by Elaine Stone
Setting - Late Afternoon, Sophie's Living Room - Sophie, eleven-years-old, is returning after an afternoon with friend, Melissa. Sophie enters (looking forlorn).
Mother: "Hey Soph, glad you're home. Did you have a nice time at Melissa's?"
Sophie (hesitantly): "I guess."
Mother (concerned): "Soph, what's wrong? I thought you loved spending time with Melissa."
Sophie: "She's one of my best friends, but lately...I don't know."
Mother: "What Soph, do you want to talk about it? What's bothering you?"
Sophie and Mom sit on the couch.
Sophie (hurt): "Well, it seems all Melissa wants to talk about is herself. She wants to show me all her "fabulous" clothes. She tells me about all the time she spends with our friend Kate and how they are "best buds". She tells me about her fantastic grades and how she is the best in her class at "this and that". I don't know Mom, it feels like she wants me to be jealous or that she is trying to convince me how great she is. I don't know what to do. It doesn't feel very fun to hang out with her anymore."
Mother: "Is this something new?"
Sophie: "No, it's happened before, but Melissa has been my friend since I was a preschool girl. I want to be her friend and I want to like her. It seems like I always have, but it seems like she is bragging more than ever. I feel like she has me over, just so she can show off all her "latest and greatest" things and achievements. It makes me feel bad."
Mother: "Does it make you feel like she is better than you?"
Sophie: "No, but, I feel like she wants me to think that. It's like she wants to feel more important than me. What happened to the times we just did things together and had a great time? I miss that."
Mother: "Well, Sophie, relationships do change over time. Put your things away, dinner is ready. We'll have a nice long chat after dinner and see if I can shed a little light on what may be going on with Melissa."
Sophie picks up her overnight bag and nods her head.
Sophie's dilemma can happen in any living room. Children age and along the way pick up habits and practices that make them different than before. Sophie's problem happens to many. Kids are applauded, as preschoolers. They walk, cheers erupt. They use the potty, call the relatives. They learn a cartwheel, parents show it off (to anyone who will watch). Preschool years are filled with parental bragging. According to Dr. Marvin Berkowitz, a professor of character education, author of Parenting for Good, boasting among preschoolers is healthy. "One of the most important tasks for a child is to develop a sense of herself as a causal agent -- that she is successful and can make things happen." (http://www.thecutekid.com/parenting/bragging-showing-off.php, accessed Feb. 2010) "Kids this age need to feel secure, so that when they come across other people who are better at certain things, they'll still feel good about themselves," says Vicki Panaccione, PhD, a child psychologist and founder of Better Parenting Institute, Melbourne, Florida. "In fact, boosting a toddler's self-esteem can make her less likely to be boastful later on." (http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/social/brag-proof-your-child/?page=1, accessed Feb. 2010)
"By the time kids reach grade school, they've acquired multiple skills," says Javier Aceves, M.D., assoc. professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico. "It's natural for them to be proud of these achievements." But this is also an age when children take stock of themselves -- and their family and possessions -- to figure out where they fit in: Are they stronger, richer, tougher, luckier? (http://www.parenting.com/article/Toddler/Development/Boast-Busters, accessed Feb. 2010) And, the comparisons begin. And often, bragging takes an unhealthy turn. For some children, it is an innate competition gene that drives it. All of life is a competition and they want to win. But, for other children, insecurities breed bragging. They don't feel they measure up in some way: by pointing out their achievements, clothes, house, friends, etc. they think they gain status. For still others, it is a glorified self-image (conceit) that propels the bragging. This is a child who has become egocentric and all of life is about him. What's wrong with making your kid feel good about himself? Diane Ehrensaft, PhD, author of Spoiling Childhood says, "The problem is that it's very easy to go overboard. If you're constantly letting your child know how great he is, he'll develop an unrealistically high regard for his abilities -- and an ego that might make him insensitive to other people's feelings (not to mention unpopular)." (http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/social/brag-proof-your-child/?page=1, accessed Feb. 2010)
Setting - Evening, Sophie's bedroom. Sophie and her Mom are sitting on the bed.
Mother: "Ok, Soph, let's get back to our discussion. You are telling me that Melissa's bragging has gotten to the point of you feeling uncomfortable?"
Sophie (perplexed): "Yeah, I'm not even sure I want to spend time with her anymore. She never seems to want to talk about anything but herself."
Mother (caring): "Sophie, you and Melissa have been friends a long time. Maybe, you could work on a few things before you give up on Melissa. Maybe, she is bragging because she needs to know you will like her, no matter what. You both go to different schools, so maybe, some of her school friends only care about clothes, grades, how big your house is, who your friends are, etc. Maybe, bragging has become a habit to keep up with her friends. Do you see what I mean?"
Sophie: "I know some girls at my school like that. I just didn't think Melissa would be one of those. She ought to know me better than that."
Mother: "Soph, we are all capable of trying to gain people's approval. Sometimes, I do things because I like pleasing you. It's not always bad, but it can take an unhealthy turn. Think how it makes Melissa feel; always trying to look better, perform better, be better, than everyone else. That is a difficult road to travel. It would be exhausting, not to mention, impossible. There is always someone somewhere who does it better than you. You could be the one to let her know that you like her for being her; not for what she has or accomplishes. Next time, she starts to brag about her clothes, say something like, "Melissa you always look nice. I don't care what you wear, you could live in sweats and T shirt and I would still like you."
Sophie: "Thanks Mom, I think I understand a little better."
Mother: "Soph, her bragging may not be intended to make you look bad, just make her look better. So, don't take it personal. Don't let it make you feel bad, let it make you think about how she is feeling, to feel like she has to say those things. Let her know she is important to you and, if the time comes, you may have the opportunity to tell her how it makes you feel when she brags. But, take one step at a time, and see if your friendship can get through this."
Sophie: "Thanks Mom, I do love being friends with Melissa. We have shared so much and have had so much fun in the past. I am going to try and see what happens."
Mother: "Sophie, I am so proud of you. Caring about people is not always easy and takes a lot of understanding. Maybe some of your thoughtfulness to Melissa will rub off on her...oh.... I think I may be bragging on you. (smiling)"
What to do with a Bragging Child?
By Tulum Dothee
The trick here is to foster healthy competition that motivates us to do our best and excel in our personal efforts. Encourage your son (or daughter) to compete with himself. Graph his efforts and focus on his bettering HIS record, not someone else's.
Most of us, no matter our age, go around with our internal comparison meter going full blast. We constantly evaluate ourselves in regards to others and gauge the results, "better than, lesser than..." This is a great opportunity for your entire family to clean up their act.
1. Name it. "Oh I just played the "better than" game. Explain what it means. "In my head I just compared myself to ____ and decided I am "better than" him.
2. Discuss how it feels to us. "I have to admit that I like it when I feel better than someone else!" Remember that admitting that we do something AND looking at what we gain from it is the first step to changing a behavior.
3. Discuss how it feels to the other person when we make a comment about us being better than them.
"Hmm, if I tell ____ that I am better at ___ than them, it is the same as saying "This means you are not as good at _____ as me. It probably hurts ____feelings."
The web gets tangled because most of us can't separate what we do from who we are so when we are compared and come out "lesser than" we translate this into "It's not just that I can't do ___as well as ___. It's that I AM NOT AS GOOD AS ____." That's where the toxicity comes in.
Bottom Line: It's not just about us. If we are verbalizing our "better-than-ness" we do so at someone else's expense.
Stop. Your young child is right in the middle of developing his logical thinking and social awareness. It is time for him to get the bigger picture.
4. Problem-solve about how you can look at things differently AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, verbalize things in a way that acknowledges personal success without taking away from other's efforts.
"Wow, I just beat my record by 1 second. Let's check if you beat your time!"
5. Apologize and make amends for the times you mess up. It's a given that you will.
Modeling grace and dignity under the pressure of making a mistake will serve your son a great deal more than the brief rush of seeming better than someone, or worse, denying that you or he did it.
6. Celebrate the times you and he get it right!
(http://ezinearticles.com/?Help,-My-Young-Son-Wont-Stop-Bragging!&id=977298, accessed Feb. 2010)
The Bragging Antidote
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, graciousness, and modesty to replace the arrogance that will prevent good character and ultimate fulfillment. (http://life.familyeducation.com/behavioral-problems/parenting/36010.html, accessed Feb. 2010)
Humility is the antidote to pride, which the author C. S. Lewis once damned as the "greatest sin", the vice that leads to every other vice. "There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves," he wrote last century.
Lewis also wrote that, unlike other vices, pride was intrinsically competitive, getting "no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man". He described it as a "spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love or contentment or even common sense". (http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/miranda-devine/humility-our-vanquished-virtue/2008/09/24/1222217328466.html, accessed Feb. 2010)