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How to brat-proof your kids

We all know what bratty behavior looks like—the 3-year-old throwing the tantrum in the grocery store, or the neighbor kid who never has a nice word to say to his parents.But are our own kids immune? Maybe not. If you often hear yourself saying “He’s just a toddler,” “She heard that on TV,” or “It’s those teenager hormones!” you might be unduly excusing your child’s bratty behav

We all know what bratty behavior looks like—the 3-year-old throwing the tantrum in the grocery store, or the neighbor kid who never has a nice word to say to his parents.

But are our own kids immune? Maybe not. If you often hear yourself saying “He’s just a toddler,” “She heard that on TV,” or “It’s those teenager hormones!” you might be unduly excusing your child’s bratty behavior.

Kids aren’t born with a "brat" gene; this type of bad behavior is learned, and it’s fully within our parenting power to turn around.

No matter your child’s age or stage, there’s no excuse for bratty behavior—but there are solutions. Follow these guidelines, and the bratty behavior at your house will turn into better behavior, fast.

Tantrum-throwing Toddlers
When we think of typical 2 or 3 year old bratty behavior, we usually picture a tantrum. But it’s important to distinguish between a meltdown and a manipulative tantrum. A meltdown happens when your child is on her fourth errand, has missed her nap and hasn’t had a real meal in hours (raisins don’t count). She’s overwhelmed by emotions and simply needs help calming down.

A manipulative tantrum, on the other hand, is when a child screams, “I'm not getting my way and I'm going to throw a fit until I do!” Your child is trying to push your buttons until you give in. In this case, give the tantrum as little attention as possible, and hold your ground. That may mean abandoning your grocery cart in the middle of the store and carrying your child out to the car, but the key is to remain calm. If you give in to your toddler’s demands, or fuel the tantrum with lots of attention and power, you’ll see a repeat performance next time.

Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, a child and adolescent psychologist and author of Princess Recovery, reminds us, too, that this age group might have trouble communicating their wants and needs, delaying gratification and managing emotions. “All of these factors can intensify a reaction, and they mean we really need to watch how we respond,” Hartstein says.

To help prevent future tantrums, be observant and proactive in catching your child “in the right.” Kids this age crave attention, so dish out the positive attention when they’re not misbehaving, encouraging good behavior so they learn how to act early on.

Don Mason / Today

School-Aged Sassiness
As kids get older, we sometimes get desensitized to our kids' sassiness, backtalk and disrespectful comments because we live with them every day. But would those bratty comments be okay in front of the school principal or your mother-in-law? Probably not.

Other signs you’ve got a preschool or school-aged brat on your hands are if you find yourself giving in when you know you shouldn’t to avoid a scene, your child is rude or unkind to others, or your child seems to feel like she’s the center of the universe. In any case, there are ways to solve the problem:

1. Try training. Where do kids learn to be a brat? Twenty minutes of TV should show you. Popular shows portray kids who use bratty words or sassy comebacks, and get rewarded with a laugh track. Our kids mimic that behavior trying to get a laugh out of us. Either turn off the TV for shows you’re not comfortable with, or at least talk over what they hear on TV and why it’s not okay for your family to speak that way.

While your kids are still learning, practice “do-overs.” If your 8-year-old responds to you with a rude, “You can’t make me!” or an eye-roll, use a pre-arranged nonverbal sign to tell him to “rewind” for a do-over. Then, practice appropriate comments and attitudes.

2. Take the power out of the struggle. If you keep encountering brattiness even after they know better, it’s likely a power struggle. In this case, remember that kids only repeat behaviors that work for them—and the brattiness will only work if you let it.

At this point, don’t respond to bratty comments. Instead, silently walk away. You might feel like you’re letting them “get away” with their behavior, but your actions tell them, “This discussion is over and I choose not to participate in this power struggle. They’ll learn that if they want to communicate with other people, they need to be respectful.

Also be aware of your kids’ growing need for independence and how much ordering, correcting and directing you do during the day. Nobody likes to be bossed around and you might respond with a rude comment, too, if your spouse bossed you around all day!

Dr. Hartstein adds that parents need to model for their children what it is to be giving and kind, and to use respectful communication. If parents are selfish and bratty themselves, their kids will be, too. It might also help to involve older kids and teens in altruistic endeavors. When they actively help with food drives, donating to charities, serving meals and the like, they’ll be more likely to appreciate what they have.

What? No consequence for brattiness?
There is—in a way. Remember your kids’ goal is for attention, or to get a rise out of you. You can't control what comes out of a child’s mouth and you can't put a muzzle on them—but you can control your reaction to that behavior. The consequence your children face for being bratty is to be ignored, which happens to be the opposite of what they’re going for. The bad behavior simply doesn't work, so it’s not likely to be repeated.

No matter your child’s age or stage, there’s no excuse for bratty behavior—but there are solutions. Follow these guidelines, and the bratty behavior at your house will turn into better behavior, fast.

TODAY Moms contributor Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. Follow Amy on Twitter @AmyMcCreadyPPS