How to Break your Kid’s Brat Habit

It seems that we need anger awareness and age-appropriate choices to help our kids successfully manage their anger. A young child's unique and awesome personality is suddenly taken over by what seems like an alien being. Did you ever consider that acting out might be your child's method for seeking attention? The adult must take complete personal responsibility for a child's unacceptable misbehavior to correct and prevent a young child's ‘attention addiction’ before it becomes a lifelong problem.

So your kid’s a brat? You’ve tried time-outs, you’ve tried sending your child to bed without dinner, and you’ve even taken away the video games. But the unacceptable behavior carries on.

Now what? If changing your child’s negative behavior is turning into mission impossible, then you may want to try a new tactic: changing your parental behavior. It’s simple. A child’s behavior primarily depends on you—the adult in the situation. Of course each and every child has his and her unique personality, but when it comes to being naughty and nice, the adult must take the responsibility.

All a child really wants is love. If a child does not receive love unconditionally and directly, he or she will go for the next best thing –any quality and quantity of attention from you. Think of it like this: Love is the highest form of energy. It is necessary for the growth of child. It is like pure rain on a tropical plant. The rain nourishes it, causing it to blossom and become fragrant and beautiful. If pure rain is not available, the plant does whatever it can to survive. Its roots extend out to find the next best source of nutrition, even “stealing” from other flora in order to stay alive. A child is very much the same way. If he or she is not getting pure love, he or she will reach out, or act out, to get energy of any sort, even at the expense of others.

Here’s an example: A four-year-old, Greg, and his younger sister, Hannah, attended the same preschool. Almost every day, Greg would lash out at one of the other children, usually hitting or pushing. This would yield him a time-out, where he would be asked to sit in a chair for a short time. The teachers were challenged, as the time-out did not seem to work for Greg. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it. The teachers discussed Greg’s behavior with his mother and discovered she was having a hard time with him at home as well.

The teachers noticed that he roughhoused with little girls a lot, especially his sister, Hannah. They also observed that their mother tended to over-chastise Greg for his bad behavior, but she never took real action to put an end to it. To add to the fire, Mom rarely gave him positive reinforcement, such as congratulating him on art projects or offering to read him a story just for the pleasure of it. She seemed to have a weak spot for Greg’s tactics, giving into his consistent morning fits and letting him hang on her rather than setting boundaries. This evidence led the teachers to believe that Greg was getting a lot of negative attention at home for picking on or hurting his sister, and he was repeating the pattern at school.

The teachers discussed the importance of positive attention and the benefits of short, quick punishments with Greg’s parents. After the teachers and parents agreed to encourage Greg when he behaved well and either ignore him or give immediate consequences when he was naughty, Greg’s behavior began to improve in only a few days. It took patience and discipline on behalf of the adults, but even minor improvements made a difference.

The final clue to Greg’s behavior, and the trigger that helped both teachers and parents realize how “addicted” Greg had become to negative attention, happened the next week. Greg’s day had been stellar. He was listening well, participating, and had used words rather than his fists to get his point across to other classmates. His mother had read him a story to ease the separation anxiety if he promised not to wail when she walked out the door. It worked beautifully.

However, at recess, a little boy named Cal bit another child (Stan) on the shoulder. This was unusual behavior for Cal, but because biting was totally unacceptable, it earned little Cal a time-out. Consequently, he sat in the chair to which Greg had become accustomed. As one teacher tended the bite, and the other issued the time-out, a scream came from the playground. A child was crying, and Greg was the culprit. Much to the teachers’ surprise, Greg had bitten this child on the shoulder—in the exact spot that Cal had bitten Stan! Even more stunning was the fact that Greg had never bitten another child and was more prone to hitting and throwing objects.

The teachers gathered that Greg witnessed Cal getting the attention that was usually “his,” and because he craved attention—any kind of attention— and because he was addicted to this attention, Greg reacted by carrying out the same bad behavior.

Children quickly figure out how to get what they want. Until the adult readjusts his or her behavior towards the child, the child will continue to behave in the same ways. In the above instance, Greg’s cells were actually programmed as a result from incidents at home. If he hurt or bothered his little sister at home, he would get a lot of attention from Mom and Dad. Therefore, he could not help himself at school! Many times, when asked why he hurt someone, he would answer, “I don’t know.” This was not another attempt to be naughty; he really did not know why he was hitting. Just as a cocaine addict forgets how to get a natural high, Greg had forgotten how to receive attention for good behavior rather than bad. In this case, he did not know why he bit the other child, he only knew it would give him his “fix.”

After a couple of weeks, Greg’s attention addiction was cured. It took consciousness on behalf of the parents and the teachers to get him to realize that he was loved no matter what he did, and that what he really craved was positive reinforcement. Now Greg does his best to use his words, sit quietly in circle time, and has refrained from clinging to his mother in the mornings. In turn, his parents and teachers (and classmates!) are much happier with him and Greg gets the positive reinforcement naturally, simply because he deserves it!

Sometimes parents could use a little support in parenting and to make self-discoveries that enhance their own lives while struggling to raise a happy and healthy child. We invite you to visit Alexandra Delis-Abrams, Ph.D. You will quickly discover how to find a middle way for parenting, while adding more personal happiness to the mix.

Author's Bio: 

Alexandra Delis-Abrams is President of and, which are organizations she founded to encourage communication of feelings. In addition, she is a transpersonal psychologist in Sun Valley, ID and adjunct faculty at Boise State University. VicToria Freudiger is an associate at ABC Feelings where she works in marketing, sales and management for Dr. Abrams. She is also founder and publisher for Entry Way Marketing and Publishing and resides in Texas. Author can be reached at 800.745.3170, ABC Feelings, Inc., Copyright August 2007.