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."|
I thought this might be able to help me with my son. He is 12 and I can't get him to do anything. He is very lazy. It has gotten to the point that he will take his clothes off anywhere and leave them. What are a few things that I can try with him? I have taken all of his free-time things away from him and he just doesn't care. Is it OK to take all the extras way from them or does that just feed the fire that they already have?
It feeds the fire. Set the consequence to the clothes on the ground, because consequences should be natural. Consequences have to fit the crime. He's lazy, he won't pick up the clothes. He's learned that leaving them on the floor works. There's no consequence to it. You set a new rule: "If I pick up the clothes, you don't get them." What happens after a while (the first few he won't care) is he won't have anything left in the closet. Pick your battles wisely, and after a while, to get the clothes back he has to fold them and do his own laundry to get them.
A big recommendation: buy earplugs, because it's going to be a battle for awhile, but stick to the battle. You have to follow through, because he will test you. Keep up with it until he realizes you mean business.
Should I start to give his things back to him one by one or just give them all back and say something like, "Here are all your things back; lets try to start over?"
NO! You don't give it back until the child turns his attitude around. Your job is not to turn your behavior around but his. At age 12 you can have him sign a contract of what he'll do differently, like his own laundry or picking up his own clothes. Create new rules of engagement. Because the other part didn't work; he simply didn't care. The consequence must be fair, clear, fit the crime, and be consistently enforced. So for a 12-year-old, writing a contract ahead of time with both of you signing it may be helpful.
The final part is that you have to be calm when you do it. No more nagging, no more lecturing, because that will also feed the fire.MEMBER QUESTION:
My child is very controlling with her friends and wants to boss them around. How can I make her see that she is turning them away?
Ask yourself, why the need to be controlling? That's a big secret to how you will turn it around. Is it because she's insecure; doesn't know how to be a friend; her friends are passive? Has it been modeled after someone else?
The second step is "The Talk," where you sit down and describe the reactions of the kids. "Did you see how Sally didn't like that; that she was looking kind of unhappy that she was here?" Don't assume that your child sees those cues.
The third step is that you need to teach her how to be more considerate, and for a demanding, controlling kid, teach her old-time gimmicks like, "If you come to my house, the guest gets to choose first." That's one rule. Another rule is the sand timer. Your guest gets to play for five minutes; then it's your turn. You have to ease control from your child so there's more control for the other kids. You can even teach rock, paper, scissors, or even flip a coin.
Then the final step is to demand she be more considerate. If those things don't work, then the friends have to go home early, because eventually this will backfire and your child will lose the friend.
Kids pick up attitudes because they work. They start around the age of 3. All attitudes are learned because kids figure out that they work. The little manipulator at age 3 charms Daddy, and still does it at age 10.
Our 5-year-old is often rude, selfish, and belligerent despite the application of various timeouts, loss of privileges, and spankings. He will disobey despite warnings of consequences, which vary according to each situation. He always gets three warnings. After the third warning, if the behavior repeats consequences are immediate. There are never more than three warnings and consequences are consistently applied. Why does he continue to misbehave despite the warnings?
I hate warnings. First of all, for any rude child you don't get three warnings. You struck out the first time you're rude. The child is upping you. So you need to get back into control of the child. They are humans, and they will test. They want to see how far they can go. You wouldn't be able to get away with doing that as an adult; don't let your child.
|"The best approach to any flippant kid is to refuse to engage. Just simply turn and say, 'When you can talk nice, we can talk.'"|
I have a 16-year-old daughter. She is negative about everything. I am constantly reminding her that when she was young I told her if she has nothing good to say, don't say anything at all. Will this pass? It's to the point I don't even want to speak to her!
You are not alone. More and more kids are becoming very cynical, and negativity is learned. To change a negative thinking pattern, help her learn to catch her thinking. So stop nagging it. Use a signal. The secret is, she has to be aware of it. There's a great book called The Optimistic Child. It is wonderful for how to change negative thinking patterns. That's the first step.
My daughter is 11 going on 16 and she is always on the defensive. She back talks more and more to her dad and me. She has a huge heart and will do almost anything you ask her but then she is the opposite all in the same day!
Eleven is also going on preadolescent hormones, which will escalate in the next few years. Step one is to use the silent treatment. The best approach to any flippant kid is to refuse to engage. Just simply turn and say, "When you can talk nice, we can talk." But don't talk until she can talk nicely.
If needed, lock yourself in the bathroom. She's using it because she's getting away with it. Alter your response and she will begin to alter hers when she knows you mean business. Get Dad onboard with you.
My son is a superb athlete. However, he brags about his accomplishments. While he is extremely good and is told so by coaches, he shouldn't toot his own horn so much, especially with his teammates. He is turning the other boys off to him as a person. What can we do?
Lower the curtain on his bragging. You are right. This will turn kids off more than you know. The best approach I saw was a coach who told me that his son was the best player on the team, and benched him anytime he displayed poor sportsmanship, which was also bragging. The message was clear, not only to the child but also to the team, and he never did it again.
Keep in mind that if you don't stop this, people will remember not how good he is, but what a braggart he is. Set up a penalty in your own home for it, to clearly not allow it. Be clear to him so he knows there will be a penalty.
I am concerned about my children's anger. They treat my husband and me very rudely and they think everything revolves around them. I was told to try to claim back the control that the children have. How do you do it when they are ages 18, 14, and 12? They are so sassy and bold.
You still have control over the car keys, their phone; it's all a matter of how much you want to get the control back. You are paying the rent and letting them have the car keys. So the consequences are ones you control only, like the phone, computer, TV, and you can remove those. Then they'll know you mean business. You have to follow through, and you must be diligent that you will follow through, or you will never turn this around.
A lot of parents use consequences that they don't have control over. So make sure the consequence is one that you have power over. You can shut off the computer. You can put the phone away. Find the ones that you have the power over, and that means that you have the power over the child. Take the TV out of their room. Drop the instant messaging service on their computer.
This is really hard for me to tell you, but I have a question about it, so, one day I asked my son to pick up his clothes. He told me no -- that I couldn't tell him what to do and really said something that he shouldn't have said to me and about me. Well, I backhanded him, which is something I never do. I don't smack my kids. I made his nose bleed and now here it is two months later and he says, "Go ahead hit me and make me bleed again; you know you want to." What can I try to do to make him understand that I didn't mean to hit him and get him to stop throwing that one time in my face?
I don't know what you've tried before, but everyone makes an honest mistake, including (surprise, surprise) parents. So my strongest suggestion is to sit down and offer a sincere apology. Admit the mistake. And then from this moment on, clear your conscience, because your child is throwing this back in your face each time; because he knows how to push the button; and the button he's pushing is guilt. Your best defense is going to be tough, but you need to ignore it. Otherwise, he'll continually use it.
I have a 14-year-old son with Down syndrome. How can I tell when the attitudes are due to the Downs or puberty? And are solutions and strategies the same for mentally challenged youngsters?
Yes. Because he may be 14, but he may be operating at a 5-year-old level. My biggest advice to you is don't allow your child's handicap to be an excuse for bad behavior. It's easy to do, and I understand it, but it will get in the way of your child's reputation. Your best approach is to stop him immediately. Say, "Stop! That's not how we act." Now play it again, which means do it over. And your child should be able to stop when he's calm, and replay it. For the child with Down syndrome, you can hit the rewind button on your video player so he understands, then have him do it over. One of the most important things that you can instill in your children is good manners.
|"A lot of parents use consequences that they don't have control over. So make sure the consequence is one that you have power over. You can shut off the computer. You can put the phone away. "|
I have a grandchild (middle child, male) who appears to feel that whenever he is chastised (lectured, in his words) that we are wrong to do that to him and that it means no one but him ever does anything wrong (he has three other siblings who get chastised at least as often as he does) How do we get to a point where he will accept correction?
The key thing you are doing is trying to explain things to make things fair. And life is not fair. You're putting too much into the explanation. And the child has picked up an attitude that works, in that he says, "You are picking on me." That's the secret. Someplace along the line he's picked up that notion, and you need to stop, give the criticism that's short, that addresses only the behavior and not him, and then walk away. And don't listen to anything else.
The other thing is, you all need to be onboard with this plan, meaning parents and grandparents alike. After a while, he'll get the picture.
My children are three years apart. My daughter being the oldest at 8 is very jealous of her little brother. It has been this way since day one. She is the first child and grandchild. She always says we love him more than her etc. It seems that no matter how much I try to correct the behavior by reassuring her that what she says is not true and that when she was his age we treated her the same, she doesn't change. She also talks to him in a voice with attitude that is very short. Any ideas of what else I can do to stop this behavior?
First, you've tried to be fair for a very long time. And you've continued to try to tell her that you feel the same way about both of them. The best approach from now on is, one, no longer give the responses back when she says you love him more. Don't respond. You could respond with, "I'm sorry you feel that way," or don't respond at all. She's learned that to bait you verbally.
Secondly, ask yourself if it's legitimate. Are there any ground rules that she may be correct about? If so, alter your behavior. Ask yourself what is triggering it. Could she have low self-esteem, or maybe she's insecure? One-on-one time would work, or even posting on a calendar "here's my time with you," so she can see it, could help.
Finally, avoid any comparisons or labels. He's smart, he's athletic, etc.MEMBER QUESTION:
My granddaughter is 2 1/2 years old. She is generally a playful child, but she is at times rude and not friendly. She does not want to come and play with us; pushes us away; says "Don't want you." She is stubborn and wants to have her way. She screams in public. What do we do?
Let's address each behavior. First, being rude. When she's rude, take her shoulders and stop her on the spot. Say, "That's not how we talk. My ears hear only nice things." Say it again, or go sit by yourself for two minutes (one minute per year for the child's age).
The stubborn and wants-to-have-her-way behavior says you are letting her have too much control. Be calm but consistent, and choose your battles. Don't let her get the control; she's learning it.
With screaming in public, you're going to have to be inconvenienced. That is, you remove her immediately. Anyplace you are in public, go home or sit in the car. She needs to know it won't be tolerated. She'll keep screaming in public because it works. Don't give in or give her something.
The key is, for all three behaviors, to be consistent. At age 2 ½ , she's learning the behaviors, and they will escalate. One tip, if you watch her you can usually see in a 2 ½-year-old, right before the melt down or scream, that she's starting to get into that mode. Distract her before she gets there. For a temper tantrum, very often they don't have the words to say, for instance, "I'm tired." You can stop the tantrum by getting to eye level and say the words, "It looks like you're tired, or it looks like you want a cookie." And it will often stop it from going further.
|"Your attitude shapes your children's destiny and their reputation as a human being. The big mistake is thinking, 'It's just a phase,' and that it will go away."|
I am a new stepmom; I have raised two children, 23 and 11. I have parameters with my 11-year-old son, but my new husband doesn't set rules with his children (12, 14, and 18). What should I do?
The thing is, unless you can convince the husband to get on the same page, it will be a nightmare. You both need to be in agreement of expectations in the home, especially if the 11- and 12-year-old are living in the same house.
Another approach is to sit down with all of you together and try to create family rules. Set up your own family contract. You will at least be hearing what everyone's views are. Good luck.
Dr. Borba, we are almost out of time. Do you have any final words of wisdom for us?
Most important is to recognize your influence as a parent. Your attitude shapes your children's destiny and their reputation as a human being. The big mistake is thinking, "It's just a phase," and that it will go away. If they're learned, you can turn them around. You need a good makeover plan. Don't Give Me That Attitude gives you 24 customized makeover plans for the attitudes that annoy parents the most. Don't read the whole book; just turn to the attitudes that you want to change, commit yourself to doing the makeover, and stick to it for 21 days.
Thanks to Michele Borba, EdD, for sharing her expertise with us. For more information, please read her book, Don't Give Me That Attitude . And be sure to visit our message boards to talk with others and ask questions of our experts. You'll be welcomed warmly!