When your child behaves badly, particularly in public or in front of other people, you may get a mental picture of what kind of grown-up he will be, and it’s not a pretty picture. If your little angel is throwing a temper tantrum because another child won’t play the way he wants them to, does that mean he’s going to be a hard-nosed boss whose employees can’t stand coming to work? If he goes around hitting other kids on the playground, does that mean he’s going to be an obnoxious bully who picks fights and gets arrested for causing a disturbance?
Sometimes it’s hard for parents of young children to interpret their children’s behavior as just being normal childhood behavior. But there’s a danger in over-interpreting the behavior of a young child, especially if you don’t know whether or not that behavior is normal for the child’s age group. For example, it’s perfectly normal for toddlers to push each other and grab things, and that phase of behavior is eventually replaced by more mature attitudes and interactions. However, even if a child’s behavior is appropriate for his age group, it’s never too soon to begin to guide a child in the right direction.
Bullying is one behavior that parents often over-analyze. A toddler who pushes another child away from a toy may seem like a bully, but such behavior is normal for toddlers. However, if a 6-year-old pushes another child and takes away a toy, the intent is quite different; the child understands that the toy doesn’t belong to him, but he grabs it anyway because he wants to get his own way regardless of how the other child reacts. To be proactive and keep the toddler behavior from continuing as your child grows older, you can gently encourage your toddler to play nicely with other children, and give him time to come around. However, if your 6-year-old is acting aggressive toward another child, you need to step in quickly and curtail the behavior. Tell him that pushing other children and grabbing their toys is unacceptable behavior. Have him return the toy and ask if he can share.
If a child is acting obnoxious and whiny, it may worry you that she will be a rude adult. But preschoolers and very small children think the world revolves around them, so they are constantly demanding and getting their way. Around kindergarten age, children start to realize that they can’t always have their own way, and they can’t do whatever they want to. If your child is 4 or 5 years old and is still defiant and whiny, and won’t take “no” for an answer, then she is spoiled. The longer you let the behavior continue, the harder it will be to turn it around. When you cave in at a child’s urging, you not only give the child what she wants, you also reward her behavior, which encourages her to do the same thing every time to get her way. And be sure not to make unrealistic threats in an attempt to stop bad behaviors. If you make empty threats that a child knows you won’t follow through on, then she will not pay attention to them.
Bad manners are the hallmark of a spoiled child. Does your child interrupt when someone else is talking? Does he refuse to say “thank you” or “please,” even when prompted to? Every child is obnoxious and rebellious at times, but does your child seem worse than the others? When you see him engaging in rude behavior, take him aside and explain why the behavior is rude. When parents simply tell a child, “Stop it, that’s rude,” the child may not actually understand what that means. Explain that saying “please” makes people feel inclined to be agreeable, and saying “thank you” makes people feel good about what they have done.
One important way you can be proactive about stopping bratty behavior before it gets out of hand is by clearly communicating with your child. Whenever you have to reprimand him, explain to him why the behavior was wrong, and point out how his actions might have been upsetting or distracting to others. Be specific, and be consistent in reprimands.
By the same token, be specific with praise and congratulations for a job well done. Research has shown that when parents acknowledge good behavior and praise their child for acting the right way in social settings, their children are more likely to be thoughtful, empathetic, and kind to others. The most important thing you can do to ensure that your child knows how to act is to be a good role model. Children tend to watch their parents and follow their lead when it comes to behaviors, so if you make a point to exhibit proper behavior yourself, then you are setting a good example for your child.