I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your kid is kind of a brat. Yes, yours. She’s whiney and always seems to get whatever she wants.
I know you are trying to be a good parent. Your own parents weren’t exactly attentive. They didn’t know where you were half the time. Your dad, for example, didn’t know you played the flute. He didn’t know you were in the marching band. Your mom had to work a lot and missed most of your field hockey games. And sometimes she was late picking you up after practice because she forgot.
But you’re not like that. You’re doing things differently.
You’re doing your best because you want them to be happy. You’re overly involved because you want to know what’s going on in their life. You want them to feel special and important. You’re never late to pick them up. You schedule and you organize and you suggest activities. You hover like a helicopter. You ask a million questions. You want their lives to awesome and enriched. You don’t want them to be disappointed. Ever.
But, you are making mistakes, and so am I. And now our kids are brats. Here’s why:
Our child wants something, so the negotiation begins. “I’ll buy that if you behave” is echoed in the aisles of stores all across America. And when he doesn’t behave, we can be heard saying, “Okay, I’ll give you one more chance.” This, of course, turns into several more chances. My favorite negotiation is “I promise I’ll do it later!” Negotiation can be a good tool, but if it’s going to be effective, we must draw a line that can’t be crossed. Cross the line and the negotiation game is over.
We clean his room.
Sometimes we just can’t take it anymore. His room looks like a bomb hit it. Dirty clothes, wet towels, unmade bed — shit everywhere. There is even some sort of spill on the wall. It’s gross and it’s getting grosser. Yet, he is still allowed to go to all of his planned activities and play dates. He’s still allowed to watch TV for a couple of hours and have friends over. He never seems to clean it when we ask, so we buckle and just do it ourselves. But here’s the equation we set up with that scenario: He gets used to someone cleaning up after him and he doesn’t think it’s a big deal. Do the math and the result = brat.
We carry the backpack.
Yes, it’s heavy. I know. Sometimes stuff is heavy. She has homework to do. When we pick up our kid and proceed to carry everything out to the car for her, we are doing too much. We are not pack mules. We are making her too comfortable. This creates a sense of entitlement.
We ask them what they want for dinner.
I do not remember ever being asked what I wanted for dinner. Do you? Do you remember your mom ever saying, “Hey guys, do you want to go out for dinner or stay in?” Going out for dinner was a special occasion when I was growing up. I remember being served only four meal variations: chicken, meatloaf, spaghetti, and this really disgusting pork chops and red rice creation that I loathed. Everything was cooked in one dish with giant chunks of tomatoes and green beans from a can. But, guess what? I ate what was served. End of story.
His plans trump ours.
“Sorry we can’t go, Bobby has a game.” This is okay — most of the time. Of course, we want to go to the game. But other times, the game (and Bobby) must take a back seat to our life. Bobby will do just fine getting a ride. And guess what else? Bobby will play better because we’re not there shouting encouragement every five seconds. You want your kid to play better? Miss a few games.
We just want her to be happy.
Newsflash: Kids aren’t supposed to be happy all the time. It’s okay if they don’t always get what they want, do what they want to do, or go where they want to go. If they have to do chores, or spend time with their family, or go shopping with us, go ahead and expect a few eye rolls and heavy sighs of annoyance. It’s okay because everything is not about them and their constant happiness.
We undermine each other.
This is a common mistake. Our child asks us for a sleepover. Parent A says, “No.” The child moves on to Parent B who says, “Sure!” Why? Because we are not always on the same page. Our kids are less bratty when we present a united front. We should strive to agree in the moment. We can talk about our disagreements later. Otherwise, kids learn play parents against one another.
We fail to give them chores or responsibilities.
If the kid isn’t setting the table, clearing the table, loading a dishwasher, raking leaves, or taking the dog out, then the kid should be paying rent.
We make excuses for bad behavior or grades.
We all seem to make this mistake. Bad behavior is bad behavior. “She’s tired and hungry” is a terrible excuse. “He had a late practice and couldn’t get his project done (even though it was assigned over a month ago)” is just as bad. We must stop excusing our child’s bad behavior or lack of work ethic. Without discipline, kids become brats.
We argue with the teacher and the coach.
It’s important to stick up for our kids, but only after our kids have advocated for themselves. When a teacher remarks that our child has less than diligent work habits, believe her. Contrary to popular belief, most teachers want to help young people. They want kids to do well. When we argue over half-assed assignments or being late for practice, a child learns that he can continue to be lazy because his parents will make excuses and argue in his favor. What he learns is that he doesn’t have to respect his teacher or do the work. It’s that simple.
Attention is good. Involved parents are wonderful. But, it’s how attentive and involved we are that does the damage. When we let our kids negotiate, we are doing it wrong. If we make excuses for their bad behavior, we are doing it wrong. If they are too comfortable, we are indeed doing it wrong. When we continue to clean his room, take dinner requests, and undermine our spouses, our kids turn into brats.
All kids need to learn to eat pork chops with chunky red rice and canned green beans once in a while. It builds character.
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