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Attitude Makeover: Arrogant

Antidote: Humility, Graciousness, Modesty
"I'm so cool."
Dear Dr. Borba,
Our twelve year old is pretty bright and always has to let everyone know it. If anybody is wrong, look out: he can be merciless and really insulting about letting them know that he's right and they're wrong. I'm waiting for the day somebody just gets fed up and decks him. Is there any way to stop his know-it-all attitude? He's really turning into an arrogant little snob.

– Josh F., a father of two from Little Rock, Arkansas

He's such a "Know-It-All." "Might as well call her 'Little Miss Smarty Pants.'" "He's such a Little Snot." "What a Smart Aleck!" "She's turning into such a snob."

Could any of these terms describe your kid? If so, beware: no matter what variety of language, they are all labels for the same bad attitude: Arrogance. Warning: the attitude is spreading, and even the younger set is affected by the Big Brat Factor these days.

Arrogant kids have somehow acquired the notion that they are better than others, and they make sure everyone knows it. Their attitude has one goal: making sure the other guy clearly recognizes the message: "I'm better than you." And that also implies – at least in her mind – that everyone else is inferior, and that includes you. After all, if she is the Know-It-All, then you're the Know Nothing. We're talking plain arrogance, and it's anything but becoming. That's why kids with arrogant attitude are also self-centered, rude, competitive, and selfish (not to mention very unpopular with all those poor souls on the receiving end).

When kids are little, we may think it's cute when they volunteer all the answers or have a sarcastic comeback. The mistake is thinking they are clever, funny, or even "beyond their years." But beware: you're really dealing with the early stages of arrogance. If not put in her place, the young smart aleck can turn into an older arrogant know-it-all. The simplest cause is that we've mislabeled their smart-aleck attitude as clever or witty: in reality, there's really nothing cute or witty about it in the least. Their snide remarks and quick retorts are often pointed slams at another person or shameless attempts to get attention through laughs and being "cute."

There's another reason kids turn arrogant, and that's our fault as well. Our parental pride can take a turn when we begin showing them off by parading their talents. "Come on, Jenna, everyone wants to hear you sing." "Have we shown you Harold's latest report card?" Of course we're proud, but there's a hidden danger in flaunting our kids' talents: they assume that the world revolves solely around them and they are better than others. There's also the danger that our kids will begin to think they have to keep performing, keep showing off their talents, and keep being the clown to gain our love or approval.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not debating your child's intelligence, beauty, talent, or skills or doubting your pride in your offspring. She could well be a budding Einstein, the next Virginia Woolf, a young Wayne Gretsky, a future Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a potential Itzhak Perlman, or even the next Picasso or Frida Kahlo. And she may deserve recognition and acknowledgment for her strengths. But this issue is not about how bright your kid is; how good looking; how extraordinarily adroit her math, science, art talents; how proficient her soccer, violin, computer expertise; or how profound her beauty. Instead, it's all about her preoccupation of making sure everyone knows she's better than the other kids. Arrogant children's methods of letting others in on their superiority are usually quite tactless and always insensitive. After all, these children dwell on their own capabilities and are usually quite blind to those of others.

Certainly, no infant arrives diapered and arrogant. But somewhere growing up, these kids anointed themselves as the Better Ones. And there are many reasons. Unrealistic self-appraisals may have resulted from overly lavished parental pride (and usually with a blind eye to their kid's faults and behavior mishaps). Excellence in an area – academics, sports, music, the arts, or any other – may be such a prime commodity in these kids' homes that letting others in on those talents is valued. Or competition, one-upmanship, or winning at any cost (including the price of humility) may be the family mantra.

There always are deeper underlying causes to any bad attitude that often are overlooked. For instance, an arrogant child may attempt to make others think his ideas are better because deep down, he doesn't feel superior at all: in reality he feels inferior. But boasting or bragging is his way of trying to convince others of his talents. He might be jealous or resentful of other siblings or friends, so to get back he has to play the "I'm better than you" game. Or he may feel his relationship with you or his other parent is contingent on what he knows or does instead of who he is. So he is forever trying to prove himself to gain your love or approval. It could also be a reaction to a critical or negative parenting style.

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.

Next: Diagnosis >>

From Don't Give Me That Attitude by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2004 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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