Kids, teenagers, adults — we all love celebrating our accomplishments. And we should. If you work hard for your achievements, it’s worth congratulatory recognition. Even good fortunes, lucky circumstances, and abundance, in general, is worth taking note of. However, these words become more hurtful than helpful when used to promote separation between ourselves and others. This is known as bragging. Bragging can be painful to others and even belittling to ourselves. This takes careful guidance and time to learn. Thus, younger kids usually have to work their way into really understanding this concept. So the question is, how to react to bragging kids and teach more humility?
Why Do Kids Brag?
As we have mentioned, bragging is defined as excessively proud and boastful talk about one’s achievements or accomplishments. Before continuing, it’s good to know some of the main reasons why children brag.
It’s important to mention that although bragging seems unnecessarily obnoxious, it’s perfectly normal behavior. Developmental psychologist and professor of education at George Mason University, Martin Ford, Ph.D., quotes that “After age 7, children develop a new cognitive ability to think of themselves as having enduring traits and abilities…” Excited about this new understanding of themselves, children “want to talk about them and have others notice — which is what leads to that bragging.”
Kids may brag to cover up low self-esteem, low confidence, or insecurity. By gloating over their possessions or accomplishments in front of others, they boost up their own self-image. A child may also brag to establish their position in the family, classroom, or society. Take, for example, a middle child who isn’t given much attention in the family. They may brag to secure themselves within the community. It’s their effort to feel loved and accomplished.
The Problems with Bragging
With a clearer image of bragging and its causes in children, we can better observe its effects in the world. According to a study conducted by Manchester University social psychologist Susan Speer (2012), our acceptance of ‘self-praise’ has two major influences: epistemology and social norms. The epistemology of bragging refers to whether or not something you say about yourself can be verified. The social norms of bragging refer to the importance of modesty in our culture. Moreover, her work highlights which form of self-praise will get you into trouble — unfortunately, most will! The difficulty lies in describing a value in a modest yet believable way. When we fail to do that, it is poorly taken, and it creates problems.
Most times, bragging kids can hurt others without even realizing it. This can lead to a loss of friends or isolation. Some children feel smothered in self-doubt in the face of a bragger, resulting in a lack of performance. Others may haste to emulate their excelling peer and hinder their own progress in the process. Excessive bragging, when done purposefully, can be seen as a form of bullying. In the worst-case scenario, those who are bragging may be bullied by the insecure child who responds physically to pain — bullies bullying bullies. For this reason, it’s best to keep bragging at a minimum — and here’s how.
How to Encourage Kids not to Brag
Here are some helpful tips for teachers and parents to use with bragging kids:
- Practice Social Skills — If a child continually addresses themselves within the school or home setting, encourage the child to ask/talk about others’ achievements or accomplishments.
- Listen — As we mentioned earlier, children may brag for attention if they feel unseen or unheard. Always listen carefully and engage fully when speaking with a child, reminding them of their input value.
- Select Words Carefully — When giving praise, avoid over-using words like “perfect” or “you’re the best.” This can cause a child to feel big-headed and lead to much self-praise.
- Teamwork Exercises — If you suspect that insecurity is the root of a child’s boasting, give them activities that emphasize teamwork. Choose an area in which they can excel but not the best at. This encourages their self-esteem while simultaneously humbling their self-image.
- Be a Role Model — Children will mimic what they see. Take mindful action to watch your own words, and never brag about yourself or anyone else. If a child is bragging to you, be an honest reflection of someone who may feel hurt or uncomfortable in light of a bragger.
- Kindness Awareness Week! — We took matters into our own hands and decided to have an impromptu kindness awareness week in some of our classes. Kids were in charge of defining kindness themselves. By the end of the class, we notice a significant decrease in potentially hurtful words!