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Attitude Makeover: Judgmental

Antidote: Tolerance, Fairness, Compassion
"You're stupid!"
Dear Dr. Borba,
My ten year old is so judgmental that I'm starting to be concerned. He's constantly putting others down with critical comments like, "You're such a dummy," or "Can't you do anything right?" His brothers don't want to be around him; who knows when he'll start doing the same to his friends? I'm hoping you can tell me how to turn his attitude around (or if it's even possible to do so). I'm even wondering if something else is going on that's making him so difficult.

– Joan R., a mom of three from Little Rock, Arkansas

"Books suck." "You're a dummy." "She needs a brain transplant." Judgmental kids tend to find only the inadequacies in themselves and others, and put everything and everyone down. Beneath their judgmental attitudes can be arrogance, a feeling of inadequacy, hostility, anger, or resentment. They are hypercritical and enormously frustrating, and can turn almost any event into "not fun" for one and all. Although negative attitudes used to be confined to the middle school set, even younger kids are now adopting them and can be part of the Big Brat Factor.

Make no mistake: this attitude is also rude and self-centered. That's because judgmental kids don't usually care how their criticism affects others. They are concerned only about their sense of superiority or inferiority, and their opinions, and they make sure everyone knows.

Keep in mind that kids aren't born critical: research clearly shows this attitude is learned. And today's culture bombards our youth with negative messages. Need evidence? Tune into popular musical lyrics, and notice how often you hear criticism and despair. Eavesdrop on kids' conversations, and count the number of negative comments you hear. Listen to TV sitcoms and hear the steady onslaught of put-downs. Is it any wonder that many kids are negative?

Granted, changing negative ways isn't easy, but left unchecked, this attitude will seep slowly and steadily into every arena of kids' lives and often serves to derail them from developing solid character. Judgmental attitudes are contagious and can spread quickly throughout your household. What your child needs is to replace these bad attitudes with the virtues of tolerance, fairness, and compassion. The time to start this attitude makeover is now!

Emergency Attitude
Stifle your own judgmental or critical comments. It's okay for parents to be teachers and guides, but that doesn't give you a license to condemn your kids' activities, trash their choice of friends, or dismiss their opinions. So stop making those sarcastic comments, critical observations, and barbed remarks. This kind of negative attitude can quickly become a household epidemic. Remember that quick and nasty judgments can sting and really cause emotional damage. You're the model for demonstrating constructive criticism, so start tuning into what you're saying so you can model and pass on a less judgmental attitude right away.

Bad Attitude Alert
The key to unlocking your child's judgmental mind-set is discovering it's true source. So check out the diagnosis process below and follow it step-by-step.

You can develop a specific plan to help change your kid's judgmental attitude by answering these Five W's of Attitude Awareness.

Why. What is your best guess as to why your kid is so critical? Is he mimicking the attitude of others in the family? Looking for attention? Seeking to provoke a reaction? Wanting revenge? Overexposed to negative messages? Think what might be provoking his judgmental attitude. Next, eliminate more serious causes. For instance, could your child be anxious about something or suffering from low self-esteem? Talk to other adults who know your child well. Ask them if they think any of these factors could be provoking negativity.

What. Is there any particular thing your child expresses negativity about? Is there a pattern? For instance, is he more negative when it comes to schoolwork? Any particular subject? A teacher? A sport?

Who. Who are the primary recipients of his negative barbs: a sibling, cousin, friend, teacher, coach, babysitter? You? Why? Are there some individuals he does not use his negative ways on? If so, who? Why not? Are there particular situations or people who cause the negative behavior to flare up? Or is he mostly negative toward himself? Why?

When. When did the attitude start? Were there any new events that happened around the same time – a new teacher, school difficulties, relationship frictions, a hectic schedule, a family change – that might have triggered the attitude? Are there times of the day or circumstances where you don't see negativity? Why or why not? Write down any patterns you notice.

Where. Are there certain places he is more likely to be negative (at school, home, the store, Grandma's)? Why? Are there particular situations or places that cause the attitude to flare up?

Now take a look at your answers. Are you seeing any predictable patterns? Do you have any better understanding of your kid's judgmental attitude and where it's coming from?


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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