Dealing with Attitude

Childhood 101 | Dealing with Attitude

“He has such an attitude. And he’s only four!”

“I thought I had years to prepare for this. No one warned me about dealing with a threenager!”

“She’s five going on fifteen.”

Have you ever commented on your child’s attitude? I am sure I have, especially as we live with a just-turned-five year old master negotiator. This recent breakfast conversation is pretty typical of numerous interactions throughout the day…

“Immy, would you like some honey on your porridge?”
“I think I’ll have sprinkles.”
“I asked if you would like some honey.”

I am not proud to say that her success at wearing me down is in direct proportion to my mood, capacity for debate in that exact moment in time and (most importantly) my current level of sleep deprivation. Sometimes she has her way, sometimes I have mine and other times we begrudgingly reach a form of mutually satisfactory truce.

It’s had me thinking a lot about this question – when we say a child has an attitude, what do we really mean?

Do we mean that they are acting in defiance to something we have said or done?

Do we mean that they are differing in opinion to our own?

Could it in fact be a difference in personality type rather than deliberate misbehaviour?

Or are we dealing with something else completely – something biological, like hormones? Or environmental, like their capacity for dealing with stress? Or are they simply seeking a connection with us and don’t know how to ask for what they want?

And if, at any given moment in time, their attitude is in fact complicated by other factors – many of which may actually be outside of their immediate control – doesn’t it make sense that we are most likely to achieve a more positive response with a whole lot less angstΒ  if we take into account these influences and make the effort to adjust our own response?

Instead of responding with frustration or anger or resignation, what if we instead try humour. Or compromise. Or cuddles. Or playfulness?

I can’t say that I have the answers. It’s just something I have been pondering recently as I help my just-turned-five year old to find socially acceptable ways to deal with big emotions.

One person that I believe offers a lot of practical answers to this type of question is Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute. Amanda’s Parenting for Positive Guidance eBook and eCourse offer parents easy-to-use, practical tools for guiding children’s behaviour. I am very excited to provide you with a peek at one of the videos from the Parenting with Positive Guidance eCourse*. In this video Amanda talks about saying what you see, saying no and using humour. I love that she presents the information in bite sized chunks that are easy to take on board and try out in your own home. Watch the video below and you will see what I mean…

You can find the comic strip that Amanda refers to at the beginning of this clip here.

What say you about dealing with your child’s attitude?

Β *This post contains affiliate links


  1. Wow! I can’t put this into the words, and yet you have written, once again, about what is foremost on my mind.

    My husband asked me to find a way to rephrase or figure out what I am referring to when I say “You have an attitude problem and it needs to change fast!” or “Change your attitude now.” – to my 4 year old, almost 5 year old. I don’t like my response either. I won’t blame my childhood, but I can’t ask my parents for advice, or my in-laws. So we are trying to break out of ‘bad’ parenting habits and strike out on a road we have no experience in – and when we get stressed or tired we find ourselves giving into frustration and short tempers and falling back on our ‘learned’ methods. And we dislike ourselves for it.

    So my husband is right. It’s not right to say what I say. But it is an attitude, and attitude is not a bad things. But what I have realized, when trying to find out what bothers me is probably the disrespect and not wanting to deal with the emotions. The glaring, the stomping, the moping the pouting or the rude things said. So to be honest, I should be saying “I have a problem with your attitude and the way you are treating me.” and I have started saying “The look you are giving me is disrespectful and you will respect your mom and dad. Change the way you are looking at me now and take a deep breath and listen to me, please.”

    These moments are usually in the evenings, what we refer to as the witching hours. The times we need to get things done and talk mom to dad talks. While the kids want to be held, played with, talked to, colored with and they want 100% attention. They had me all day and I just need to get dinner and the dishes done – frustration. Sometimes I break down and turn on a movie (we all need a break before mom loses it), other times I will turn up the radio and tell them to work it out and stay out of my kitchen (the two girls tend to pick on each other and seek each other out to pick on each other). I love warmer days and longer sunshine hours – because I can toss them outside to play and it’s funny how playing outside is kind of magical, even if I have to constantly check on them while trying to make dinner…

    Thank you for touching on the subject publicly. Thank you for giving me a resource to help myself and my husband through these things. It’s really hard to break an old pattern of behaviors, and it’s hard to know where to start looking for help! Thank you!

    1. Veronica, I think that when you say “what bothers me is probably the disrespect and not wanting to deal with the emotions”, you hit the nail right on the head.

      I know that when my nearly-four-year-old has a snark in her voice or stomps her foot in frustration, she’s reacting to something – she’s having a hard time sharing her emotions. However, when I’ve already been inundated with constant “attitude”, I feel worn down. I don’t want to deal with the emotions right now. I need a break from this. And so I scold or nag.

      I’m looking forward to reading more about using positive approaches to what we deem as “negative behaviour”. I know that I need to use a calm head when dealing with the “attitude” (and the fighting – oh, the fighting – with her two year old sister). I think that the key for me is to remember my patience… and perhaps to slow down a bit, too. I find that the emotional highs and lows often come when she’s seeking my attention. Perhaps that’s a common denominator in our household.

      Thank you for the post, Christie! It was a thought-provoking one!

    2. You are so right, Veronica, it can be hard to break learned patterns of response and the tiredness at the end of a busy day makes the situation so much more tenuous for everyone involved – both adults and children. I personally appreciated Amanda’s tip in the video snippet about saying what you want to see as a first response (instead of what you don’t like) as I believe our own response is so important to diffusing the tension that can so easily escalate.

  2. Thanks for putting this in to words. Our 3 yr old has moment as u have both mentioned & you r making me look at it differently now. I’m always ready to learn. Meditation has helped me keep.a cool head when.a moment in the days feel to hard.

  3. I started reading your post and made a mental note to direct you to Amanda. It is so great you are sharing her with your readership. I’ve been on the Not Just Cute bandwagon for at least a year now and she is wonderfully inspiring.

    Thank you for sharing Amanda and some of her techniques. If anybody is sitting on the fence about her ebook or course, I highly recommend it. It has helped me!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Mrs P, Amanda is such a wealth of inspiring yet practical ideas and information πŸ™‚

  4. Thanks so much for this post! My 6yo’s behavior has been out of control! I really have felt like I’m living with a teenager. But now I’m inspired to approach things in a more positive manner. Going to give it a try tomorrow.

    1. I hope your more positive approach is working well for you, Cindy πŸ™‚

      1. It is! We had a great day today! We are using a token system and combining that with positive approaches to discipline and communication.

  5. I usually try to say to my son “I don’t mind if you ask for something but I want you to listen to your coice when you ask” and also mention just because you ask doesnt mean you’ll get it. And I like to hear your feelings not be kicked ( from the car seat in the back of my seat) or yelled at…but I also try to watch my own tone of voice as he’s learning it somewhere and it cant all be the rotten kids at daycare, right? πŸ˜‰

  6. Thanks so much for writing this. Your words always seem to come at the right time. We have been dealing with attitude this week and I wrote a post about a fun came up with a fun game to help my little ones understand what attitude is. Thanks for reminding me to stay positive!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this. My 3 1/2 year old daughter started having many, MANY moments of attitude with us about a month ago. There was the odd time she would speak back to us before that, but it was about a month ago that it started to spin out of control. It felt like every chance she had, she would argue with us or throw a fit. It’s really scary. I kept thinking, if she is like this now, what is it going to be like when she is a teenager? I know at first I was dealing with it in a way that I did not like, but I was so exhausted and feeling like I was at the end of my rope. It was often ending in a yelling match between the two of us. In the end the problem would not be solved and I felt like I was tarnishing our good positive relationship. Plus, i was probably modelling the inappropriate behaviour she was displaying when we would be yelling back and forth. I decided to stop the yelling.. Give her appropriate choices, and let there be consequences I could actually follow through with if she displayed inappropriate behavior. She will lose an opportunity to do something she enjoys, or I will take a toy away until she follows through. Sometimes I need to ignore the behavior. And sometimes, even though it seems like the last logical thing to do, I give her a hug, tell her that I can understand that she is frustrated. I guess for me, I want her to understand that in life she cannot have her way all the time, and more importantly I want to teach her how to regulate her emotions… Not necessarily impose my big scary authority on her. And although she still has moments of attitude with us, it happens less often and is shorter lived than when I was yelling at her as a means of coping.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing. I am so glad you are seeing such positive change as a result of the changes you have made πŸ™‚

  8. It’s funny I came across this now. I often say my almost 5 year old daughter is 4 going on 16. She has the attitude you would expect out of a teenager. She rolls her eyes when asked to help her brother with something, or asked to share toys with him. She rolls her eyes at us when we tell her why a certain behavior is unacceptable. She huffs and “uggghhss” when I tell her things like “I’m sorry we can’t go to the park right now because we need to get groceries”. She has serious back talk issues, yelling at us in very disrespectful ways when things don’t go her way. I was really at my wits end with her just a few months ago.
    I have noticed that taking a different approach has worked. I used to tell her to change her attitude. Now I tell her she needs to find a better way to say it (when she is being disrespectful) or she needs to find a different response/answer. It makes her stop and think about what she said and what she needs to say to fix it. While we still have problems, they are not nearly as bad as they used to be. We also have started asking her “what are you doing wrong right now” when she is fighting/throwing things/being mean, and she has to stop and think about what she is doing and what she should be doing.

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