How to Brat-Proof Your Kid

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Photo by Michael Branigan/
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?

discipline