Excuse me, ma’am, but is that your kid throwing all the condoms off the shelves in the drugstore, ignoring you when you ask him to stop, kicking and screaming that he must have the blue and the red boxes and telling you that he hates you when you calmly indicate it’s time to leave?
Oh, that’s not your child? Must be mine. What a brat. Every mom has her embarrassing days; some are just brattier than others.
“I often wonder if my daughter is the most misbehaved kid in the world,” says Jennifer Gustafson, of Darien, Connecticut, and mother of Lyla, age 3. “She goes from the sweetest girl to Satan in seconds when she doesn’t get her way.”
For example: “If she says, ‘Mommy, I’m going to jump off the roof,’ and I don’t let her, she’s going to kill someone, and it’s usually me,” Gustafson says.
She says she’s been kicked, bitten and scratched by her adorable, yet menacing toddler. Bratty? Maybe. Just being a 3-year-old? It’s that, too.
When bratty behavior is a problem
Psychotherapist Robi Ludwig; Katie Bugbee, a global parenting expert; and Nancy Samalin, author of “Loving Without Spoiling” all agree that we’re living in an age of child-centric homes. Whether both parents work and feel guilty for spending too much time at the office, or they just can’t stand to see their children cry (or are too tired to deal with it), permissive parenting has created an entitled set of kids.
“Being too permissive usually involves our bribing and pleading and often giving in,” says Samalin. “It means saying ‘No,’ but meaning ‘Probably not’ or ‘I’m not sure,’ which may feel loving in the moment but gives your child too much power.”
The experts weigh in on seven spoiled rotten behaviors and offer advice on how parents, or their sitter or nanny, can take back control.
1. Constantly throwing tantrums
You can expect preschool-aged children to have frequent temper tantrums. Some just can’t be avoided and need to run their course. But when fits erupt any time you set limits, it’s a big problem. But what do you do?
How to handle: First, don’t have a tantrum yourself! Be empathetic and let your child know that you recognize that they’re angry, but this behavior isn’t acceptable. Help them find the right words to express their feelings, and don’t be afraid to take away a privilege or give a “time out” if you feel the situation calls for it.
2. Hitting, grabbing, biting, acting bossy and everything else that embarrasses you
“It’s mine!” Why does it seem like kids know how to use that phrase before their own names? Toddlers and young kids have primitive impulses, like grabbing toys, biting and hitting, to express their feelings. They all do it, but when your daughter is the biggest offender in the playgroup, you worry she’ll get labeled a brat.
How to handle: Stave off the stigma by holding your child accountable for her behavior in an age-appropriate manner. If she freaks out whenever a playmate wants to try her remote control train, have her help you put it away before friends arrive. When a tiff breaks out over the blue pail at the sandbox, talk about sharing and ask kids to take turns. Remember not to yell and that it’s OK if your kid gets upset. She’ll forget about it in two minutes.
3. Whining from the moment he wakes up
Forget wailing police sirens, jackhammers and chalk on a blackboard. The sound of your child whining is the most irritating noise in the world. Waiting in line at the bank or being dragged shoe shopping is boring for kids, and you can’t blame them for getting whiny. But most often that squeaky, drawn-out bleat means your child is trying to turn your “no” into a “yes.” Cookies for breakfast? No way! Just five more minutes on the iPad? It’s been an hour! And if “no” is truly how you feel, you need to stand your ground no matter how much you want your child to just be quiet already.
How to handle: Children learn really quickly how far they have to go to manipulate mom and dad. Inform your child: “I don’t like when you speak like this, and I can’t understand you.” Tell her you won’t respond until she uses her regular voice. Remember, an unhappy child is not an unloved child. In the short-term, it’s not pleasant (for you mostly), but kids need to learn they can’t always get what they want. Try to ward off whining with some preventive parental medicine. Bugbee suggests that if you know your daughter will whine for ice cream each time you leave the playground and pass the Good Humor truck, prepare her ahead of time and give her control over the decision: “We will see the ice cream truck, but we can’t stop today. Are you OK with going to the playground instead?”
4. Acting defiant and always negotiating
A kid can say “No!” — and they will in the most snotty tone — but that doesn’t mean you have to obey or accept that answer. The bratty child has a real intolerance to not getting her way. She doesn’t follow your rules and ignores when you say “no “or “stop.” This usually leads parents to come up with a payoff. When your daughter is accepting more bribes than a corrupt politician, you’re cultivating a top-notch manipulator.
How to handle: Stop sweetening the deal and you’ll cut down on the defiance. Instead, offer your kids rewards when they’ve exhibited good behavior. The best prize is sharing special time with you.
5. Complaining of being bored
Moms would give anything to feel bored. Ah, the luxury of having nothing to do except sit and stare into your really messy family room. But the child who always complains he’s bored is probably the one who can never be gratified. He gets one toy and immediately moves on to the next item he has to have.
How to handle: Help teach your son the difference between what he wants and what he needs. He probably won’t really get it until early elementary school, but you can start the process early. The next time your son insists he wants a new toy, let him make the choice. Seriously. Choose two goodies at the store you would be happy to buy him and ask him to select. He’ll feel empowered and proud of his decision.
6. Talking rudely to adults and being mean to peers
Grandma is probably sneaking your kids candy on the sly, so they have little reason to tell her off. But when her hugs and kisses start to feel smothering, the kids might be tempted to tell granny to go away or to talk back to her. A child that speaks or behaves rudely to an adult — especially to a relative — needs to be corrected.
How to handle: Tell your son he hurt grandma’s feelings, and he is not to speak that way or treat people that way. You can never excuse bad behavior because it just shows you’re going along with it. Calmly pull your child aside, says Bugbee, and say something like: “That’s not a kind thing to say to grandma. Please apologize.”
7. Controlling your life
Raising kids is a full-time job, but mom and dad deserve to be just a wife and husband sometimes. Always putting your child first — above yourself and your marriage — sends a message to your son that the world revolves around him.
How to handle: Book that weekend at the spa. Have dinner with your spouse. Whether you get Grandma to come for the night or hire a babysitter, you need to plan a date night. It’s heartbreaking to have your daughter sob and ask you stay when you have one foot out the door and 8 p.m. reservations, but parents are allowed to have play dates, too.