Discipline for Bad Attitudes – One Way to Address the Heart
Attitudes can be good or bad, and they’re inherently interwoven into everything we do. Attitudes often rest just below the surface and are sometimes difficult to read or understand in adults, let alone our children. Billions of dollars are spent each year to create or change attitudes in you toward certain products or activities.
Furthermore, attitudes are highly contagious. As a parent, you know that children can develop a whole outlook on life based on the latest TV show or by spending time with a particular friend. Attitudes affect how we view life and respond to it.
Taking Note of Attitude Not Just Tasks
Attitudes become a problem when negative emotions affect behavior and relationships. It’s not wrong to feel bad, but when you act out because of those negative feelings then people get hurt. One of the ways parents see bad attitudes in kids is when children are given instructions they don’t want to do. Those kids may obey, but they demonstrate a bad attitude in the process.
When an attitude takes place, it’s usually non-verbally communicating disgust, frustration, or disappointment. One practical way to address attitudes is to try to unpack the non-verbal cues. Don’t let them go by unchecked. “Wait Son. It looks like you’re communicating a message there that you’re unhappy. Do you think I did something wrong by asking you to clear the table? Are you mad at me? I’m not sure what you’re trying to communicate there.” Addressing non-verbal cues as communication can go a long way to either stop the attitude or open doors for deeper communication.
Often a bad attitude comes from an angry heart. Imagine an onion with various layers. As you peel off one layer you see another and another until you get to the center of the onion. Anger is like that. The most obvious sign of anger is physical violence. Hitting, slamming, kicking, and biting are all ways that anger is demonstrated.
As children learn to control their anger not vent it physically, they peel off that layer, revealing the next one: hurtful words through sarcasm, teasing, and cynical remarks. These less physical but deadly weapons are another symptom of anger.
Layer after layer of angry responses can be removed until you come to a very significant one: the bad attitude. Children don’t want to go to bed, clean up their rooms, leave the computer, or get on their shoes. You’re interrupting their lives by giving an instruction or by correcting or by saying no. Thus you get anger revealed in a bad attitude.
Using Honor to Address Attitudes
One approach for dealing with bad attitudes is to use the concept of honor. It’s important to teach children what honor means in very practical terms. One mom defined attitude as “the heart of how you do something.” Obedience is revealed in actions. Honor is revealed in the attitude that goes along with those actions.
Many times parents simply focus on the behavioral component of the bad attitude. They say things like, “Stop giving me that dirty look,” or “Come back here and walk down the hall without stomping.” Keep in mind that to deal with bad attitudes from a heart-based approach you’ll also want to look at two more components of an attitude: emotion and thinking errors. Both of those ingredients reside in the heart. Children need to process their emotions without having a bad attitude.
Challenge Underlying Beliefs
Furthermore, many children believe strange things about life. Those beliefs are things like, “When my brother is annoying I have the right to punch him,” or “Chores are Mom’s work.” When children believe those kinds of things, it’s no wonder they have a bad attitude. Take attitudes apart and work on them using a multi-faceted approach. You’ll then see more significant and long-lasting adjustments.
By identifying bad attitudes in your children you’ll take the first important step toward change-you’ll see the problem. You won’t be content to allow a bad attitude even if the job is getting done. You might say to your son, “Wait a minute. Your attitude here is a problem. You need to sit down for a bit and settle down and then let’s look for a better way to respond. When you’re ready to try a different response then come see me.”
Explain to your children the value of a good attitude and the danger of a negative attitude on the job or in school. A good attitude is important and your interaction at home is a great place to start working on it.
Unfortunately, some parents excuse bad attitudes in their children. We’ve all heard them.
He’ll grow out of it.
She’s so cute.
At least she’s doing what I asked.
He’s just going through a stage.
She’s better than other kids her age.
That’s the way kids are.
She’s a teenager.
He’s a two-year-old.
He’s a boy.
She could be a lot worse.
Each of these is an excuse for not disciplining and often represents a missed opportunity to teach or direct a child on a deeper level, understanding that correction is a gift. Remember, we aren’t just trying to help children change on the outside to develop nice, neat behavior. We’re trying to help them change their hearts. Attitude is a window into a child’s heart.
Jesus described the Pharisees in Matthew 15:8, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” He was describing the fact that they focused on behavior instead of their hearts. The same thing is true with children sometimes, and your responsibility is to teach children that their hearts are important as well as their actions. Honor is important, but children can’t just show honor externally. They must also demonstrate that honor with a positive attitude.
Attitudes Reveal the Heart
Attitudes are one way that children can reveal that their hearts are in the right place. One mom put a sign up in her kitchen that read, “Three Opportunities for a Good Attitude: when given an instruction, when corrected, and when given a no answer.” She was trying to motivate her kids to recognize the danger arenas and take appropriate action.
Helping children deal with bad attitudes isn’t easy and requires insight from parents into the hearts of their kids. Sometimes you’ll want to deal with an attitude on the spot and other times you may want address it later. See Keeping discipline positive by affirming approximately right behavior. Whatever you do, make sure that you address bad attitudes or they’ll get worse over time. Sometimes parents believe that their children will grow out of bad attitudes. Unfortunately, the reality is that if attitudes aren’t checked children grow into them.
This idea comes from the book, “Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes, in You and Your Kids.” It’s a book all about the biblical concept of honor and how it contains the success principles God designed for life. That’s why kids need to learn honor at home.
Feel free to interact with this article. I’ll be happy to respond and answer any questions you have, even personal ones about your own family situation. –Dr Scott Turansky