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B a d A t t i t u d e 1
“I’m so cool.”
Dear Dr. Borba,
Our twelve year old is pretty bright and always has to let everyone
know it. If anybody is wrong, look out: he can be merciless and
really insulting about letting them know that he’s right and they’re
wrong. I’m waiting for the day somebody just gets fed up and decks
him. Is there any way to stop his know-it-all attitude? He’s really
turning into an arrogant little snob.
—Josh F., a father of two from Little Rock, Arkansas
Bad Attitude Act Out
“I’m so pretty, Mommy, I’m going to be Miss America.”
“I knew that when I was ﬁve.”
“Get real. I’m the one here with the smarts.”
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E M E R G E N C Y AT T I T U D E
Immediately stop reinforcing, putting up with, or encourag-
ing your kid’s overinﬂated notions about himself, or about
you, or about your family. If you’ve been putting your younger
kid on center stage to parade her talents and beauty (so that
everyone “ooohs and ahhhs” her every breath), then cut it out!
If you’ve become a “praiseaholic” each and every time your
kid kicks a goal, says a funny joke, ties his shoelace, and swal-
lows, cease! If you’ve been tooting your horn about your fam-
ily’s status, fame, and fortune so when people see you they run,
call a halt. If you’ve been listening to your kid boasting and
bragging about her every little accomplishment and encour-
aging her to do so too, end it.Then pass your treatment on to
your spouse, siblings, relatives, and friends so they can apply
the same treatment as well.
To rein in older kids’ arrogance, confront them with
speciﬁc tasks that challenge their limits, even provide the
possibility of down right failure.You could put them in a dif-
ﬁcult situation with a tough job to do, and also expose them
to the true genius of someone who knows a lot more than
they do. Examples are cooking dinner for a soup kitchen;
sewing a quilt for the AIDS project; building a low-cost
house with Habitat for Humanity or a similar organization;
doing a daunting intellectual exercise with a math prodigy;
experiencing a rigorous outdoor experience such as Out-
ward Bound; or painting with a gifted artist. Choose an
activity designed to help your kid recognize his limits, and
create a rare humbling moment when he realizes he isn’t the
best in everything.
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He’s such a “Know-It-All.” “Might as well call her ‘Lit-
tle Miss Smarty Pants.’” “He’s such a Little Snot.” “What a
Smart Aleck!”“She’s turning into such a snob.”
Could any of these terms describe your kid? If so,
beware: no matter what variety of language, they are all labels
for the same bad attitude: Arrogance.Warning: the attitude is
spreading, and even the younger set is affected by the Big Brat
Factor these days.
Arrogant kids have somehow acquired the notion that
they are better than others, and they make sure everyone
knows it.Their attitude has one goal: making sure the other
guy clearly recognizes the message:“I’m better than you.”And
that also implies—at least in her mind—that everyone else is
inferior, and that includes you. After all, if she is the Know-It-
All, then you’re the Know Nothing.We’re talking plain arro-
gance, and it’s anything but becoming.That’s why kids with
arrogant attitude are also self-centered, rude, competitive, and
selﬁsh (not to mention very unpopular with all those poor
souls on the receiving end).
When kids are little, we may think it’s cute when they
volunteer all the answers or have a sarcastic comeback.The
mistake is thinking they are clever, funny, or even “beyond
their years.” But beware: you’re really dealing with the early
stages of arrogance. If not put in her place, the young smart
aleck can turn into an older arrogant know-it-all.The simplest
cause is that we’ve mislabeled their smart-aleck attitude as
clever or witty: in reality, there’s really nothing cute or witty
about it in the least.Their snide remarks and quick retorts are
often pointed slams at another person or shameless attempts
to get attention through laughs and being “cute.”
There’s another reason kids turn arrogant, and that’s our
fault as well. Our parental pride can take a turn when we
begin showing them off by parading their talents.“Come on,
Jenna, everyone wants to hear you sing.”“Have we shown you
Harold’s latest report card?” Of course we’re proud, but there’s
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a hidden danger in ﬂaunting our kids’ talents: they assume that
the world revolves solely around them and they are better than
others.There’s also the danger that our kids will begin to think
they have to keep performing, keep showing off their talents,
and keep being the clown to gain our love or approval.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not debating your child’s
intelligence, beauty, talent, or skills or doubting your pride in
your offspring. She could well be a budding Einstein, the next
Virginia Woolf, a young Wayne Gretsky, a future Jackie Joyner-
Kersee, a potential Itzhak Perlman, or even the next Picasso or
Frida Kahlo. And she may deserve recognition and acknowl-
edgment for her strengths. But this issue is not about how
bright your kid is; how good looking; how extraordinarily
adroit her math, science, art talents; how proﬁcient her soccer,
violin, computer expertise; or how profound her beauty.
Instead, it’s all about her preoccupation of making sure every-
one knows she’s better than the other kids.Arrogant children’s
methods of letting others in on their superiority are usually
quite tactless and always insensitive. After all, these children
dwell on their own capabilities and are usually quite blind to
those of others.
Certainly, no infant arrives diapered and arrogant. But
somewhere growing up, these kids anointed themselves as the
Better Ones. And there are many reasons. Unrealistic self-
appraisals may have resulted from overly lavished parental pride
(and usually with a blind eye to their kid’s faults and behavior
mishaps). Excellence in an area—academics, sports, music, the
arts, or any other—may be such a prime commodity in these
kids’ homes that letting others in on those talents is valued. Or
competition, one-upmanship, or winning at any cost (includ-
ing the price of humility) may be the family mantra.
There always are deeper underlying causes to any bad
attitude that often are overlooked. For instance, an arrogant
child may attempt to make others think his ideas are better
because deep down, he doesn’t feel superior at all: in reality he
feels inferior. But boasting or bragging is his way of trying to
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convince others of his talents. He might be jealous or resent-
ful of other siblings or friends, so to get back he has to play
the “I’m better than you” game. Or he may feel his relation-
ship with you or his other parent is contingent on what he
knows or does instead of who he is. So he is forever trying to
prove himself to gain your love or approval. It could also be a
reaction to a critical or negative parenting style.
Whatever the cause, make no mistake: if this arrogant
attitude continues, it can have deadly consequences. No
teacher, coach, scout leader, or other child’s parent appreciates
a kid with an “I’m superior” attitude. Besides that, what peer
wants to be around another kid who tries to make him feel
inferior? That’s why all too many arrogant children have such
dismal social lives.What any arrogant kid desperately needs is
a strong helping of humble pie, so make sure you give him a
big piece soon. Make sure you teach him humility, gracious-
ness, and modesty to replace the arrogance that will prevent
good character and ultimate fulﬁllment.
BAD ATTITUDE ALERT
Before you attempt to stop your kid’s arrogant, “superior”
ways, you need to consider where, why, and how this attitude
These questions will help you better understand why your
child is using an arrogant attitude and ﬁgure out what’s going
Why. Why is your kid arrogant? Think carefully about what
may have caused him to have such a high opinion of him-
self—or might he be compensating for something he lacks?
Does he really have something to feel superior about? Is he
gifted in the area he professes to be so knowledgeable about?
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And what makes him feel he is so superior? Are you praising
and acknowledging that expertise so much that he sees only
his strengths and overlooks his weaknesses? Is an arrogant atti-
tude something that is valued in your home? Or are you being
too negative and critical, provoking this defensive reaction, this
compensation for your withering attacks? Does he see others
bragging unduly about their strengths, and so he is modeling
their attitude? Or might it be that he is really trying to com-
pensate for feelings of inadequacy? Another thing to consider:
does he hear you bragging about his “brilliance” to others, and
so he feels he needs to provide you with more things to brag
about? Why did he develop such a know-it-all spirit?
What. Are there particular things he is more arrogant
about? Is there a special subject or area of expertise that he
tends to be more boastful toward—such as math, science, or
vocabulary? If so, what is it? Is there a skill or talent he is
more prone to show off: hockey, ﬂute, weight lifting, or
Who. Does he display the same arrogant attitude to every-
one: friends, the neighbor kids, teammates, a coach, a teacher,
relatives, siblings, you, or your partner? Are there some indi-
viduals he does not use his know-it-all ways on? For instance:
all relatives or some; all friends or just some? All his teammates
or just some? Why are some spared dealing with this attitude?
When. Is there a particular time of day, week, month, or year
when he is more arrogant? Is there a reason? For instance, if it
is at a particular time, could something—such as a musical
recital, spelling bee competition, athletic tournament, school
debate, or report cards—be coinciding? Also, about when did
you ﬁrst see signs of this attitude? Was there anything hap-
pening at the same time that might have triggered his know-
it-all ways: a move, an overly competitive school, a pushy
relative, a certain teacher?
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Where. Are there certain places he is more likely to be arro-
gant: at school or day care, on an athletic ﬁeld, with peers, at
a musical concert, at home, at a store, at Grandma’s? Why? Or
is he arrogant every place and everywhere?
Now take a look at your answers. Are you seeing any
predictable patterns? Do you have any better understanding
of your kid’s arrogant attitude and where it’s coming from?
WITH YOUR CURRENT RESPONSE?
Your kid is right in front of you, and her arrogant, know-it-all
ways are ﬂying full colors. How do you typically respond? Do
you reinforce her professions of greatness by agreeing with
her? Do you encourage her by reminding her of other talents
she has overlooked? Are you cheering her know-it-all ways
because you feel it is a sign of high self-esteem?
If you don’t approve of her arrogant attitude, what do
you do (or do you do anything?)? For instance, do you let
her know you don’t approve by giving her one of your
sternest looks? Yell? Lecture? Shrug? Remove a privilege?
Raise your eyebrows? Do you ignore her attitude and hope
it will go away by itself? Or do you let her know that she
really doesn’t have anything to be so proud of? Do you crit-
icize? Humiliate? Compare her professed talent to that of some-
one else, such as a sibling, your partner, her peers, or even
What is the one response you have found does not work
in stopping her arrogant ways? Write what you will never do
from this moment forward:
I will not ________________________________________
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FACING YOUR OWN BAD ATTITUDES
Where is your kid learning this attitude? Could it be from you
or your partner? Tune into your attitude and that of those
close to your child, and look for clues. It may help you dis-
cover what’s triggering your kid’s arrogance.
First, look at your own attitude, and think about the kind
of example you are sending. For instance, do you brag fre-
quently about your accomplishments or talents in front of
your kids? Do they hear you boasting about yourself to your
partner, relatives, or spouse? What about your spouse or rela-
tives? Do they display this attitude?
What do your kids perceive you value more: personal
character or personal achievements? Is your attitude in line
with those values? Do you emphasize your family’s social,
ﬁnancial, or professional status to your kids? Do you (and they)
have the view that your family is somehow “better” than other
families? Do you stress personal accomplishments, grades, ath-
letic prowess, and test results so much to your kids that they
might perceive they need to prove themselves in order to gain
your love? How competitive are you about your kids and fam-
ily? For instance, how important is it for your kids to be “bet-
ter” than your friends’ kids? Do you openly compare your
kids’ performance, grades, or capabilities to those of their
classmates, cousins, neighbors, or friends?
What are your beliefs about how children acquire self-
esteem? For instance, do you feel it is more a matter of nature
or your nurture? Is self-esteem contingent on a child’s per-
sonal accomplishments or a parent’s acceptance, or both? Do
you feel that arrogance is a sign of high, medium, or low self-
esteem? Do you feel criticism lowers your child’s self-esteem?
Do you criticize your child’s poor behavior or attitude? If so,
how? If not, why? Might your response have anything to do
with your child’s arrogant attitude?
Is there anything in your own attitude that might be
enhancing your kid’s arrogance? If so, what is it? What is the
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ﬁrst step you need to take in yourself to be a better example
of humility to your child?
I will ___________________________________________
BAD ATTITUDE NEWS ALERT
A famous study found that nine of
ten adults felt that as they were grow-
ing up, they had to display a high skill,
talent, or special ability in order to gain their parents’
love. Might your child be in this category? If so, it
could very well be a reason for his know-it-all ways.
Researchers also found that the need to demonstrate
competencies learned in childhood remains a pattern
well into adulthood.This time, though, the adult uses
his profession as a means of gaining approval and acco-
lades from loved ones. Once again, instead of feeling a
sense of quiet, inner conﬁdence in his talents and
strengths, he must toot his horn and demonstrate them
to others for approval. If this is the case, he is at high
risk for developing anxiety, low self-esteem, and the
fear of disappointment. Make sure your child knows
that your love is based on just who he is—and not on
that gold star, goal, SAT score, or great grade.
THE “DON’T GIVE ME THAT ATTITUDE”
To eliminate your child’s arrogant bad attitude, take the fol-
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Step 1. Uncover the Source
Here are some common reasons that your child may be so
arrogant. Check off those that might pertain to your situation:
□ She may feel the need to show off her talents, skills, or
intelligence. Have you set a precedent in which your kids
display their talents to friends, relatives, or one another?
□ She may be jealous or resentful. Do you favor one
child, or does she feel that you do? Do you compare
her capabilities—academic, social, aesthetic, or ath-
letic—to those of classmates, peers, neighborhood kids,
cousins, or your friend’s kids?
□ She may need attention or want to improve her social
status. Does she feel the way to make friends is by
“impressing” them? Does she lack social skills to ﬁnd
friends who accept her for herself?
□ She may feel that this is the way to gain your approval.
Do you emphasize the concept of “what did you get?”
(grades,“gold stars,” goals, scores) to your kid? Do you
reinforce or reward (such as with money or privileges)
your child’s performance?
□ She may feel “privileged” or “above others.” Do you
stress your family’s status—ﬁnancial, social, educational,
professional—as being better than others?
□ She may be self-centered. Have you made your child
feel as though no one is as intelligent, talented, or
capable as she is?
□ She may feel inadequate. Is she trying to prove her
capabilities to others because deep down she feels not
□ She models what she hears. Does she hear other family
members boasting and mimic them?
□ She may be competitive. Is competition to be the best
a priority in your house, and so she feels the need to
prove she meets your expectations?
Twenty-Four Attitude Makeovers