Ending Arrogance

by Michele Borba

Antidote: Humility, Graciousness, Modesty

Before you attempt to stop your kid's arrogant, "superior" ways, you need to consider where, why, and how this attitude evolved.


These questions will help you better understand why your child is using an arrogant attitude and figure out what's going on.

Why is your kid arrogant? Think carefully about what may have caused him to have such a high opinion of himself -- 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?

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 attitude 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 compensate 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?

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 horseback riding?

Does he display the same arrogant attitude to everyone: friends, the neighbor kids, teammates, a coach, a teacher, relatives, siblings, you, or your partner? Are there some individuals 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?

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 happening 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?

Are there certain places he is more likely to be arrogant: 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?

What's wrong 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 criticize? Humiliate? Compare her professed talent to that of someone else, such as a sibling, your partner, her peers, or even yourself?

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 ________________________________________

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 discover 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 frequently 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 relatives? 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, athletic 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 family? For instance, how important is it for your kids to be "better" 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 personal 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 first step you need to take in yourself to be a better example of humility to your child?

I will ___________________________________________

The "Don't give me that attitude" makeover

To eliminate your child's arrogant bad attitude, take the following steps.

A famous study found that nine of ten adults felt that as they were growing 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 accolades 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.

Twenty-Four Attitude Makeovers

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 athletic -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, and 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 good enough?
  • 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?

Identifying the specific reasons for your child's arrogant attitude will aid tremendously in changing it.

Step 2. Point Out Others' Reactions
A big part of changing any habit is for the offender to realize why he should change, and that's a problem with kids. They often have used the attitude so long that they're unaware that arrogance is a real turn-off and doesn't win them any points from friends, teammates, or adults. Help your child recognize how others react to his know-it-all superior ways. Here are a few examples of how you might do so with your child:

  • Ask: How would you feel? "Sam came over to play, but you spent a lot of time walking him around the house and telling him how much bigger our house is than his. How do you think he feels? Do you think he'd like to come and play with you again?"
  • Point out nonverbal reactions. "Did you see Kevin smirk when you talked about all your trophies?" "Sara rolled her eyes when you told her Dad makes more money than her dad. Did you notice?"
  • Role-play the other side. "I heard you bet Meredith that you were smarter in math than she is and showed your report cards. Pretend you are Meredith. What do you think she'd like to say to you?"

Step 3. Emphasize Character, Not Performance
The point is to judge others not on what they have done but based on who they are. That means you need to stress character, not performance. Start with your child, but because modeling is such an important way kids learn, do it also with your whole family. That way you will be more likely to really walk your talk. Here are some ways to emphasize to your kid that in the end, it's his character that matters most:

  • Stop rewarding; just expect and accept. Stop bribing or rewarding your kid's efforts. The best self-esteem is internalized: your child must gain a sense of pride that he accomplished something for the joy of doing it and did it on his own. Also, find a level of expectation that is appropriate for each child's specific ability, temperament, and level of development. Some kids just do better than others at certain things during certain times.
  • Halt the "parading." I know you're proud, but stop putting your kid on center stage to always perform. It's all right on the soccer field or in a musical concert, but lower the curtains in your home.
  • Emphasize effort, not the product. Put your acknowledgments into the little steps and efforts your child makes, not the final result.
  • Stress unconditional love. Continually emphasize to your child, "Who you are is what matters most. Not your grades, test scores, appearance, or friends. Win or lose-you are who I love."

Step 4. Acknowledge Others
Arrogant kids often focus on their own strengths and overlook those of others, so a big part of tempering your kid's arrogance is to help him recognize the accomplishments and achievements of others. Here are a few strategies to help your child start looking for the greatness in others and acknowledge it:

  • Greet others. The most basic form of acknowledgment is a simple "Hello,""Good morning," or "How are you?" Promote their use by your child. Though they seem like such minimal gestures, simple salutations are the first steps toward helping kids become more tuned into others and less tuned into themselves.
  • Encourage encouragement. Tell your child that one of the secrets of people who are appreciated (as well as liked) by others is that they frequently encourage others. An arrogant kid may not be aware of supportive, encouraging statements that focus on building others up (instead of themselves), so brainstorm a few together: "Nice try!" "Super!" "Great job!" "Good game!" You might even post a list as a reminder. Then say the encouragers frequently so your child will "catch them" and then encourage her to start using them with peers.
  • Enforce the 1 X 7 Rule. Encourage your child to praise a person's specific strengths, skills, or talent at least once a day, every day for a week. It could be a family member, friend, or stranger just as long as your child practices the art of praising someone other than herself. Be sure to help your kid recognize the kinds of traits that can be praised, so model a few examples: "Great kick!" "You're quite an artist." "You sure know a lot about history!" At the end of the day, ask your child who she praised and how the recipient responded. Hint: This is also a great activity to do as a family: because everyone is on board using the same 1X7 Rule, there are more examples for your child to learn from.

Step 5. Reinforce Authentic Self-Esteem and Humility
Reinforce your child's humility as soon as it happens, and let her know how pleased it makes you feel. Remember that true self-esteem is a quiet, inner contentment in which the child doesn't feel compelled to let others know of her accomplishments and accolades. Nor does she feel the urge to compare herself to others or put the other guy down. Here are some examples:

"Jessica, I know how proud you must feel about your grades. I'm proud of how hard you worked. I also appreciate that you just told Dad and me and didn't call all your friends this time." "Jeremy, I heard how you commented on how much more Dr. Hallowell knows than you do about migrating butterflies. I remember when you claimed to be the world's foremost authority.".

Michele Borba, Ed.D., is an internationally renowned educator recognized for her practical, solution-based parenting strategies to strengthen child's behavior, self-esteem, moral development, and build strong families. She is a sought-after motivational speaker an educational consultant to hundreds of schools. Dr. Borba frequently appears as a guest expert on television and radio. She has been interviewed by numerous publications and serves as an advisory board member for Parents magazine and for the U.S. Board of Education.

Dr. Borba's is the author of nineteen books including No More Misbehavin': 38 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them; Building Moral Intelligence, cited by Publishers' Weekly as "among the most noteworthy of 2001"; Parents Do Make A Difference, selected by Child Magazine as "Outstanding Parenting Book of 1999,"; and Esteem Builders, used by 1.5 million students worldwide. Her latest book is Don't Give Me that Attitude!: 24 Selfish, Rude Behaviors and How to Stop Them. Dr. Borba is a former teacher and partner in a private practice for troubled youth. She lives in Palm Springs, Ca with her husband and three sons.

Copyright © Michele Borba. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.