Your Bragging Child: Why It Happens and How to Stop It
Your kid is proud of his achievements, and there's nothing wrong with telling Grandma about his A+ in reading. But if he's bragging more than he should, here's how you can help.
Pride in your kids comes with the parenthood territory -- we even let others know our feelings with "My child is an honor student" bumper stickers. But it's something else when your child tells everyone how great he is. What do you do when your kid starts boasting about himself to everyone he meets? His well-intentioned behavior can get old quickly, so learn how to nip bragging in the bud.
- What's Causing My Child to Brag?
Allen Wagner, a Los Angeles marriage and family therapist with two young children of his own, suggests that bragging could be a sign of a deeper psychological need for approval. "This behavior is almost always rooted in insecurity," Wagner says. A child who brags might really feel deficient and brag to cover that up. Listen to your child and try to notice trends in what your child is bragging about so you can help him feel more secure in those areas.
As a parent, you need to pay attention to your own words, too. It's one thing to be proud of your child for big achievements, but limit sharing your pride to family and close friends. If your child sees you excessively boasting about him, he'll learn to model that behavior. "Listen to that voice in the back of your head that says, 'Stop bragging,'" says social psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Susan Newman, author of "Little Things Long Remembered." Lead by example, and hopefully prevent minor boasting from becoming a full-blown problem.
- Why Is It Important to Stop the Boasting?
"Most young children are unaware that boasting hurts other children's feelings," says Dr. Newman. Your boastful child might have difficulty making friends when he offends others, even if he doesn't mean to hurt their feelings. "This is usually the opposite of what the person who is boasting really wants," says Wagner. If your kiddo announces to another that he is the best reader in the class, for example, your kid has just put himself above the other child. Set him up for more social success by explaining how his behavior can hurt others.
- What Can You Do?
Dr. Gail Gross, a child development expert and author, recommends that parents practice good social skills at home. For example, if your child's conversation skills consist of "me, me, me," model how your child can ask about others instead. Dr. Gross also suggests you follow her empathic process. "It's a model for communication," she says. "You want to demonstrate to your child in a non-defensive and non-threatening way how bragging makes other children feel." Dr. Newman says parents might explain this concept to their child this way: "Bragging makes you seem superior, and that might insult or hurt your friends."
Every child should be complimented on the things they do well, but if boasting is a problem for your little one, use the Goldilocks method of giving praise: not too much and not too little. You're laying it on too thick when you use words such as "incredibly" or "perfect," according to research reported by The Ohio State University. For example, "You're good at figuring out math problems" delivers the right amount of praise. "You're the best at figuring out math problems" is too much.
Even if your kid is on board and wants to stop the bad behavior himself, it's easy to get caught up in the moment and let a boastful comment slip out. As a gentle reminder for older children, Dr. Newman suggests that you "use a hand signal every time your child starts to brag." Tug your ear or hold up three fingers when you hear your child start to boast, and he can redirect the conversation himself.
If you suspect your child's insecurities are at the root of his boasts, enroll your kid in activities that emphasize teamwork. Look for areas in which your child can excel, but is not an expert in, suggests Wagner. This helps children better "tolerate the things they are not as successful at yet," he adds. Activities like this can build self-esteem, which helps children abandon this bad habit on their own.
And try these 4 Tips for Breaking Bad Habits .
- What Do You Tell Other Caregivers?
All your carefully crafted work to eliminate the boasting can go out the window if your caregiver isn't on the same page. Tell them not to overdo the praise by telling your child that he just built the tallest block tower ever, but to instead say something like,"You really worked hard on that block tower." Show your caregiver the signal you use when you catch your child boasting to other kids, and ask that the caregiver use it, too.
By working together with all of your child's teachers and caregivers, you can nix boasting behavior before it gets out of hand. Wagner says, "Parents can take active steps to validate their children authentically, which usually decreases boasting behavior or eliminates it altogether."
Laura Agadoni is a parenting writer and mom whose articles appear in various publications such as Modern Mom, The Penny Hoarder, Tom's of Maine, Global Post and Livestrong. Visit her website at www.LauraAgadoni.com.