By Donna Jones, Crosswalk.com
Let’s face it: No parent wants to raise a child with a bad attitude, but somewhere between the ages of zero and 18 every child has one, which means every parent must deal with it.
Ephesians 4:23 tells us “Be made new in the attitude of your mind.” Clearly, God cares about our attitudes. But does having a bad attitude constitute being a child with a bad attitude? What’s the difference? And how do I know if I’m raising a kid with attitude and respect issues?
Not every child who has a bad attitude is a child with a bad attitude. For instance, a child having a bad day differs from a kid with a bad attitude. One is temporary, the other ongoing. One is situational: Change the circumstance and you’ll change the attitude. The other is systemic: Change the circumstance and the attitude stays negative.
Still, having a bad attitude can result in being a person with a bad attitude, if not dealt with properly. How do you know if you’re child is sliding into the murky waters of major attitude and respect issues?
Here are 10 signs you are raising a child with a bad attitude:
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1. Negativity is the norm.
All kids are negative sometimes. After all, what kid delights in cleaning his room or eating his vegetables? But if your child’s attitude is consistently negative, you must examine the root. This means asking some hard questions: Is your home filled more with criticism or with praise? How often do you complain? Can your family members move from seeing the worst in a situation to finding the best? Does your family regularly express gratitude? How often do you laugh… or even smile?
To be sure, some people’s temperaments are more prone to see the glass half-empty. Tweens can be moody. Preschoolers will pout. But attitudes are more caught than taught. It’s difficult to raise a positive kid in a negative home. Make it your goal to cultivate an environment of positivity and you’ll likely see attitudes improve.
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2. Your child complains, whines, or pouts. All. The. Time.
Like a constant “drip, drip, drip” these habits wear on our last nerve. But here’s the important part: Not only do these habits drive us crazy, they are meant to. Complaining, whining, and pouting push our buttons, often driving us to give in to our children’s wishes, wants or whims, even when we know it’s in their best interest to say “no.” When these attitudes and behaviors show up in your child (and they will!) you must resist the temptation to cave.
When our kids hit the tween and teenage years, we could count on hearing at least one child complain over what we called “family fun days.” Years earlier, these weekend excursions were met with delight, but when time with friends trumped time with family, getting everyone in the car with a positive attitude was about as easy as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. What my husband and I planned as family fun felt more like family feud. But we didn’t cave. “Trust us. You’ll have a great day” became our go-to line. It wasn’t easy, but the dividends paid off. Our kids did have a great day (most of the time), our family bonded in ways that only happens by spending time together, and our kids learned bad attitudes don’t get positive results.
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3. Your child speaks or acts disrespectfully to authority figures.
Bad attitudes often show up in unhealthy behaviors toward those in authority (think parents, teachers, and coaches). It can present aggressively, through verbal confrontations or ongoing conflict. More subtly, it can show up passively: A child ignores instructions or uses a disrespectful tone of voice.
If you notice any of these behaviors, it’s important to correct your child’s perception of authority—beginning with how he or she relates to you. Parents do their kids no favors when they criticize authority figures (like the other parent), give instructions they allow their kids to ignore, or permit their child to speak disrespectfully.
When our kids were tweens, they would sometimes speak in a tone my southern grandmother called “sassy.” It’s tempting to punish this type of behavior, (and sometimes, it’s needed) but often, a more effective approach is the “do-over.” Do-overs allow parents to teach a child right behavior rather than merely disciplining wrong behavior. When my kids gave me the “sassy tone,” I calmly told them to speak to me again, with a respectful tone of voice (Full disclosure: some days they had to repeat themselves a dozen times). Did it drive them crazy? Yep. What parental correction doesn’t drive a 13-year-old crazy? But it also developed a respectful attitude toward authority.
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4. Your child gives up in the face of adversity.
Let’s be honest: It’s just plain hard to be the one who doesn’t get invited, doesn’t make the team, or can’t succeed no matter how hard she tries. Miserable events produce messy emotions. Count on it, and show grace in the midst of it. But if your child can’t bounce back after grieving the loss, you may have an attitude issue on your hands.
When our youngest didn’t make the soccer team, she was stunned—the disappointment stung deep. I wanted desperately to make the pain go away. The sounds of her sobs behind her bedroom door nearly broke my heart. After a day or two moping around the house, she surprised us with an announcement that she was turning her attention to cheerleading instead of soccer. Her sadness over the closed chapter morphed into anticipation of a new one. Resilience was born.
If your child hasn’t yet developed the ability to bounce back, you can help. Here’s how: Allow a period of grief. Help your child ask, “What’s next?” Show them that a new chapter doesn’t begin unless an old chapter ends. If necessary, get your child the help she needs to do better the next time around. Attitudes shift when we teach our child to get up rather than give up.
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5. Everything is a battle.
At its core, all conflict is a power struggle. Every parent will have conflict with his or her child. Power struggles are to be expected. However, if your child makes everything a battle, your child has an attitude issue you must address.
Sometimes well-meaning parents accidentally reinforce a child’s bad attitude. In my book, Taming Your Family Zoo, I discuss nine common ways good parents accidently contribute to bad attitudes. Here are a few of the most common: Arguing with their child (thus avoiding the real issue), giving in to their child (kids quickly learn just how much it takes to wear us down), ignoring their child (negative behavior can be a cry for positive attention), or failing to make expectations clear and realistic.
Instead, be concise and concrete in your instructions. Establish clear boundaries with clear consequences. Be quick to reinforce positive behavior and prompt in dealing with negative behavior. Does all this take effort? You bet. But consistency trumps complacency every time. The sooner you become consistent, the sooner you’ll see a change in behavior, and just as important—a change in attitude.
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6. Your child has an "I don't care" attitude toward life.
This one is a biggie. Mainly because an “I don’t care” attitude means your child has likely experienced some hardship, heartache, or upheaval that’s robbed him of hope. If you’re the parent of a child or teen with an “I don’t care” attitude, you must get to the root. Is it possible your child has had too much criticism and too little encouragement? Could it be your child has had too much failure and not enough success? Or is another culprit the cause? A demotivated friend group, perhaps?
Kids with an “I don’t care” attitude often flounder and suffer from low self-esteem, which is why it’s vital to help your child see the possibilities beyond himself. Is there a new hobby he could explore? A new sport to try? A musical instrument he’d love to play?
A kid with an “I don’t care” attitude won’t likely be self-motivated. He’ll probably need your parental kick-start to get him going. That’s okay. We all need a push in the right direction every now and then.
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7. Your child blames others.
“But it isn’t my fault!” What parent hasn’t heard these words? True, sometimes it isn’t. But if your child never takes responsibility for his actions, he has an attitude issue. What can you do to help your child turn this type of bad attitude around? First, make sure you aren’t inadvertently reinforcing it.
While at the gym recently, I overheard two teachers discussing a student with attitude issues. “I’ve tried to talk to the parents about their son, but they just won’t listen. They think the problem is his teachers, coaches and peers—anyone but him. I kind of feel sorry for the kid. If his attitude keeps up, he won’t stand a chance in life.” Though none of us want to believe our child would say or do something wrong, the fact is, they do. Remember: Attitude improvements can’t happen without attitude ownership.
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8. Your child has an "all-about-me" mentality.
All children are selfish some of the time, but a child with an attitude issue is selfish most of the time. Young children, of course, must learn to share (don’t despair if your two year old hasn’t mastered the concept yet!) But if your elementary school age child still struggles with selfishness, you need to take action.
At its core, selfishness reveals an “all-about-me” mentality, which bleeds into all areas of life. How do you know if your child has an “all-about-me” attitude? Look out for these behaviors: Your child has difficulty sharing her friends and is easily hurt if her best buddy spends time with someone else. Your child gets herself a snack without offering one to her friend. Your child has difficulty celebrating a friend or sibling’s success. Your child must get her own way to be happy. Your child talks more than she listens. Your child needs to be the center of attention. Raising happy, healthy, well-adjusted children means helping them move past the “it’s all about me” mentality.
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9. Your child plays the victim card.
“I can’t do it.” “She’s mean to me.” “But it’s too haaaaaard!” If you’re a parent, you’ve heard these complaints, usually said with a whine that grates on your last nerve. While it’s sometimes easier to step in when your child’s insists he can’t, it’s vital to allow your child to learn to overcome obstacles on his own. When a child overcomes something that once overwhelmed him, he becomes empowered. He moves from victim to victor.
When your child hits a roadblock they’re sure is too hard, do this: First, coach your child up. Teach him how. Show him how. Talk to him about how. Don’t do the hard stuff for your child; show your child how to do the hard stuff for himself. Sometimes, though, it’s necessary for parents to do what a child cannot. How do you know when it’s time to step in rather than step back? Step in when you’re certain your child cannot handle a difficulty on his own.
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10. Your child feels entitled.
Notice I wrote your child feels entitled. That’s because though kids may feel entitled, the fact is, they aren’t. Sadly, too many children in our culture are led to believe they are.
How do you know if your child feels entitled? If your child consistently displays an over-the-top emotional outburst when they don’t get their way, if your child rarely expresses gratitude, or if your child believes rules are for everyone else, but more like guidelines for him, you’ve got an entitled kid on your hands.
Donna Jones is a powerful national communicator who travels the country helping people know, love and follow God in real, everyday life. A normal gal who’s married to her pastor, she is the author of three books including Seek: A Woman’s Guide to Meeting God. Connect with Donna at www.donnajones.org.
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