A mom of two elementary school aged children reached out to me recently seeking guidance on raising good children. Her note ended by asking, “What is the secret to not raising a brat?” That’s a term I hadn’t heard in a while. I thought she must be doing a lot of things right already. She’s concerned about coaching her children to be good citizens. Few parents would have the courage to even consider asking this question.
She is right though. Our son, soon to graduate from the University of South Dakota’s (USD) Beacom School of Business, has never been a brat. He’s also an only child. Some would use that status alone to label him “a brat.” It doesn’t fit him. Never has.
I thought about this mom’s question for several days. I wondered if I was qualified to give parenting advice. I am a parent. I am also a child. I observe other parents and their interactions with their children. I listen to teachers and support staff describe child behavior in schools. I’ve read extensively about parenting. I decided I’m qualified to share how my husband, Ken, and I raised a son who has never been labelled a “brat.” Maybe our approach to parenting will guide her, and others, in raising their own good children.
Top 10 Ways to Avoid Raising a Brat
Parenting is not easy. We were hardly perfect. We understood our individual “being raised” experiences influenced our parenting Alex. We were in our 30s when he was born. Both our mothers stayed at home with their children. I was raised in a family of 11. Ken’s family had 4. Alex was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. All of this made us who we are as parents. Sorting through our 21 years, I consider these to be the 10 Ways Not to Raise a Brat:
- Choose the right partner. Parents who share similar parenting values and who support one another in terms of setting boundaries and household rules will more likely have better behaved children. The kids will know both parents will give the same answer and likely discipline in similar ways. There’s no pitting one parent against another.
- Thoughtfully consider when to become a parent. Life isn’t always planned. But, when one feels ready for the responsibility of parenthood and welcomes the role, one will more likely cherish being a parent rather than resent it. You can’t take parenting back. It’s a lifetime commitment. Children need to be nurtured, not dropped into life to survive alone. Make the time for your children. Show them they matter and that you feel blessed to have them in your life. If you aren’t ready to do this, or simply can’t, consider whether you are ready to become a parent.
- Say “No” and mean it. It is always easier to give in than it is to say “no.” Parents need to stand by convictions. Kids are smart. They push limits. If you back down, your word is no longer good. You’ve shown you’re easily manipulated. Set limits and stick to them.
- Plan a Family Centered not Child Centered Life. It was, and is, our belief that a child should fit into one’s life not become the center of all’s life. As a simple example, I refused to remove breakable household objects when Alex was born. Instead, I taught him to respect these items and that there were consequences for not following through with that lesson. Of course, we latched cabinet doors with dangerous items. But removing breakables. Absolutely not.
- Place Higher Priority on Morals and Values Over Material Goods. My background taught me many lessons on being frugal and setting priorities. I role modeled these while raising Alex. For example, part of me wanted a designer nursery and designer clothing for him. The practical side of me, however, understood how little those items would be used in Alex’s lifetime. Instead, we started a 529 College Savings program and bought consignment furniture and clothing. We made trade-offs like this continually, placing greater emphasis on experiences than material goods and savings over spending. I helped him, when he was a middle school student, create flyers to hand out to neighbors advertising his lawn mowing skills. He also paid us for the gas to support his early business. Of course, we could afford to pay for it. But where else do you learn that there are costs of doing business?
- Expect Good Behavior. Set the bar high. Despite what one sees in restaurants, church and other public places, it is not cute when a child acts out or is disrespectful. I wonder about a child’s future when I see parents allowing children to throw food in restaurants and then smile at adults who look at them wondering how they are allowing this to happen. It speaks volumes about the parents and their ability to guide their children to adulthood. How one’s children behave reflects parental values and maturity. We worked hard to make sure Alex behaved in public places so all there could enjoy the experience.
- Respect All, Always. Listen. Compromise. Ken and I continually stress the importance of ‘listening’ as a skill. We work hard to model that to Alex, even to this day. Following close behind that is compromise.
Even as an only child, he was taught that he didn’t always get his way. Life doesn’t center around one person. It’s a give and take. Admittedly, this was sometimes challenging to teach because of his status. My thinking, as the only woman in our family of three, was that I was raising someone who may one day become a husband and father. These life lessons/skills are critical in those esteemed roles. Respect is another trait we value. Ken is especially good at role modeling equal respect for service workers and corporate executives. Referring to adults as Mr. and Miss, though some call this antiquated Southern etiquette, is applauded in our household. It’s an outward sign of respect. We value it.
- Work for What You Want. Ken and I differed on this concept often. Sticking to our parental core values on this topic was by far the hardest in raising Alex. I had to work for everything I’ve owned, even my education. We were in a position to offer Alex financial assistance with more than I received. He was very aware most of his peer group was given vehicles, allowances, vacations, spring break trips, etc. without working. At age 14 we required he get a part-time job. It taught time management, money management, work habits and how to get along with others in the workplace. I also knew it could teach him about how organizations were managed and places he’d like to work, or not work. I have no regrets about requiring he get a job. He’s had a job ever since. He’s also graduating debt free, which is to be celebrated.
- Appreciate What You Have and Receive. If you work for what you have, you appreciate it more. You have a better understanding of what it takes to get it and value it more too. Unfortunately, parts of South Carolina are quite poverty-stricken. Alex has seen those areas as well as been in third world countries. Our goal was to expose him to sites like this to develop an appreciation for what he has. Instilling the concept of appreciation and thanks has been drilled into him. He left home knowing a note of appreciation or thanks was expected when a gift or act of kindness was received. Not doing so would immediately stop future acts. It’s just that important in our house.
- Raise a Graceful Loser and a Humble Winner. I can still recall the feeling
and sights of Alex’s first soccer match at age four. He scored every goal. The team won. No, he didn’t take his jersey off and wave it above his head as he circled the grassy field. Instead, after each goal, he mildly accepted congratulations from teammates and got back to the business of playing the game. I was breathless. That level of maturity and composure as a competitor escaped me. I played to win and to celebrate the win. That day I learned from him. I learned the value of how to become a humble winner and a graceful loser.
The Child Spoke
I suspect this young mother who asked me “What is the secret to not raising a brat?” would get different responses from anyone she asked the same question to. I was curious about how Alex would answer. I sent off a text. His reply, “Let consequences happen instead of intervening.” Enough said.
How would you answer the question? Comment below.
Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.
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