Attitudes come in all shapes and sizes, amen? There’s the 3-month-old “I don’t want to get in my car seat” back-arching attitude. Then there’s the 1-year-old “I’m so tired I don’t know what else to do but cry” attitude. There’s the 3-year-old “It’s mine and I’m not letting go” attitude. And if you’ve been a parent for any length of time beyond age 3, you know that the attitudes continue at each age and stage of childhood in various shapes and forms. Schoolagers, preteens, and teenagers can hold their own bad attitudes when they desire. Big surprise, right?
If the problem is so enormous, how do we live through it? What can we truly do to help a child when they have a stinky, no-good attitude? I’m not a pro by any means, but today I’m excited to share a few ideas to help you help your child through a bad attitude. While one idea won’t work every single time with every child, having a few tools in your arsenal against bad attitudes is valuable. Ready? Here are four hints to help your child through a bad attitude!
Hint 1: Ask a question instead of pointing out a problem.
I’ll admit, I’m quick to judge when one of my kiddos displays a bad attitude. While I’m usually tempted to want to “nip it in the bud,” I’ve found that sometimes the attitude stems simply from being tired or hungry. One of my strategies in the heat of a moment is to ask “Hey, are you feeling ok?” There are times when a gentle, caring question diffuses the grumpy attitude, and offering a cold drink of water or a rub on the back can settle the matter. I will not say that this works every time a bad attitude pops up, so let’s move on to a few more attitude-defusing ideas.
In Jonah 4, God does this very thing with Jonah. Jonah is pouty, upset, and downright angry because the Lord forgave the people of Nineveh. God already knew the problem was in Jonah’s heart, but he asks of Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?” In God’s grace and mercy, He extended a question to Jonah, rather than point out the obvious.
Hint 2: Close the subject and enter a new discussion.
Sometimes a certain subject will resonate with a child and cause an attitude flareup. For example, last night’s dinner of asparagus soup might come up in conversation and this meal was not your child’s favorite. Rather than spending time on something that already happened and rather than allowing a negative attitude to roll around to a bigger attitude problem, simply say, “That was last night. It’s already over and we talked about it, so let’s move on to talk about…” This approach will move the conversation forward rather than backward.
Hint 3: Turn your focus to the action and not the attitude.
Is there something you want your child to do? Is there something that he or she should have done and didn’t? Instead of focusing on the bad attitude, shift your focus to the behavior you want your child to have.
For example, Susie yells at her mom upset because she wants to spend time at a friend’s house, but she can’t go until she completes her chores. Mom feels upset because of Susie’s inacceptable yelling. But rather than get wrapped up in Susie’s tone of voice, Mom focuses on her own tone, as well as the action needed by Susie. “It’s not acceptable to raise your voice at me; however, when you finish your chores, I’ll be glad to take you to your friend’s house for the time we agreed on.”
If we hone in on the tone, we can easily miss the opportunity to modify the actual behavior and improve the results.
Hint 4: Address the emotions behind the attitude but require respect.
Experiencing large emotions is not a crime. We all experience big feelings at different times, and they can even seem to come from nowhere. Addressing the emotions, calling them out for what they are, is a great way to help your child understand that there is nothing wrong with their feelings, but they can’t allow their feelings to bully them into disrespecting others.
Passion is a great quality; passion undirected or misdirected is destructive. When passion spills over, remind your child that it’s ok to experience grand feelings, but it’s unfair to use them against others in a negative way. When a bad attitude pushes for everyone else to “leave the room and leave you alone,” addressing the emotions says, “I’m sorry that your feelings are so overwhelming right now. But it is unfair to expect everyone to leave the room. However, you are welcome to go to your room so that you have your own space to breathe and think through your feelings.”
In the passage mentioned above, Jonah 4, Jonah is so mad that he says it would be better for him to die than live. His feelings are the result of losing the plant that God gave him for shade. The plant died and Jonah was angry about it. When his attitude was at the bottom of the barrel, God says to Him: “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” God uses Jonah’s feelings about the plant as a comparison for the passion and love God had for the Ninevites. He addressed Jonah’s emotions but required respect.
How does a parent know which hint to use at what time?
The book of Jonah ends with the conclusion above. We don’t know what happened after God addressed Jonah’s emotions. Did Jonah sulk for the remainder of his life? Did God’s final demand for respect sink into his head? We have no way to know the outcome after this final discussion between God and Jonah, but we do know that the Lord never gave up on Jonah nor the people of Ninevah. God’s guidance was always available as He used various methods to show his love to his people.