Stop that brat!

Outwit and outlast your demanding kid with these expert strategies.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Outwit and outlast your demanding kid with these expert strategies.

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Your kid can’t walk past the store without whining for another new toy. When you try to take the iPad away, he throws a fit. And, oh dear, did you just hear him mutter the “F” word?!

You thought those days of toddler tantrums were over, only to find yourself dealing with bigger, badder behaviour. What happened along the way?

Most behavioural patterns are shaped in the first seven years of a child’s life, explains Alfred Tan, chief executive officer of the Singapore Children’s Society.

“If your child is behaving badly, it could be due to gaps or shortcomings during this period of growing up,” he says.

As much as you loathe to hear this, the experts say the spoiling process probably started with you, the parent. Isn’t it so much easier to accede to your little tyrant’s demands than to play tug of war after a long day at work?

But constantly giving in to his “give me’s” has a price. Research has shown that it sets a child up for dysfunctional patterns for life.

In the Overindulge Research Study Project involving 10 studies spanning 17 years from 1996 to 2013, US-based psychologist David Bredehoft and his research partners found that overindulged children later missed out on emotional and life skills important for being a happy and capable adult.

The studies also found that adults who were overindulged in childhood were more likely to find partners who overindulge their kids, in turn, forming a vicious cycle.

Dr Foo Koong Hean, senior lecturer psychology from James Cook University, Singapore, and author of Negotiation Parenting, shares that the sooner parents nip problematic behaviour in the bud, the fewer issues will be present as the child grows.

Alfred says parents can start “intentional coaching” – cultivating the right values and setting boundaries – from the time the child is around two years old. In fact, you can start this even earlier. New research shows that even babies have an innate ability to understand what is going on even before they can talk, shares Dr Foo.

“Most parents think they should wait until the child goes to primary school (to cultivate the right values). What they don’t realise is that by then, the kid would be exposed to unpredictable behaviour of other children. He may pick up bad behaviour if he is not clear about what’s right and wrong,” says Alfred.

Moreover, it is harder to turn the tide when children reach the teenage years, especially if the parent-child bond is not there, he adds.

But what if the damage is already done? Thankfully, Dr Foo reassures parents that it is possible to reverse bad habits with consistence, patience and some strategies. “Research has shown that the brain is malleable. It is never too late to teach a child to make changes in his behaviour and way of thinking,” he says.

So, how can you fix your spoilt kid? Here, the experts share strategies you can use in common bratty situations.


You refuse to buy your kid another new toy. He throws a fit in the store.


When your kid is having a temper tantrum, the first thing to do is to remain calm yourself. Do not engage him physically, such as violently restraining or dragging him away, Dr Foo says.

Tell him firmly that he has to stop his public tirade. If that doesn’t work, use this next strategy to try to remove your kid from the place. “Once you ascertain his environment is safe, tell your child that you will be waiting for him outside the store. Then proceed to walk away,” suggests Dr Foo.

Chances are, he’ll quieten down quickly. Most temper tantrums do not usually last long because children are easily distracted, unless there are underlying behavioural disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism, explains Dr Foo. Once he is calmer, reinforce reason immediately – explain why it is unacceptable to behave in this manner.


In an era of instant gratification, it is easy for a young kid to become self-centred when he gets everything fast and too easily, says Alfred. To counter this, Priscilla Ong started giving her four-year-old a weekly allowance of $2 so that she could save up for new toys.

“Every time my kid wants something new, I’ll tell her to use her own money. The strategy taught her delayed gratification and saved me an earful of whining,” shares the 31-year-old, stay-at-home mum.

Another tactic is to establish ground rules before your shopping trip. For instance, inform Junior that you are heading to the supermarket only to buy groceries.

Don’t forget to reward him for good behaviour, though. “Once in a blue moon, surprise him with a reward he didn’t ask for,” suggests Dr Foo.

“This type of ‛variable ratio’ reward system may actually make the child keep up with his good behaviour for a longer period of time."

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He whines nonstop when you take his iPad away.


Politely remind him of the rules you set earlier before his screen time, Alfred says. “If a nice chit-chat doesn’t work and the child keeps breaching the rules, you might have to enforce some form of discipline, such as withholding iPad use for a short period of time.”

Dr Foo suggests giving your young one advance notice before taking away the gadget. “Kids feel played out or cheated when you make them stop a fun activity immediately. Giving a five-minute notice often helps ease the transition.”

Stand your ground even if these strategies don’t work. A survey by the Center for a New American Dream, a non-profit organisation that emphasises non-material values, found that children usually ask for something an average of nine times before parents cave in. So, you’ll have to outlast his Royal Whininess by being firm.


The hallmark of successful parenting is to set up clear and consistent boundaries right from the beginning, and sticking with them. This may involve limiting screen time and having your child use the device in an open area so you can monitor him, Alfred says.

That said, remember to unplug from your own devices while enforcing house rules. “It might be tempting to throw your kid an iPad at mealtimes so you can tune out, too. But you should set a good example because children model what adults do,” Alfred adds.


“I hate you, Mummy!” Your big kid uses hurtful words and foul language when he doesn’t get his way.


The main thing is to not overreact to his potty mouth. Refrain from saying: “I’m your mother! How dare you say that to me!” because most children, especially older ones, don’t do well with top-down instructions, Alfred explains.

“If the child has used a vulgar word, calmly tell him that you wouldn’t use that word if he knew what it meant. Take the time to explain it and, afterwards, ask him if he would still use the word now that he understands its meaning,” he says.

A timeout might also work if both of you cannot come to a compromise. “It gives the child some time and space to digest the information and his intense emotions. Tell him you’ll talk about the issue, perhaps, an hour later,” suggests Alfred.


Dr Foo advises parents to take their children’s views into consideration using logic and reason. Having regular family meetings is a good way to do this. This is the time where everyone sits down to propose rules and set limits, and come to a reasonable compromise.

He says: “For instance, you might say ‘no screen time by 7pm’, but your child’s favourite programme may end only at 7.30pm. Listen to what he has to say and allow room for some negotiation.”

Now is also the time to review your parenting style. Have you been using the “F” word liberally? Perhaps you’ve said hurtful things to your spouse, too, during heated arguments.

“In addition, these words may not come as a surprise if your relationship with your child isn’t good to begin with,” says Alfred. If you’ve been an absent parent, his ‘I hate you’s’ may actually mean ‘When I need you, you are not there. So who are you to interrupt my life now?’”, he adds.

The bottomline: Work on having a close and loving relationship.

“If your child feels that you love him, most behavioural issues can be easily resolved. But when there is no strong parent-child bond, even the most scientific parenting approach won’t work well,” says Alfred.