Attitude: A Window in a Child’s Heart

Getting a job done is important, but what about when kids roll their eyes or mumble? Is a bad attitude inevitable? Sometimes parents excuse the attitude by saying, “At least he did what I asked.” Others use excuses like, “She’s tired,” or “He’s only eight” and ignore the attitudes they see.

Unfortunately, attitudes don’t typically get better if unaddressed. They get worse. If the heart is in the wrong place, a crisis is just around the corner. Some parents mistakenly ignore attitudes because their children comply. Kids need to learn how to respond well to the challenges of life even when they’re unhappy. We all need to do things we don’t want to do and respond positively even though we don’t feel like it.

Aspects of an Attitude

An attitude is more than just the behavior you see. Attitudes are heart issues that have developed from several factors including emotions and thinking errors. Emotions like frustration, disappointment, and anger, are complicated. Often the bad attitude you see in a child is just the tip of the iceberg with complicated and intense emotions swirling around just under the surface.

Thinking errors contribute to bad attitudes as well. Children may believe that just because they’re unhappy they have the right to display that misery to those around them. One child may believe that the workload he has is unreasonable. Another child may think that if his brother is being annoying, he has the right to punch him. These misperceptions about life lead to thinking errors that result in bad attitudes.

Part of our job as parents is to help children respond appropriately to emotions and to change what they believe about life. One of the ways you’ll do that is by challenging bad attitudes, since bad attitudes are the flag, indicating a heart problem.

Firmness Is One Part of the Solution

Can we put aside our own anger, and still be firm? The answer is yes. Yelling isn’t necessary, but firmness is – but firmness doesn’t mean harshness. You might calmly say, “Wait a minute. Stop right there. Don’t take the trash out yet. You need to sit down and think about your attitude. I know you have other things to do, and you’re disappointed that I asked you to help out, but you need to be willing to contribute to the family. So, sit down and think about it and come talk to me when you’re ready.” In this way you challenge a child’s thinking, and you check the emotional reaction to raise awareness of a poor response. Having the child take a break gives him or her the opportunity to settle down and change their heart.

Changing attitudes takes much time and work, so don’t give up. It’s best to sit down with a child at non-discipline times to talk about attitudes and how they affect the relational atmosphere in your home. When you begin to open dialogue with your child about attitudes, point out that attitudes make a statement even though they don’t usually have words. Attitudes are revealed in tone of voice, posture, grunts, sighs, and unkind looks.

Even if a child can’t form feelings into words at the moment, your brainstorming session often raises the awareness of non-verbal communication. You’re then helping your child to think about how to better communicate next time and understand that they are loved even when they need correction.

If you regularly talk to your child about attitudes and reflect on poor emotional responses by debriefing, then your child will likely begin to choose different responses. You might even discuss Scriptures together about people who had good attitudes compared to those who had bad attitudes. For example, Cain had a bad attitude toward correction, so God confronted him in Genesis 4:6-7 by saying, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Bad Attitudes Are a Heart Issue

The battle within is an important one for children to understand. Some kids have no idea what they’re wrestling with. They just freely express their emotions, and many times do it in hurtful ways. The reality is that mature and healthy people put limits on their reactions and choose to do what’s right instead.

Be careful that you don’t just correct for a bad attitude, but also look for ways to encourage a positive one. Offer praise for a good attitude under pressure by describing internal strength, not simply right actions.

It’s not hard to show joy or excitement when things are going well. But it’s a real sign of maturity for a child to demonstrate contentment or cooperation in the face of a challenging situation. As you work with your child in the attitude department, you’ll be training and equipping your child for life and letting them learn that correction is a gift.

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