Taming Your Kid's Demanding Attitude in Six Simple Steps

by Michele Borba, Ed.D.

"Take me now, Daddy? You're just sitting there."
"Mooommm. I need to use the phone. Hang up!"

Sound familiar? Demanding kids want things to go their way, and they want it now. And can these little critters wear you out. Keep in mind these kids have one objective: to have their needs and issues met.

Our biggest mistake is giving in. Sure, it's easier, but if we continue this pattern our kids will turn into demanding adults only concerned about their needs and feelings. That's why we have to tame their attitude pronto, so the really essential character traits of tact, tranquility, and consideration will have room to grow. Here are five steps to help you tame your kid's demanding ways.

Step 1. Get to the Bottom of It
Just why is your kid so demanding? Sure, the answer may be because he's used to getting his way, but there could be other factors. And here are some typical reasons why your child may be so demanding. Do any apply to your situation? Have you been distracted by work or other issues in your so he feels he needs attention? Does he feel you favor another sibling? Does he feel he needs certain possessions to keep up status among his peers? Does he not know how to ask for something in a reasonable way? Have you taught him a courteous way to express his needs? Might he feel that no one ever listens to him and the only way he can get your attention is by nagging or whining? Identifying the specific source of your kid's demanding attitude will help in turning it around.

Step 2. State Your New Attitude Expectation
Tell your kid that his demanding, pushy, self-centered, "I want it and I want it now" behavior will no longer be tolerated. Explain in no uncertain terms that while it's okay to want something, he may not use a demanding voice to express his feelings. He must ask nicely and respectfully. Walk away, and go about your business until he asks nicely. As long as he keeps demanding, keep walking. WARNING: Once you set this standard, you must not back down. Your kid needs to know you mean business or he will never learn a new more considerate attitude.

Step 3. Don't Be Afraid to Say No
The only way your child will realize that the world does not revolve around him and all his desires will not be met, is by setting limits that reduce his expectations. Decide now what your limits are and what is unacceptable, then no matter how demanding, annoying, and obnoxious his behavior, do not give in when he crosses your line. It's the surest way for him to learn that demanding more than he deserves won't work. So don't let him win. Make sure you also spread your message to all other immediate caregivers in your kids' life. The more you are on board together with your new response, the faster you will be in squelching this attitude.

Step 4. Teach the Difference Between Needs and Wants It is sometimes helpful to teach your kids the difference between "need" (a necessity) and "want" (not essential). Needs: signing the form for tomorrow's field trip; getting to soccer practice on time; Wants: extra money to purchase a CD; a cookie before dinner; telling mom to get off the phone now to call a friend. Once they know the difference, you answer only demands that are asked in a respectful, polite tone and only ones that are true needs.

Step 5. Demand A Courteous Voice
Many kids have learned to be demanding because they don't know how to state their needs any other way. Their voice tones are usually loud, whining, or darn right irritating. So teach a more acceptable tone to use. Then have him practice the new tone by repeating it back to you. Listen to how a nice voice sounds when I want something. Then you make your voice sound like mine." "No, before you interrupt anyone you say, "Excuse me." Try your request again, please."

Step 6. Boost Empathy and Sensitivity
Demanding kids rarely consider the other person's feelings: they only consider their own agenda. They also can be completely oblivious to how inconsiderate their demands are. What they must learn is to think about the other person's feelings and needs. Here are three ways.

  1. Switch roles. So ask your kid imagine being the other kid. "Pretend you were your guest. You come to the house wanting to play but you are never get to choose the videogame or make any decisions. How do you feel? Would you want to come back? What can you do next time to make things more enjoyable for your friend?"
  2. Gain a new perspective. The next time your kid barrels ahead with his demands, make her stop and think about how the recipient is feeling. "You be me right now. How would you feel when you're talked to like that? Would you want to agree to those demands?"
  3. Imagine the other person. "Did you notice Dad was resting? Do you think he appreciated you interrupting him right then? Pretend you are dad. Tell me about his day. Now imagine you are him and you just came home after a day like that. How would you feel if your son woke you up and demanded help him with his homework? Tell me. So when would have been a better time to ask him to help you with your project?"

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.