No one wants his child to be labeled a brat. A brat is a kid under about age 10 who is domineering, self-centered, demanding, manipulative, and impulsive. The only thing that keeps a brat from being a bully is that a brat knows how to turn on the charm. But like the parents of a bully, the parents of a brat may be the last to know how the world labels their child.
So how do you know: Is your child a brat?
Brats are made, not born. Mom and Dad created this behavior and they are supporting it now. Brats are created when that center-of-the-universe quality that is good for babies continues beyond the toddler years. If you think that the sun rises and sets on your preschool child, if your child seems to be setting the family agenda and ruling the household, and if you find yourself congratulating yourself for your “Mama Bear” defense of your child from ordinary childhood experiences, then there’s a good chance that others think your kid is a brat.
But, here’s the rub: brattiness is in the eye of the beholder. So if someone tells you your child is a brat you have to consider the source. What others think is based on their own expectations, their own ideas about child-rearing, and maybe their envy of your child’s accomplishments. So if your mother-in-law tells you young Henry is a brat, maybe it’s because she doesn’t like anything about you and this is just the latest insult in a long line of insults. If your neighbor calls little Eva a show-off because she can read a book to her neighbor’s child even though Eva is not yet five, then maybe she’s anxious about her own child’s abilities and wishes Eva wouldn’t demonstrate the contrast between her child and yours. And when your best friend tells you gently over a cup of coffee that she thinks you need to let go a bit and not hover over little Sydney quite so much, maybe she’s telling you something important. Maybe Sydney is indeed becoming a brat.
If you think your child is a brat, what can you do? Since you created this personality you have the power to turn it around. Start by letting your child manage his own affairs without your intervention. Take back your role as the grown up and give back to your child his role as the kid. This doesn’t mean that you become punitive but that you become more responsible. Read up on authoritative parenting (also called respectful parenting). Countless studies have shown that children of authoritative parents are more successful and happier than children of parents who are too permissive or too strict.
Your little brat will protest. He or she is used to being treated like royalty. It’s hard to be demoted. You can expect that behavior in your household will get worse – sometimes a lot worse – before it gets better. The key is to be consistent, pleasant, and matter-of-fact. It’s also very important that both parents work together on this. Your family might find it helpful to get the guidance of a parenting coach or a family therapist.
Your child’s future is worth your investment in time and maybe money. Other kids don’t want to play with a brat and other parents don’t want to deal with a brat at birthday parties, sleepovers, and trips to the zoo. And of course, a brat grows up. Brats older than about age 10 are no longer brats, they are jerks. Jerks are blamed for their unpleasant behavior and their company is welcomed only by other jerks. A group of adolescent jerks is a gang. You can see where this is going. You don’t want to be the parent on the local news who whines, “He was always a good boy!” as cops take your grown-up brat away.
So the question “Is my child a brat?” is a good one to ask, though the answer isn’t always clear. We all want the best for our children and we naturally want to protect them from the hard, cruel world. But there’s a difference between protection and supporting. Support your child’s ability to get along well and she’ll have the best protection possible.
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.