Good Kids, Bratty Behavior

Problem: Bullying

Fear Factor: "My child will grow up to be a big bully."

Trouble Signs: Be on the lookout for moves that are meant to hurt another child. A 2-year-old who pushes a playmate away from a truck may seem like a bully, but she's just acting her age -- she simply wants that toy, now. A second-grader who does the same thing has very different motives; she probably understands that a toy doesn't belong to her but grabs another kid's stuff because she wants to get her own way.

Fast Fix: Toddlers are just beginning to learn social skills like sharing. Gently encourage a 2-year-old to play nicely, then give her time: She'll probably come around as she gets older. When your 6-year-old acts aggressively toward another child, however, you need to step in right away. She's old enough to know that she's not behaving nicely. Insist that she apologize. Then tell her, "You can't push kids and grab their things." Have her return the toy and help her negotiate a sharing deal. If her bratty behavior doesn't stop, end the playdate.

Lesson for Life: Whenever you reprimand your child, explain clearly why what she did was wrong. Also, point out how her actions have upset her friend. You might say, "You hurt Lily's feelings, and now she's crying." It's also important to applaud your child when she does something kind for someone. Be specific with your praise as well: "It was very nice that you let your cousin wear your dress-up cape. You really made her happy." Research shows that when parents do this, their kids are more thoughtful and have more empathy. And children with those qualities are less likely to bully others. It's also important to help kids learn how to make and keep friends, says Melanie Killen, PhD, professor of human development at the University of Maryland. "Bullies are often kids who are rejected by their peers," she explains. "They haven't figured out how friendships work." If you think your child is having trouble, arrange some playdates and watch what happens. If she frequently gets into arguments, help her practice sharing and negotiating nicely.

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