Changing Your Child's Attitude

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Does your child have attitude? You know what we mean -- rude, selfish, insensitive, irresponsible, jealous, judgmental, lazy -- the list goes on! Had enough? Parenting expert Michele Borba, EdD, author of Don't Give Me That Attitude!, joined us on June 10, 2004, to offer practical advice on how you can help your child get an attitude adjustment.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. Borba. What's up with kids and attitude? Where are they getting this?

Attitudes are learned, and we're not talking personality temperament. We are talking about changing your child from being disrespectful to respectful, or from demanding to considerate. Also, from bad temper to more peaceful.

First, it could be from a toxic world, copying from friends, and the media is pretty raunchy these days and they're watching it. Parental guilt; we hate to say no to our kids, especially after we've worked all day long. Or keeping up with the neighbor next door; we always want our kids to have what they have. Bottom line is that there's no one reason where they are coming from. But you can turn those bad attitudes around.

Where do you start?

The first step is to figure out which attitude you want to change. The first mistake is being too generic and saying, "He's got an attitude." But what is he specifically doing that needs tuning up? The more specific you are, the better chance of having him turn it around. Pretend you are videoing your child the last couple of times he gave you the attitude. Write down what you heard him say or saw him do that bothered you. Now put a name to it, and that's the attitude that you want to stop.

Second step, you need a plan. You need a good plan to turn it around. Because what you are currently doing isn't working. You need a new response. Don't Give Me That Attitude will give you 24 specific makeover plans.

The third thing is you need to commit to that plan for at least three weeks.

Why three weeks?

Because an attitude is a habit. It's not like a behavior that's a quick time-out. These attitudes are your child's operating premise for life. So new attitudes or habits we know usually take around three weeks. The reason most of our kid attitudes don't go away is that we don't use the plan long enough. If you want a hint on this one, check out your New Year's resolution from last year. The average resolution lasts three to four days; then we quit. Your parenting goal is to completely change your child's attitude. It's not a one-stop lecture, but a good three-week plan to stay committed to it. This is doable.

A trick with some attitudes is what I call four square. This is how to figure out what's working and what's not with your child:

  • Take a piece of paper and fold it into fours.
  • On the first square write what it is that is bothering you. Be specific about what he is doing or saying that is bothering you.
  • Move to the next square. Write down when he does it. Is there a specific time you see the attitude flaring up? Maybe it's at 4:00 in the afternoon or maybe first thing in the morning. When did it start? You may get a clue when you think about it, that it started when he first started fourth grade. Maybe the class was too hard.
  • The next square is "where." Where is he doing it? Only in class? Only at home? Only at the soccer field? You may see a pattern for why he is using the attitude.
  • The last square is "who." Who does he do it with and whom does he not do it with? This is a big clue also. Kids use attitude because they work. You'll discover that drives parents crazy. "He doesn't do it with so and so, only with me."
  • Flip the paper over and write "how." How are you currently responding to your child? And what are you going to do differently next time?
Attitudes are learned. Children use them because they work. Pretend you're Colombo and figure out what's going on and why the child is using the attitude. It's a big part of getting rid of it. You may see a pattern that you may not have been aware of.

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