Changing a Child’s ‘Attitude’

changing kid attitude

“School will soon be out for summer – what behaviors do you hope to get in check before your kids are home all day, every day?”

  • “ Attitude issues…”  “Attitude and the talking back.” “Whining” “No more temper tantrums and listening” “Readjust her attitude”
  • “ Her attitude! I am sick of her thinking she's the adult! We constantly remind that we are the adults, but she thinks she can get away with treating everyone like crap.”

OK, there’s bad news and good news.

The bad news? No one can change someone else’s attitude. Wait! Don’t stop reading.

Here’s the good news: we don’t need our kids to change how they feel – just how they act. This, parents CAN change.

We change their behavior by changing our reactions to it. If your child whines or talks back, and still gets what she wants? That is working really well for her, but not so well for you.

Is how our kids speak to us really that important?  After all, compared to hitting, lying, sneaking out, and all the other power plays kids make, how much energy should we really use up when kids try to push our buttons with their words or tone of voice or body language?

This deserves a lot of attention, actually!

First of all, this is how they can honor us and show respect.  And even if you think that isn’t so important, how they talk to us is practice for how they will speak to teachers, bosses, the police, or any authority figure in their lives.  If we let our children develop disrespectful habits now, we are not doing them any favors.  Not only will they get more and more careless with their words and tone as they grow, they will also be SHOCKED when they experience negative consequences outside the house.  Worse yet, they may not even understand why they didn’t get the summer internship they wanted or when their friends’ parents don’t want them to come over, or why even a good friend blows them off after a while.

Try this.

  1. Name the problem. Be really specific, and talk it over with your co-parent first, if you have one. Agree on one behavior you want your child to change.
  2. Decide on your strategy. What will happen if your child speaks respectfully? What will or won’t happen if she doesn’t?
  3. Explain the new rule to your child. Speak in short sentences, ask if she has questions.
  4. Be consistent. This is the hard one! But THIS is the magic.

A whining example:

If a toddler whines, we will drop what we’re doing and give them what they want because the whine is such a nails-on-the-chalkboard noise that we will do anything to make it stop!  This just makes the problem worse.  When your kiddo whines, repeat the request back in the tone of voice you want it.

“I want some juice!”  “May I please have some juice?” Don’t give the juice until you get a polite request!

Keep going until you get what you need.  If they really can’t get the words out without whining, have them whisper.  It’s not possible to whine and whisper at the same time.

She’s practical, she’ll stop. But only if it NEVER works.

Talking back:

Talking back is almost as simple as the whining.  Whining is a little easier to stop because the whiner always wants something obvious and you can withhold it until he gets the tone of voice right.  But if you think about it, your 8 year old wants something too.  She wants to show her new independence, wants to feel older and more mature.

So, resist the urge to strangle her, and don’t bother blaming her friends.  She’d have figured this out eventually.  The younger she is, the easier it will be to train her up quickly.

Sit with her, and explain what is bugging you.  She may genuinely not realize what she is doing.  Between you, come up with a way you can let her know that her words or attitude are not acceptable.  Then let her know that if you give her that signal and she doesn’t repeat herself in a respectful way, there will be a consequence.  Maybe the next social time she has will be cancelled.  Or she will need to clean a room in the house that you pick.  Or she’ll have to write “You’re the very best mommy in the whole wide world” 100 times.  Whatever works for you.

Then stick to it. You will enjoy your child much more this summer if you focus on these issues now. And they will have more friends and more school and life success if they can learn to be really respectful!

What do you think?

Changing a Child’s ‘Attitude’

Doctor G. (Deborah Gilboa, MD) empowers parents to raise respectful, responsible and resilient kids. Around the country and around the world, she works with parents to increase their knowledge and to utilize the parenting instincts they already have. Her acclaimed book "Get the Behavior You Want... Without Being the Parent You Hate!" is available now. As a Board Certified Family Physician, mother of four, author of Teach Resilience: Raising Kids Who Can Launch! and a professional parenting speak ... More

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  1. Profile photo of LIZ says:

    its dfficult to raise kids in this days, they have so much information

  2. I’m just reading this and I will consistently try. My daughter just made 9 and it seems she has lost all manners and transformed into every child in her class!!

  3. Profile photo of Elaine Elaine says:

    I need this for one of mine for sure! And great idea to nip it in the bud before Summer! Thanks Deborah!

  4. Profile photo of Doctor Doctor says:

    Our kids let us know fast, don’t they Leigh Ann?

  5. Profile photo of Leigh Leigh says:

    I so easily lose sight of my parenting and realize when it’s almost too late that they are taking over and I am giving in way too much. Thanks for this advice!

  6. Profile photo of Alison LeeAuthor Alison Lee says:

    These are really good suggestions!


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