Attitudes: Bad to Good


Oh, the horrors of having a child with a bad attitude—especially during the holidays! On Thanksgiving day, Great Aunt Sadie walks in and your son crosses his arms and pouts when she asks him for a hug. Or, your teenage daughter rolls her eyes when you ask her to help clear the table. And even when your kids do act respectful on the outside, you can tell that their attitude is out of whack.

So even during the season of holiday cheer, don’t overlook a bad attitude in your kids. Dig below the surface and consider these thoughts to answer the question, where does a bad attitude come from in kids?

Sometimes children obey, but they do it with a bad attitude. A bad attitude comes from an angry spirit. Imagine an onion with various layers. As you peel off one layer, you see another and another until you get to the center of the onion. Anger is like that. The most obvious signs of anger are acts of physical violence: Hitting, slamming things, kicking, and biting.

As children learn to control their physical reactions, the next layer becomes obvious. It involves hurtful words such as sarcasm, teasing, and cynical remarks. They are not physical, but they are still deadly responses that parents must address. Layer after layer of angry responses can be removed until you come to a very significant one: The bad attitude. Once you reach the bad attitude layer, you’re dealing with the heart directly. A bad attitude is form of passive resistance and shouldn’t be ignored. Huffing or rolling the eyes after receiving an instruction is a symptom of a deeper problem. When a bad attitude isn’t addressed, anger reveals itself in selfish, disrespectful, and mean behaviors.

Bad attitudes are generally seen in three areas:

  • When the child receives an instruction.
  • When the child is corrected.
  • When the child is told no.

Don’t just point out a bad attitude. Give children healthy alternatives. {Tweet This} How should a child respond when given an instruction they’d rather not do? “Okay” is a good place to start. How should a child respond when being corrected? “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.” How should a child respond when disappointed with a “no” answer? “Okay, maybe next time.” This may sound unrealistic if your children have developed strong patterns of opposition. These suggestions, though, will get children thinking in the right direction.

If you son is angry and having a bad attitude, teach him to take a break and cool off. “Go to your room and settle down until you can talk about your anger without using your body to show it.” When your son returns, talk to him about more constructive responses.

If you discipline your child to change behavior but a bad attitude remains, the discipline is incomplete. A child who adjusts behavior but continues to harbor a poor attitude needs to learn honor. If not addressed, bad attitudes just get worse.

Step back and ask yourself, “Why is this child struggling with a bad attitude?” This will help you focus your discipline. One mom recognized that her five-year-old son needed more sleep. Another mom realized her nine-year-old needed to learn perseverance—the ability to hang in there when things got tough. Don’t ignore a bad attitude; it directly reflects a problem of dishonor in a child’s life.

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In The Comments

How do you handle your children's bad attitudes?


  • Ellee Myers

    My 2 year old is just mean and does have a bad attitude when she is told no or can’t have her way. I’m not sure if this is just the “terrible two’s” or what. Any tips to help me help her to be more nice would be great. She’s not mean all the time and she is generally happy. I’m concerned that it will become more habit and a part of her personality.

    • Marge

      Some two year olds may be frustrated at not being able to adequately communicate. I had one of mine carry around a photo book with pictures and also emotions. It helped her attitude. Sound advice for two year olds from God’s word is that a gentle answer turns away wrath. Sometimes the way we respond can set off a toddler.

      • Ellee Myers

        Thank you! I have noticed when I don’t flat out say no, like you can have candy after dinner, it solicits a nicer response. Lol.

  • Stephany

    I hear ya Elee..I have a 3 1/2 year old, who has an attitude with almost everyone but I noticed that they are the ones that pick on her. Like: granma (name calling to my little one), auntie (sticks her tongue out to my little), older brothers (intimidate her). I think my daughter’s terrible two’s rolled over to terrible 3’s with an attitude. She is very out spoken for her age, and I am also concerned because it is also becoming more of a habit and personality. I do my best to correct, but dad doesn’t step in because he says he doesn’t see her attitude towards…lol…go figure. How do we help our little ones with their “bad attitudes” at such a young age? We have already expressed and talked about our concerns with those who pick on her, yet it still the same. “bummer”

  • Nadia

    I have this problem with my 9 year old boy. Lately, everything is an attitude, rolling of the eyes and huffing and puffing. From shower time, reading before bed, practicing guitar EVERYTHING! It makes me SO angry. He knows what he needs to do yet I always find myself still nagging. I know I don’t handle this well. Help!

    • Sarah

      I have a 9 year old girl with the same attitude symptoms as your son, especially when she is told no. She attempts to negotiate first, and when I don’t budge, she makes everyone pay by being just plain angry. I try to just walk away and not let her think she is affecting me, but it is HARD! And I wonder if I am enabling the behavior by ignoring it rather than addressing it?

    • Toni

      I suggest reading Parenting With Love and Logic. I have a hard time with controlling my emotions when my kids act up too, but I keep telling myself not to let them push my buttons. (Or at least not to let them know they’ve done so).

  • KS

    How can we change a bad attitude in our spouse?

  • I usually have to go through a checklist in my mind. Is my child hungry? tired? Overwhelmed? Sometimes there is a lack of gratitude or appreciation. Many times I’ll try to get my kids to laugh by being silly. When their defenses go down I can start talking to them about their attitude. If that doesn’t work they usually need to go spend some time alone. I’ll have to let them have a moment and then go in and pray with them.

  • Jamie Klotz

    I also strongly suggest reading 7 Pillars of Health. What we put into our kids’ bodies contributes greatly to their emotions and behavior!