9 ways parents encourage bratty behaviour in kids

If junior is always throwing tantrums and being rude, are you guilty of parenting no-nos that make them behave badly?

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One of its most challenging aspects of raising children for any parent is managing their behaviour and ensuring that they are well-disciplined.

And when our children behave badly, we may blame it on the child’s difficult personality, external circumstances (they had a bad day at school), or simply the fact, that junior is too young to tell right from wrong.

But if your child is constantly behaving like a brat, it might be time to examine your own actions.

As difficult as it is to acknowledge that what you do might be fuelling junior’s misbehaviour, it’s important to address the issue if you want to raise a well-mannered child.

“Parents need to understand how everything they do influences their children’s development, behaviour and actions,” explains Silvia Wetherell, psychotherapist at

The Choolani Clinic and a mother of two. “You can explain why they shouldn’t act in a certain way, but that’s not going to stick. You need to show them.”

But before you show them the right way to behave, start by identifying your own negative actions. Here are ways you may be inadvertently raising a brat.

1. Setting a bad example

Yes, it’s possible to be a bad role model without realising it. As the saying goes ― monkey see, monkey do.

“A classic example is how parents snatch their kids’ toys when playtime is over, thus teaching them how to snatch and be possessive,” Wetherell points out. “If you want your children to share, snatching is not a great way to go about it.”

“Consistency across all caregivers is the key to successful parenting. An inconsistent approach will only make children confused about rules and expectations.”

Another area where parents potentially set bad examples is phone usage, Wetherell stresses. Constantly bemoaning the fact that your kid is disengaged and addicted to his device? Take a look at your own phone habits, and you might understand why.

“We need to teach kids boundaries around technology usage, but that can’t happen if you’re always glued to your phone,” Wetherell says. “Limit your screen time if you want to raise an attentive child.”

2. Being inconsistent

“Consistency across all caregivers is the key to successful parenting,” notes Vyda S Chai, a clinical psychologist at Think Psychological Services. “An inconsistent approach will only make children confused about rules and expectations.”

Consistency ensures junior learns the right way to behave, no matter the environment.

You may expect your child to behave well in public, but if you let him throw tantrums at home, this will certainly be giving him mixed signals.

“If different adults are using conflicting approaches, this further confuses children and makes it hard to control challenging behaviours,” Chai adds. “Start early and discuss with all your child’s caregivers the appropriate disciplinary methods.”

3. Making empty threats

Ever threatened junior with punishment and not followed up afterward? Time to stick to your word!

“Empty threats only encourage your child not to take you seriously, eventually ignoring you,” notes Chai. “Without consequences for misbehaviour, there’s no incentive to listen or behave.”

If you want to prevent your little ones from walking all over you, be sure to spell out exactly how they’ll be disciplined and follow your terms to the letter.

Told them you’ll be removing TV privileges for a week? Be firm and don’t let them get away with turning it on after two days. Said you’ll confiscate their toys if they don’t apologise for hitting their sibling? Follow through no matter how sulky or sad they get.

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4. Hitting them

Whilst a smack or the cane might work in the short run, Wetherell has a cautionary word for parents who hit their offspring regularly.

“The way a parent handles anger has a huge impact on a child,” she observes. “When parents smack, this aggressive act shows children that it’s okay to do this when one’s frustrated.”

In fact, children who are frequently beaten are more likely to act out in aggressive ways towards others, and may eventually abuse their own offspring.

Wetherell points out, “All that hitting achieves is conditioning kids out of fear, rather than helping them learn intrinsically what is right and wrong.”

So, if you’re hoping to teach your children to be kind, show kindness to them while you set firm boundaries in ways that don’t involve physical punishment.

5. Yelling and shouting

Like hitting, shouting may be a convenient solution for dealing with bad behaviour, but is extremely detrimental in the long run.

“Children learn through modelling ― if you’re constantly shouting at your child, he or she may assume that they need to yell back in order to get what they want or be heard,” Chai warns. “Eventually, your child may lose respect for you, and will yell in return every time you’re trying to teach him something new.”

Instead, be calm but firm, explaining to junior how and why his behaviour is unacceptable, Chai advises.

Lower your expectations, bearing in mind that your child’s brain is still in development. Accept that he will act up on various occasions and can’t always self-regulate the way grown-ups do.

6. Overreacting

Ignoring misbehavior may be a definite no-no, but so is harping on every single mistake your little one makes.

“As parents don’t wish to be perceived as bad caregivers, they are more likely to overreact when children misbehave in public,” Wetherell observes. “Hoping to project an image of being in control, parents tend to jump on slips-ups that are normal for toddlers ― like making loud noises, running around, and forgetting to say please and thank you.”

Lower your expectations, bearing in mind that your child’s brain is still in development. Accept that he will act up on various occasions and can’t always self-regulate the way grown-ups do.

“Being very reactive can also backfire,” Wetherell warns. “Giving negative behavior too much attention can ironically reinforce it. Your child learns that if he acts this way, he gets you to take notice.”

7. Laughing at misbehaviour

At the other end of the spectrum, some parents may find bad behaviour amusing, and respond by laughing or simply brushing it off.

“Don’t laugh at misbehaviour ― it is not funny and your child needs to understand that,” Chai stresses. “Laughing will only further encourage the behaviour.”

Once bad behavioural patterns are established, it will be difficult for your child to modify or change it, she cautions.

So, no matter how young or adorable your child is, be clear that you will never approve bad behavior from them.

8. Making excuses

Another way to trivialise bratty behavior is when you make excuses for your child.

Explaining that they’re “too young”, “too tired” or “too sick” to understand the right way to behave simply gives them licence to act out and not take responsibility for their actions.

Wetherell suggests that you figure out the most important values you want to pass on, and not compromising, no matter the circumstances.

“For me, kindness is an essential value,” she states. “I’m more likely to pick it up on behaviour that is hurtful to others. For instance, if my 3-year old toddler hits me or says something unkind, I won’t hesitate to let him know how upset and sad it’s made me.”

9. Telling lies

If you want to raise honest children, be open and transparent with them.

Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done, especially with difficult subjects like marital conflicts or an illness in the family.

You don’t have to explain every single detail ― but bear in mind that your children are highly intelligent. They pick up on things easily, and leaving them in the dark may do more harm than good.

“You lie to your kids, they’re going to start lying eventually,” says Wetherell. “I'm a big fan of transparency in the family, and want a close family unit where my kids can come to me if they're having problems.”

Photos: iStock

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