Colorado Srpings, CO
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Recently I was in the checkout lane at my neighborhood grocery store when right in front of me a tween girl started yelling and waving a tabloid just inches from her mom's face. The magazine featured a worn-out-looking movie star on the cover denying her tenth affair. Mom felt trapped. She gave in.
The yelling quieted. Onlookers' dropped jaws closed, stares stopped, and for a few long seconds all I could hear was the conveyor belts and the occasional cash register drawer opening. Then whispers began rippling: "What a spoiled brat"; "I feel so sad for that mom"; I've got a kid just like her."
Was that mom a bad mom? She looked so embarrassed! Was the tween a spoiled brat? That was probably the verdict from most shoppers. Is the situation hopeless?
No, bratty behavior doesn't need to be hopeless if you can figure out what's going on inside the heart and head of a willful, demanding child.
For starters, a demanding child is born with a really high-powered Farris-type engine. They need to be trained from the get-go to handle life's curves without crashing or causing a lot of damage to themselves and others. Both peers and adults are often turned off by these kids. Willful children feel they're not liked most of the time (and they don't seem to understand why), and everything is everyone else's fault. They're stuck in a vicious cycle. The more they demand and don't get, the more powerless these children feel and the less liked they are; they feel they never get what is "rightfully mine."
So how do you break this cycle? Reasoning? No. Giving in? No. Bribery? No. Boarding school for ten years at the South Pole? May sound tempting sometimes, but, no.
How about helping your child feel powerful? Yes. But, you may ask, aren't these kids usually loud and often physical? Aren't they all about showing off how powerful they are? Actually, their blustering and lashing out tells us they feel very weak down deep inside. They need to feel stronger about themselves in a healthy way. Here are two tips.
First, choose your battles wisely. In other words, say yes when you can. This will help your child feel he is being listened to and valued. For example, give choices when you're shopping (carrots or beans?), picking out clothes for school (pink shirt or green shirt?), or choosing what to have for dinner (tacos or spaghetti?). However, do not ever allow a willful child to hit a sibling or parent. That's a nonnegotiable.
Second, consistently provide and enforce a consequence for every disrespectful demand. When the few battles you do pick occur, make sure to impose heavy-artillery consequences. Prepare ahead of time with a stern warning: disrespectful demands and arguing will result in no screen time for two days. When the inevitable happens, impose the consequence without talking. Just take away the electronics. Expect a few weeks of combat. However, if you are vigorously encouraging legit power and sticking to your guns, you can expect a civil truce within a month.
Take-home lesson: Give your child legit power along with firm consequences and bratty behavior will fade away.
Colorado Srpings, CO