When your toddler first tells you that they are the prettiest princess or the smartest wizard in the whole world, it’s charming. They are using their imaginations and testing their notions of the wider world and their place in it.
However, when you hear your school-age kids bragging about their perceived class rank or how well they read, it’s not so cute. And it’s downright cringe-worthy when you find out that they are boasting to friends or relatives about their money, possessions, or abilities. We all know adults who still talk like that, and they are not fun to be around. You don’t want your child to go down that road–but how to change their course?
First, you need to understand why kids brag in the first place, to help them grow out of the habit. It’s usually a combination of several factors:
Some children lack self-confidence or feel like they are overlooked or invisible. They think they have to announce their abilities and accomplishments to make themselves noticed. They sometimes want to diminish others’ accomplishments to make themselves feel better.
Figuring Out How They Fit In
Kids are always in the process of figuring out their world and their place in it. They begin mainly by interacting with parents and siblings and getting a lot of attention, and it’s not wrong; they need that to get started on the right foot. But after being at or near the center of their world for several years, they start school and other activities and begin interacting with bigger and bigger circles. They may feel a bit lost and want to claim back some of the attention for themselves. They want to feel important but are not sure how to do it.
They Want to Be Liked
Sometimes children brag about themselves because they want to be liked, and want to have friends. They don’t realize those braggart ways can turn people off and drive away potential friends. They can end up feeling more alone, and then more desperate for attention, leading them to double down or claim to enjoy even the negative attention.
They See it Around Them
Sometimes kids are imitating what they see and hear at home. Does your child see you or other relatives boasting to each other, or even to the kids themselves? Of course, you’re proud of your offspring, but bragging about their looks or talents to parents or other adults can make youngsters believe that they need to do it too.
So how do you help your kids realize that bragging is not an endearing habit, and find better ways to interact with the world?
Help Them Build Their Self-Confidence
Self-confident children don’t feel as much need to tell others how special and great they are. Praise your kids for their accomplishments and let them know you are proud when they do well, but don’t overdo it. When you give them praise, be specific. Don’t just say “You’re the best kid ever!” Tell them that you are proud of how they handled a tough situation or their excellent score on a test. Also, make sure your compliments are about what they DO, not what they ARE. Tell them you are proud of how hard they worked to get a good test grade — don’t just say “You are so smart!”
Praise Kids for Non-Competitive Accomplishments, Too
It’s natural to want to give your child praise for winning a race, scoring a touchdown, or getting the highest score in the class. But take the time to notice the things that make your kid a well-rounded person, and that show good character. Whether or not she won the race, pay attention to how she acts afterward. Does she congratulate her competitors on their performance or comfort someone who may have fallen? Let your kids know you notice them when they do things like watch out for a little kid at the playground, generously share their belongings, or support a schoolmate against a bully.
Talk to Kids About Their Bragging, But Not in Front of Others
Don’t call your kids out in front of their friends or other family members if you hear them bragging. Wait until you are alone together, or take them aside to speak to them quietly. Don’t humiliate them, but help them to understand that the things they say can make other kids feel bad about themselves. Encourage them to pay attention to what other kids are doing and give them compliments rather than making it all about themselves. And when you see your child doing this, let them know you’ve noticed and that you are happy about their behavior.
Take time to tell your kids that they are good kids, you are proud of them, and you love them unconditionally. If they have a firm basis of confidence at home, they are less likely to try to build themselves up by boasting or even putting others down.
Model the Behavior You Want to See
Look at your own habits and see how much you talk about yourself and your accomplishments. If you find your kids are doing what they see and hear you do, change up! Make sure you acknowledge others by complimenting them and showing that you appreciate what they do; that includes not only your child but also other people with whom your child sees you interact. It can be as simple as thanking a store clerk for excellent customer service, or telling another mom how much you like her outfit.
Out in the real world, most people are annoyed by those who always brag about themselves. Help your child to understand this when they are young will make them a better person as they figure out how to interact with the world beyond your home. Let them know that they are special to you, so they can just be that special person, without any need to tell anyone else how awesome they are.
by Colleen McMahon