How to Brat-Proof Your Kid


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David Michael Photography
Solving the problem of the bratty child sometimes feels harder than labor and delivery. 

You're trying to get through the grocery store and home in time to get the mail, and they're throwing a temper tantrum because you didn't get the bananas with the monkey sticker on them.

Before you lean in to hiss, "Stop being a brat and get off the floor," help is on the way. And you don't have to open your home up to a reality show and a bossy Brit with glasses on her nose.

Child development expert Betsy Brown Braun sat down to talk with The Stir about her new book, You're Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-Year-Old Child. Published this month by the mother of triplets, it's one of the few parenting books that I can say I both tackled and devoured. After all, I have a 4-year-old, and sometimes ... she can be a brat.

What's your definition of a brat?

I think a brat is a subjective descriptor, and I think when your child isn't behaving the way you want them to behave at that moment, he's a brat. Brats aren't born. The factory-equipped model child doesn't come with brat or not brat; it comes with temperament, it comes with instincts, and it comes with the capacity to be all these good things that you want your child to be.

These things aren't taught; they;re caught.

One thing that struck me in reading You're Not the Boss of Me was you aren't directing parents to fix their kids so much as fixing their own way of dealing with their kids.

You hit it exactly on the button, and we need to say nothing more. You did it, you got it!

What are some of the most common discipline mistakes? I noted things in there I can admit I've done wrong.

Discipline isn't punishment. It's not hurting your child, embarrassing your child, forcing your child to do something. Discipline comes from the Latin root word which means teach or instruct. So we're trying to teach our kids how to be in particular situations.

When you ask me how do we discipline our kids, the answer is how do you get your child to understand he has choices about how he behaves, and depending on what he chooses, there are consequences for his choices. Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're not so good.

So the most common mistakes parents make in discipline are using illogical consequences, warning our kids way too many times, threatening your kids with ridiculous threats and then not following through.

Logical consequences has to do with making sure the punishment fits the crime. I don't believe in punishment, so it just means making sure the response to the misbehavior is directly related to the misbehavior. Most parents will do something like, it's not OK that you talked to me that way so you're not going to Disneyland on Friday. Or you didn't eat your vegetables, so I'm taking your toys away.

I noted the toys issue in the book. You talk a lot about respecting your kids and their space. How do the two relate back?

It so ties in because to me respecting your child and his toys is all part of your attitude toward your child that you honor and respect him. When you treat our children with respect, the model that they have is respectful treatment.

Most often when kids are disrespectful, they're doing one of two things. First, they could be testing the waters. What happens when I say this? Or they're doing what I call the Tarzan behavior -- I'm going to show you how big I am. Or the second thing that they're trying to do is express a feeling and they don't know how else to express it.

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You can do a do-over. When your child says something to you that just stings it's so disrespectful, you can say, "I don't talk to you that way, and I don't like it when you talk to  me that way. Would you like to try to say that in a different way?"

Or you can say, "I think you're really angry with me. Let's talk about why you're angry." Or, "Do you want to go throw some rocks outside to get that anger out?"

We respond the way our Dads did, with the finger wagging, don't you talk to me that way.

You also put parents in the kids' shoes. How can we be better cognizant of not doing the things we hated our parents doing to us like forcing us to make eye contact?

Making eye contact is really hard; nobody makes eye contact all the time -- especially for kids who are trying to gather their thoughts. When I'm gathering my thoughts, when I'm thinking, I look away. You need to look blank.

But when you say, "Look at me when I talk to you," the kid is looking at you and thinking, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. He's not hearing what you say.

Is there value in taking a breather and walking away?

Oh for sure. That goes along with the do-over. You can say, "We both need to cool off."

My daughter's 4, so her famous thing when my husband or I are trying to tell her to do something, she puts her fingers in her ears.

I love that! I can picture her doing it! But when she does that, just stop what you're doing. Let me give you an example -- when I go for a walk with my dog, I never put him on a leash, and he'll run away from me and then he gets that much ahead of me. He realizes Wait a minute, I'm not with my mom. And he comes right back.

Kids do the same thing. If you don't go to battle; they're going to stop and say, "Hmm, let me check in with Mom." So when her ears are covered, just sit there and wait, look at your BlackBerry, read your Vogue, whatever you do.

What's the most common complaint you hear from parents about their bratty kids?

The single most common complaint I get -- and I see parents day in and day out -- from parents of kids who are 4, 5, 6 is: "My kid doesn't listen."

It's not a question of listening because their hearing is fine. The problem is the child is being defiant or he's not minding, and that's for two reasons. Number one: It's his job to not behave because by not behaving, he figures how to behave! Number two: It happens because we don't follow through.

We warn, we threaten. We don't make good on our threats. We change our minds. We're the wimps. Parents are wimpy, but that doesn't mean we have to be strict. It doesn't mean we have to be mean.

It means we have to be lovingly consistent, firm, and clear.

What's the most frustrating thing your kids do?



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lovin... lovinangels

ugh! my ten year old is really testing me right now! I was catering a party the other night for friends...One of my friends minded the two youngest while I prepped and served. She had to take her daughter and go home around nine, so I asked the oldest to mind the youngest, while I finished up. She said, I'm doing art work with Aunt Cathy right now! I said, You've spent several hours with Aunt Cathy, it's time to help me. You know, like we talked about before we left? (we had agreed upon a ten dollar fee for her help.)

Little snot looks at me, says ok, then goes in the other room and says, "Aunt Cathy, my mom says I'm not allowed to do art work with you anymore. My mom says that I have to take care of my sister, who's really heavy and hurts me a lot." Needless to say, someone else took the baby right away, and my little brat still put her hand out for ten dollars when she came home.

btw, the baby is only "too heavy and hurts her a lot", when she wants to do something else... otherwise I have to stop her from carrying her around all the time! Sometimes the baby does not want to be held and the oldest won't leave her alone!

ankle... anklebitr

hmmm I think I am going to check this one out.

ethan... ethans_momma06

This looks like a really great book, and I loved how she said that it's not about fixing our kids, it's about fixing how we handle the sitaution. Definatly will be trying to find a copy of this...

tonya... tonyalynn

i havent had to go through this yet.

Pishyah Pishyah

This book has just been put on my list of parenting must-reads!  As soon as I finish the two I have.  I have to tell you, my almost 4yo is a teenager in a smaller package.  I've cried several times in a little over a week because I've been at a loss with him.  He'll look at people and rudely say he wants more of whatever treat they're kindly giving him, ask people where his treat is (because everyone MUST give him a treat), etc.  I try to explain to him that it is rude and he ignores me.  

tazdvl tazdvl

Our biggest battle is her throwing a fit when she doesn't get what she wants, her not "listening". I am going to be looking for this book.

frysh... fryshannon34

I will read this I will take all the help I can get

Carey... Carey2006

The most frustrating thing my son does whiny and (fake) cry instead of using his words.

leomo... leomommy1325

My 6.5 year old acts like a baby and by that I mean like a 2 year old.  She's been hitting her teachers at her Catholic school and being defiant as well as just plain rude.  Her father and I have been divorced for 4.5 years and my aunt thinks she has anger issues.  We have a CSE meeting to talk about this next Wednesday because her pediatrician suggested seeing the school psychologist and going to counseling.  Today, she told me several times before she got on the bus that she didn't like me. She can talk and was only put into special education in preschool because she still wet her pants sometimes at 4.

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