My oldest child was the poster child for strong willed. She freely (and proudly I suspect) admits this. All my kids have smart mouths and sassy attitudes–even as adults. Happily, they’re learning to put attitude to healthier uses (besides just driving parents crazy). Got sassypants children? Here are attitude taming tips from a 25-year mom of four.
* Understand the source. Kids who act like wise guys usually are smart. They’re clever and inquisitive. Gifted kids question everything, says Rhode Island Advisory Board on Gifted and Talented Education. So it stands to reason the first people they’ll question are mom and dad.
* Differentiate. Is your kid questioning you or just seeking to understand? His know-it-all behavior may come off as rude. He’s as-yet immature and doesn’t know how to positively channel all that brain energy. Sometimes what looks like disobedience or back-talk is just him flexing mental muscle.
* Channel. Bright kids argue, tease and engage in battles of wit and will–more so if they’re bored or backed in a corner. Teach, by example, how to put smarts to good use. Demonstrate how to debate without attacking and question without invalidating.
* Don’t squash attitude. That cockiness will mature and bring good fruit if handled properly. I didn’t see this at first. All I say was how irritating it was. Now I have the advantage of vantage point. I’ve seen how youthful mouthiness and stubbornness mellow to adult tenacity, confidence and chutzpah.
* Stay emotionally healthy. Or get there if you’re not. Kids drain every ounce of self-esteem (usually unwittingly). They undermine, scoff and ignore. You’ll need all your mental armor to survive.
* Stay focused. Kids act superior but usually don’t feel it. In fact, the more above-you they act, the more vulnerable they are. Trust your instincts, wisdom and convictions. Listen and show respect (this teaches good interpersonal skills) but don’t let apparent arrogance fool you.
* Don’t react. Overreacting parents create problems where none existed. Don’t be too quick to label attitude “defiant” or “bad.” If you jump right to punishment it loses effectiveness. Save discipline for crimes that hurt others. Am I saying ignore? Sort of. Practice planned deafness. Listen with one ear so you don’t miss something important, but avoid exaggeration and paranoia.
* Challenge . Keep kids mentally busy. Provide puzzles, brain-teasers and problems to solve. Stage family ethics debates. Read complex adult books together. Discuss relationships, psychology, sociology, historical perspective, morals, logic. Host meetings of the mind. Brainstorm. Solve world problems.
* Bond. Bond and bond some more. Laugh together. Share feelings. Talk and listen. Exchange ideas. Make decisions together. Affirm each family member’s dignity, worth and place.