How to Brat-Proof Your Child

The Attention Hog

  • You're chatting with other moms at the park when your 3-year-old says, "Stop talking!" and tries to drag you away to play.
  • At a family dinner, your 7-year-old interrupts the table talk to discuss her soccer exploits. How did it come to this?

You've done such a great job of telling your child how special she is that she thinks her rightful place is center stage 24-7. But if you drop everything to focus on your child whenever she demands it, she learns that her desires are more important than your needs (such as having an adult conversation that lasts longer than two minutes). "It's never too early to start telling your child, 'You're very important, but we're all important,' " Dr. Severe says.

Brat-idote

Your child deserves some of your undivided attention, but don't overdo it. Be clear about when your child is not allowed to interrupt you ("When you see that I'm on the phone, don't interrupt me"), and let her know when she can have your attention ("I'll find you as soon as I hang up. In the meantime, think of what you'd like to do when I'm done"). Look for opportunities to show her that other people deserve attention too ("That's very interesting, Sarah, but now we'd like to hear about Grandma's trip").

Making it stick

Taking the spotlight off your child doesn't mean that you have to ignore her, of course. Give her a heads-up when you're going to be busy ("My friend Susan is coming over, and after you say hi, I'd like you to play in your room until lunch so she and I can talk"). Teach her to say "Excuse me" when she does interrupt, and let her know what's urgent enough to warrant an interruption.

Payoff

Your child will learn basic social graces and develop an awareness of the importance of others.

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