This is a question I get fairly often at school.  It could be due to a couple of things. One is that your child might feel that after a full day in school, he has had enough structure and simply wants to make his own fun, rather than taking a class. For many kids, getting outside to play in an unstructured way after school is very valuable and should be encouraged. Limiting screen time and providing play opportunities are always a great idea. In this case the solution is simple, leave things for now and as he grows, he may show an interest in formalizing his interests into a class or activity.

The other possibility comes when a child enjoys something, we often praise him to get him interested in doing it again and all of a sudden, he does not want to try any more. This is often the product of praise. When we praise our children, we think we are doing the right thing. We want to encourage them and let them know that they are amazing, but sadly, praise is one of the fastest ways to inhibit a child’s natural interest and curiosity. Here is an example: A parent of a pre-school child saw that her child had drawn an incredibly accurate picture of a bear. The child had been happily drawing, oblivious to everything around her. She showed the picture to her mum and since it was the very first thing she had drawn that was easily recognizable, her mum praised her and told her what a great job she had done. Later, Mum asked her if she would draw another one and she quickly sat down to begin to draw. And at that moment she became stuck. She started a number of times but quickly scrunched up her attempts and started again. She was trying really hard to duplicate what she had done before, that earned so much praise, but it just didn’t work. Eventually she just gave up and went to play with something else.  It was clear that she now felt that she must perform well to earn praise, rather than simply draw for the love if it.

We often see this at school. And the older children grow, if working for praise is a part of their life, trying something new that they may fail at becomes much, much harder. At this point the child will do exactly what is asked and no more, for fear of being wrong. Risk-taking disappears. When children are not praised routinely, we see that they are more inclined to explore, learn and participate for the love of learning rather than for external validation. When I see a student working away at something I will often ask them how it feels for them to accomplish the task. Most often I will see their eyes light up as they tell me all about their project or accomplishment.  I then comment that it sounds like they are having a lot of fun doing that and they readily agree. It is clear that it is not about what I think, but about how they feel about what they have done. Similarly, when a child takes a risk and it does not go well, as teachers and parents we need to focus on the feelings and let them know that trying something is much more important than the result.  That way, the fear of trying something new and being okay with not being great at it allow children to want to learn for the intrinsic reward of their own feelings of accomplishment and self-satisfaction.  

Children are very clever at figuring out how to get what they want. If simple asking does not work, they will up the ante and try to demand, asking in louder, ruder tones and even throwing tantrums. As parents, too often we can’t take it and give in. This teaches the child that

  • They can get what they want if they shout loud enough
  • Rudeness and tantrums are the key to success
  • They are in charge
Children should not be in charge in the household. It is a responsibility far too great to bear. As parents, as hard as it is, we must be firmly in control and when the answer must be no, no matter how rude or abusive our children get, we must not change our minds – especially when they are rude and abusive. Your child behaves this way because it works. To change things you will want to take control and try very hard not to change your mind as the tempers rise.

  • When all is calm in your household and you are feeling especially close to your daughter, tell her that you have been thinking and you have decided that when she is rude and demanding, the answer will always be ‘no’.
  • She will need to know that when she needs anything, you will only consider it if she asks respectfully. You can give her examples of what that looks like. Tell her that sometimes the answer will still be ‘no’ but that it is your job to know what’s best and that you will get through it together.
  • Resist the very real temptation to shout back or be rude when she is being rude and demanding. Simply tell her is a calm voice that this behaviour is not okay and do not respond in any other way, ignoring the behaviour if it continues. Whatever you do, do not give in to keep peace.
  • If it happens in public, stop whatever is going on and tell your child you are going home, and make a quick exit. If she calms down, say that you will try again another time but for now this trip is over.
  • When ordering, demanding behaviour occurs, ignore everything, leaving the room if need be. When she calms down and asks properly, listen carefully, hold her close and if you need to say ‘no’, tears will likely ensue as your daughter realizes that further begging is futile. Tears are the first step to adapting to the situation and accepting that she cannot control everything. Children often shed tears several times a day; this shows you that they are adapting to the world around them and beginning to mature and grow the way Mother Nature intends. If you are patient, in a few short weeks your daughter will understand that demanding and rude behaviour gets her nowhere and she will behave more often as you hope.