Does your preschooler throw a fit when you deny him a second cookie?
Does your tween lounge on the couch as you haul bag after bag of groceries into the house?
In this age of more responsive — some would say permissive — parenting, most of us have moments when we ask ourselves, “Has my kid just stepped over the all-important line that separates ‘spirited,’ or ‘confident’ from ‘a complete brat’?”
For answers, we recently turned to Elaine Rose Glickman, a parenting columnist at Sarasota’s Mommy Magazine and author of the new book, “Your Kid’s a Brat and It’s All Your Fault: Nip the Attitude in the Bud — from Toddler to Tween.”
Glickman, the mother of three children, ages 16, 14, and 12, says certain behaviors are giveaways; when your preschooler hauls off and whacks you on a regular basis, you have a brat problem. Ditto if your little darling is in the habit of ordering you around or telling you to shut up. But even the best-behaved kids whine, disobey and act up from time to time, so Glickman says it’s important to look at the big picture.
“When I think of what makes a brat, it’s a child who really thinks first and foremost of themselves, and either has ceased, or is ceasing, to look to parents as a source of guidance and authority,” she says. That’s not necessarily the tween who lies on the couch as you unload the groceries, but it could be the tween who doesn’t respond when you ask for help.
Similarly, the kid who asks for a treat at the grocery store checkout line is, well, being a kid. But the kid who regularly demands and receives a treat without any show of gratitude has entered the danger zone.
“When the attitude is that they’re this monarch accepting (checkout line) tribute, that’s no good,” Glickman says.
“That’s awful. And also from your point of view, it’s bad enough that you had to go through the shopping, then at the very end to be embarrassed and miserable and beaten down? What about you?”
Glickman suggests asking yourself three questions when making your overall brattiness assessment:
How do you feel in your interactions with your child?
There’s such pressure in modern parenting to always be cheerful and positive, that we can forget to listen to our own inner warning signals, Glickman says.
“If you’re feeling that there’s something that’s gone wrong with your relationship with your child, if you’re watching the way they’re behaving with you, with others, and you sometimes have a bad feeling in your stomach, or a sinking feeling in our chest, or if you find that you dread certain types of interactions with your children, I think you have to listen to those feelings,” Glickman says.
“That’s a sign that something’s gone wrong.”
Consider the whining preschooler: She says she wants a cookie. You politely tell her no. She whines for the cookie. You tell her no. She whines for the cookie again. You tell her to stop whining. She whines for the cookie again. You give in, and regret it immediately.
It’s important to teach your kid that when you say no you mean no, and not just for your sake, Glickman says. It’s very scary for a young child to feel like she is in charge; she needs to feel that you’re strong and powerful enough to keep her safe. There’s nothing wrong with offering a detailed explanation the first time you say no to the pre-dinner cookie, but after that Glickman suggests you stick with something a little more streamlined, such as “No cookie before dinner — that’s the rule.”
“It’s important to bring your child on board and engage them — to a point,” she says. “But engaging in protracted negotiations with a 3-year-old? It’s just something that you don’t want to do.”
How would you view your kid’s behavior if he weren’t your kid?
Maybe you can understand when you pick your tween up from school with a cheery, “How was your day?” and he just grunts, or puts in his earbuds, or starts texting his friends.
He’s had a hard day, right? He needs his downtime.
OK, Glickman says. Let’s turn this around. What if it was your son’s best friend who was giving his mom the silent treatment? What would you think then? Most likely that he was being really disrespectful — not to mention unappreciative — and it was time to step in and demand some basic human courtesy.
How does your kid respond when you correct her behavior?
Glickman tells a disturbing story of eating dinner with a friend and her preschool child. The child, who was sitting on his mother’s lap, wanted another dinner roll. The mother said no: “Sweetie, you’ve had enough rolls. The chicken’s coming soon. We’ll wait for that.”
The child didn’t cry or fuss. He just turned around and casually socked his mother in the mouth.
“You could tell he’d done it a million times,” Glickman says.
Most kids aren’t hitting their parents on a regular basis, but it’s still important to look at how they respond to correction, Glickman says.
“When you work to get your child to stop whining, do they indeed stop whining?” Glickman asks. “When you tell your tween, ‘Please hop up and give me a hand bringing in the groceries,’ do they say, ‘Oh, sure,’ or do they ignore you? Do they engage in some bratty behavior but still respect your authority as a parent?”