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Attitude (def): Often a parent’s worst nightmare. Evidence of an “attitude” begins as early as 2 years of age and remains intact through ages 16 to 17 frequently manifesting when a child or adolescent is feeling thwarted, is in a bad mood, tired, or when interrupted of refrained from an activity of their choice. Many parents become angry and intolerant of their child’s “tood” and insist that it change or alter, earlier rather than later, but find that demanding such change is not immediate and in fact, the demand frequently intensifies the condition creating even more tension around the house.
Although annoying and frustrating, the development of an attitude is in actuality a developmental achievement. In other words, despite the annoyance, frustration, sense of disrespect, and disruption in the household that a “fresh” adolescent or a “brave” toddler can create, the child or adolescent is actually trying to demonstrate two opposed positions simultaneously: 1) a desire for independence and, 2) an attempt to prevent a fear of dependency on parents. Such conflicting internal conflicts, which are not conscious, produce at times an “attitude” which is an attempt to protect the child from feeling vulnerable. In order to develop the “tood”, the child has actually progressed developmentally and is not merely being difficult.
The observation of “tood”, is most evident at three times in a child’s development: between the ages of 2 to 4 (aka: The Terrible Twos); 6 to 8; and once again from 12-15. These particular times are when the child is shifting through what is termed the Separation-Individuation Phase of development, which are normal shifts representing psychological change which is actually needed for the individual to eventually become a healthy late adolescent and later adult. However, most parents do not understand both the “healthy” function of “attitude” and how best to deal with it when it becomes too intense or compromising to the child or adolescent.
The first step for the parent is to understand the normality and function of “attitude”, namely that it is a good, rather than bad sign. This advent in itself will both help the parent feel better and also lessen the intensity between them and their child. Next, the parent needs to try to better understand why the child or adolescent is presently in a “bad” mood or state and not take it personally. For example, most children and adolescents develop “the tood”, when the parents introduce something they do not like, such as homework time, having to take a shower, having to abide by a curfew, or even going on a vacation together for the adolescents. The third step is telling, NOT asking, the child or adolescent how they think they are feeling based on their behavior or attitude. For example, when the parent tells the child that they think their behavior is telling them that they are feeling angry and the parent is tolerant of the emotion, the child feels both informed and supported. This technique itself can help temper the tude. Now that the child or adolescent is aware that you know what is going on and accepting of their feelings, you can then ask them to express themselves in a more appropriate manner and in many cases, compliance will follow because they are both aware of how they are feeling and in addition, feel you understand. The final step is utilizing a limit or contingency if necessary. This final step should be designed to “help” the child manage their feelings, rather than make them feel bad about them. When 8 year old Timmy refused to take his evening shower, his mother replied by first stating” Tim, I know you hate taking showers, and are angry with me for making you take them, but it is important for your body to take one”. Timmy calmed down after this sensitive statement from his mother but continued to refrain for getting into the shower. She then replied” “Tim, your anger is okay, but you still need to take the shower and to HELP you manage your anger at me, if you don’t get into the shower by the count of 5, you will have to miss watching tonight’s episode of Sponge Bob”. Tim thought about it for a moment, but eventually got into the shower. Although this example might seem ideal, parents who use this technique report that their child’s “tude” is much more tolerable than the parents who either avoid interacting with their child when they are in a bad mood or merely threaten or punish their children when they act up. Whether a child is 2 or 14, they still need their parents to help them understand themselves and help them feel comfortable with their internal states of mind. Over time, this process becomes internalized and self-actualized, but usually not until late adolescence or early adulthood. In summary, when the “tude” is met with both acceptance, understanding, communication, and guidance, it’s manifestation is greatly reduced making households more functional through childhood and adolescence.
1. Attitude is a healthy developmental achievement beginning by age 2
2. “Tude” is most evident between ages 2-4; 6-8; and 12-14
3. Parents need to be both understanding, knowledgeable, and guiding to mellow the tude
4. Don’t take the tude personally and react with haste. Label their feelings and guide into resolution
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to running a full-time private practice, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.