I wrote a book in 2002 called No More Misbehavin': 38 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them. In this book, I tried to help parents target and eliminate common problems like whining, biting, fighting, poor sportsmanship, bullying, tattling, teasing, and other annoying things that kids do. The focus was on changing children's conduct and replacing their inappropriate habits with a more acceptable way of acting at home, at school, and in the community. My goal was to provide parents with tools and strategies for disciplining their children, for getting them back on the right path, and for creating an atmosphere that would allow family, friends, and teachers to interact with them in a more favorable manner.
And that's what behavior is: the kind of actions our kids do that we see, hear, feel in our gut, and instantly know whether it's a right or wrong way to be in the world. I'm talking about the meltdown in the mall, the beating up on little sister, the lying about homework, the talking back, meanness, tattling. All of these and many, many more are behavioral symptoms that parents must change. I'm sure you've had your share of these bad behaviors, and you know just what I'm talking about.
So what's the difference between changing your child's bad behavior and the subject of this book, which is changing your kid's attitude? What exactly is an attitude?
Behaviors are on the surface; attitudes run deep. Behaviors are actions; attitudes are a way of looking at life. Behaviors you can see; attitudes are often hidden and hard to figure. Behaviors are more reactive and impulsive; attitudes are longer term. Behaviors are a child's way of coping with the world; attitudes are the foundation of her character. Behaviors are here and now; attitudes will determine her destiny.
The spoiled kid crisis we're facing as parents today goes beyond just bad behavior to the underlying root cause of bad attitudes—for example:
• Bad attitudes are a bad way of looking at life. Kids who see the world as a cold and cruel place are often selfish and insensitive. And because they do believe it's acceptable, they treat others with meanness, rudeness, and intolerance.
• Bad attitudes are usually made up of bad behavior habits. Kids with bad-tempered attitudes usually start out by displaying their anger in unhealthy ways, such as biting, hitting, tantrums, or fighting. If not corrected, those bad behaviors turn into bad habits, and soon the child develops one big bad attitude that says to the world,"I'll use my anger to get what I want."
• Bad attitudes are often hidden and hard to figure. Kids who are insecure, fearful, and anxious may conceal or compensate for their feelings with attitudes of pessimism, jealousy, and cynicism.
• Bad attitudes run deep and can last a lifetime. Kids who have moms or dads who always pick up the pieces may face a lifetime addiction, dependency, and manipulation.
• Bad attitudes are the foundation for bad character. Kids who have learned how to get away with being irresponsible and uncooperative often end up as adults with a skewed moral compass.
• Bad attitudes can lead to a lifetime of unhappiness and social isolation. Kids who are spoiled, self-centered, arrogant, and disrespectful may never form lasting attachments or find personal fulfillment.
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Although nobody gets a parenting manual or bible in the delivery room, it is our duty as parents to try to make our kids as well rounded, happy and confident as possible. It is a lot easier to bring up great kids than it is to try and fix problems caused by bad parenting, when our kids have become adults. Our children are all individuals - they are not our property but people in their own right.