teaching Georgia to think before she speaks. It’s a quality I really admire and respect in people. Our children try to talk back, but know that unless they speak politely – they won’t be listened to. (I’m now at the point I can just raise my eye-brows at the older two boys and they change their delivery.) This way we hope they understand that their opinions matter, but also how things are said matters. And if you don’t insist on it right from the start, they sure don’t catch it from the air around them later on!

  • That’s the plan, Karyn 🙂 I like the way you describe raising your eye-brows…a skill I shall need to learn LOL

  • Speaking with respect will certainly benefit her. You can win an argument but lose friends quite easily! How successful are you finding your approach?

    • Well said, Circus Queen, thank you. Fingers crossed, we seem to have gotten through that spouting off, is really of no real benefit, especially having to ‘withdraw’ an opinion; she realises it’s just plain silly then.
      Using her own experience, her own friends, responding in like manner, to her, and then weighing and measuring that in discussion, seems to have made it a bit clearer…I hope 🙂

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