The Obnoxious Child: When an “Audience” Makes Behavior Worse
Does your child’s behavior become more obnoxious, demanding and “smart-alecky” when he has an audience? Some kids just seem to “step up the show” as soon as their friends come over. You’ll see this happening with both kids who are occasionally out of line, and those who are obnoxious chronically.
Chronically obnoxious kids often have a hidden agenda. What that means is that you will see them putting other people down in order to feel better about themselves. Think of it this way: rude comments or jokes at the expense of someone else are like little power thrusts. It makes some kids feel powerful when they’ve made somebody else look stupid or incompetent—especially if that person is an adult.
Sometimes kids behave this way because they have problems dealing with others – perhaps they have a hard time with authority, for example, or some type of social anxiety. I’ve seen many kids who use this type of behavior because they’re feeling nervous or insecure. But remember, feeling anxious doesn’t give anyone the right to be mouthy, disrespectful or make fun of others in a mean way.
Whether your child is demanding and obnoxious occasionally or chronically, you have to let them know what they’re doing is not okay—your role is to teach, coach and guide them by setting limits and challenging their inappropriate behavior.
6 Ways to Turn Around Your Child’s Obnoxious Behavior
1. Prepare Your Child: If your child is regularly demanding and rude in front of others, I recommend that you have a talk with him about how he is expected to behave before you enter any social setting.
For example, let’s say your child wants to have some friends over to play video games. An hour or so before the other kids arrive, say to your child, “Look, if you get a little anxious or nervous today, I don’t want you to speak to me in a rude or sarcastic way. I want you to talk to me nicely; in fact, I’m not going to respond if you’re bossy or demanding. I’m going to pull you away from your friends and talk to you about it. If you do it a second time, I’ll correct you in front of them. And if the behavior continues, I will send you to your room—or send them home.”
Your goal here is to try to set the stage for good behavior. Let your child know ahead of time what will happen if he behaves inappropriately. This is like reading him the rules of the game before you start playing—now, you’re both aware of what will happen if he crosses the line.
2. Call Your Child Aside: If your child starts being disrespectful in front of his guests, call him over and say, “I don’t like how you’re behaving right now. I want you to talk to me nicely,” and then leave the room.
3. Correct Your Child Publicly: This is the last chance before your child is sent to his room for a time-out or his guests are sent home altogether. You can simply say, “Jacob, don’t talk to me that way just because Connor and Thomas are here. Remember we talked about that.” Again, walk away.
4. Stop the Show: If your child still isn’t able to control himself, you need to stop the show. Tell him that he needs to go to his room and that you’ll be up in a moment. Ask his friends to go sit in the living room. You’ll find that they will usually respond to your authority, no matter what your child is doing.
When you go up to your child’s room, challenge him on his behavior by saying: “What did you see down there that made you think it was okay to be demanding and make fun of me? What was going on?” Your child is probably going to give you some excuses—and try to blame you. At this point, you can say, “Blaming me isn’t the solution. The solution is to calm down, slow down, and talk to me respectfully. I want you to take five minutes in your room and come up with how you are going to talk to me for the rest of the time your friends are here. I’ll be right back.”
Putting a time of five minutes on it gives your child some time to calm down before you return. Because again, you’re just trying to help him get focused on how he should behave. When you go back to his room, simply have him tell you how he’s going to talk to you. Then say, “Fine, let’s go out and give it a try.”
That way, the pressure is on him. It’s his responsibility to behave himself in front of his friends. Of course, if you have younger children, you have to monitor and watch them more, but as they get older, remind them that their guests are their responsibility—which means they have to behave in such a way that accommodates your authority.
5. Discuss It Later: If your child has been rude, after his friends have gone, sit down and have a conversation with him about his behavior. You can say something like, “I noticed when your friends were here today you were acting bossy. Maybe that was because you were nervous or excited about having them here, but I want that behavior to stop.” At the end of the conversation, look for a response from your child. Follow up with, “I want you to talk to me more respectfully and be less bossy. Can you do that?” If your child agrees say, “Alright, so what am I asking you to do?” And let him repeat it back to you. He might say something like, “Be nice; don’t be bossy.” It’s okay if he doesn’t say it in your own words, as long as he understands what you expect from him.
6. Give Him a Consequence: If your child’s obnoxious behavior continues, don’t allow him to have any friends over for a week. Tell him, “If you talk respectfully to me for a week, you can have guests again.” So that way, he’s got to earn the privilege.
He should also tell you what he’s going to do differently next time. This forces your child to use his brain to come up with solutions. He might say something like, “I’ll say please, I’ll say thank you, I’ll say excuse me. I’ll use a nice tone.” Even if the answers he gives you are obvious, don’t worry about it—the important thing is that your child is coming up with better ways to respond to you in front of guests, and that’s what you want.
In fact, you’d be surprised how much impact this exercise can have on your child’s thought processes. It changes everything, because it gives your child options for the next time he’s about to say something obnoxious or make fun of you in front of others.
What If My Child is Obnoxious and Bossy with His Friends?
Parents often ask me about kids who are obnoxious and bossy with their friends. Personally, I think adults should stay out of interactions between kids, unless the rules are being violated—for example, if there is name-calling going on, or if someone is being physical or threatening. Part of a child’s development is to let them work out social interactions for themselves, and it’s important that we let them do so—no matter how much we want to jump in and referee at times.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t help your child afterward, when his friends have gone. As a parent, when you see your child being bossy or domineering with other kids, it’s time to take up the coaching role. The next time things are calm, say, “I’d like to tell you some things I saw the other day. I saw you picking on Connor a lot and making jokes about him. And even though he was laughing, I could see by the look on his face that he was hurt. You might not have noticed because you were goofing around, but I did. I also thought you were being a little bossy with your friends—you didn’t let them pick any of the video games you played.”
Your child is probably going to get defensive, but just say, “Listen, I’m not attacking you. I’m just telling you what I saw.” At this time, you can offer your help, as well—just put your hand out to him in a neutral way: “If you want to talk about better ways to get along with other kids, I’m here for you. We could try to come up with some different ideas together.” If your child doesn’t want to discuss it, you can say, “That’s OK. But I do want to tell you that it’s hard to keep friends when you act that way.”
Your goal here is to try to offer some guidance. Your child might not take you up on your suggestion right away, but he might eventually—especially if other children stop playing with him as a natural consequence of his behavior.
Obnoxious Behavior in Adolescents
I’d like to say a few words about teens and pre-teens here. It’s important for parents to understand that adolescents are embarrassed by their parents most of the time. In fact, most teenagers think their parents are embarrassing and corny, and they tend to want to compensate for that in front of their friends. Sometimes they act out their embarrassment by being bossy and putting you down. So I think you need to pre-warn them before any social gathering. If they are disrespectful or make you the butt of their jokes in front of others, correct them by saying. “Don’t put me down just because Eva’s here, Caitlin.” Then turn around and walk away. Don’t get into a big discussion or argument—instead, leave her holding the bag.
I think again, preparation is a big part of how we should do things. So prepare your teen or pre-teen ahead of time so that she knows how you’re going to react if she’s obnoxious or makes fun of you in a rude way. You can say, “I know your friends from the softball team are coming over today. I just want you to remember that when you’re in front of them, you need to respect me. That means you need to introduce me politely and not put me down. I know kids are embarrassed by their parents, but you’re going to have to deal with that and be respectful anyway.” Remember, our goal as parents is to help our kids solve the problem of how to behave— and that means in any situation. Look at it this way: if your child is obnoxious in front of others, it just means they haven’t solved the problem of how to behave appropriately in that particular social situation. Your job as a parent is to guide them and set limits so they learn how to treat you and others respectfully.