Your kids say “Please” and “Thank you.”
You’re feeling pretty capable at this Parenting thing, and the truth is, you’ve done well – considerably well.
And then, you have a play date, and not only you but also your friends and half the neighborhood learns your child’s one defining character flaw.
Don’t worry. You’re still a fine parent, and now, you’ve been given your newest task on this parenthood journey of yours.
Oh, that bloodcurdling scream? That’s just my son.
My son Kenny was six years old the day his legendary growl ripped through the conversation I was having with my friend. We looked up to see him chasing her son down the street.
Horrified, I jumped down from the tailgate and took off after the two boys.
Catching up with my son, I grabbed him around his waist with a tight grip, swung him into my body, and plopped us both safely down on the curb.
He howled while pushing and shoving against me until I thought the blood vessels in his forehead and neck would burst. But, after a few minutes, my tough little guy’s yells and frustration gave way to sobs, and it was over as quickly as it started.
His friend, running wide-eyed back to his parents, obviously wanted to go home, and for good reason.
It isn’t every day that your friend turns into a wild banshee and chases you down the street.
Pride – a deadly character flaw raising its ugly head, both in Kenny AND his friends. That’s what.
As the story surfaced, I learned Kenny’s friend and his friend’s older brother had made fun of him. I can’t remember what it was about, but it punctured Kenny’s pride, and he acted out his rage.
While Kenny’s pride was easy to pinpoint (and hear), his friends’ pride was sarcastic and defensive, which was subtler than Kenny’s, though far from saintly.
After Kenny had settled down, I asked if he was ready to apologize; he wasn’t.
Sadly, he didn’t apologize at all that day, and our friends left early without the boys resolving their issues. I knew that once Kenny began missing his friends, his heart would warm to the thought of apologizing, but I also knew that’d take longer than a day.
Before it was all over, Kenny’s friends argued, “But it was just a joke.” while Kenny argued, “They made fun of me!”
Pride’s gongs rang loud and clear.
As parents, we prioritize building character into our kids’ lives, so naturally, when we see a character flaw like this, it makes us cringe.
We wonder how many times do we have to repeat the same lesson before our kid gets it?
Of course, you know the answer to that already — as many times as it takes.
The 9 “Faces” of Pride and How to Respond
Once you begin digging, you will find that pride is usually at the foundation of many of your otherwise well-behaved child’s sudden and often unexpected lapses.
Though pride presents itself in many ways, I’ve listed the 9 most repeated ways pride reared its head in my son’s life over the past 7 years and how we responded.
Once Kenny makes a decision, he sticks with it.
When he was 2 years old, his obstinate nature played out in our driveway. We had scheduled a park day with friends in the morning, but when we returned home, Kenny refused to get out of his car seat.
Mind you, I could have easily yanked him from his car seat and forced him down for a nap. But I knew naptime would be a disaster, which meant the girls homeschool work would be affected.
So, I parked the Suburban in the driveway, sent the girls in to begin their independent work, and pulled out a book.
Kenny remained in his car seat.
My idea was a gamble. I had no idea how long it would take him to give in, but I knew the girls were safe, and Kenny and I were too.
Every few minutes I asked him if he wanted to go inside.
He made it clear that he did not want to go inside. He wanted to go and play.
I reminded him that everyone had already left the park; we weren’t going to go back and play, and then, I would read again.
The first day we did this, it took an hour.
The second time this happened, it took less time.
The third time, he decided he wanted to go inside as soon as he saw me pull out my book.
That was ten years ago. Kenny is still strong-willed, and sometimes he uses it for good, and other times not. He’s maturing and learning.
I am too.
He takes time to process the information given him, and he comes to conclusions based on those considerations. But once he reaches a decision, persuading him to yield to anything outside of that mindset is still difficult.
We have learned that he needs to think through why he’s wrong and reach a new conclusion in order to implement long-term change. Naturally, this looks different at age 12 than it did at age 2.
I hesitate to call sarcasm a more mature manifestation of pride, but it does require an advanced thought process, so it is a mark of a more developed mindset.
Babies and toddlers aren’t sarcastic. They don’t know how to use wit or irony to cut others down. They get a point across more directly–by screaming.
In our family, we notice sarcasm rooting its head in the early preteen years, around age eight or nine.
When Kenny delays taking out the kitchen trash and one of his sisters take note, they point it out to him.
His replies have been less than complimentary in the past.
“I’ll take the trash out just as soon as I find a bag large enough to fit you.”
And while he thinks he’s clever and does not intend it to be as cutting as it sounds, his goal is to get them to not point out when he’s shirked his chore.
If he were much younger, it’d sound like, “You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not my boss!”
When we hear these exchanges, we call both siblings back into the room for a do-over, which gives Kenny the opportunity to make a more respectful response.
Oh, my goodness, where do I begin?
Selfishness is the epitome of pride. It’s all about me, me, and…oh yes, me.
Life teaches us the benefits of focusing on others, but while we are young, it is a feat to recognize our selfishness and care about doing anything about it.
When the kids were growing up, we had two different snack times per day.
The early 10:30 a.m. snack was a “healthy snack” because I could not work through lessons with three kids hopped-up on sugar.
The second snack came at 3:00 p.m., and as much as I hated the moniker the kids gave it, that snack time became known as “unhealthy snack time.”
You cannot imagine how I’d cringe to hear, “It’s time for unhealthy snacks!” screamed with such revelry.
Kenny, for whatever reason, always had the best “unhealthy snacks.” He was adept at storing and saving them, but NOT sharing them.
The girls would beg for him to share, trade, or just GIVE them some of his goodies, but he wouldn’t.
We let the natural consequences of his selfishness play out and made sure to vocalize when it affected him later in the day or week.
“She wouldn’t let you have a turn at bat? Probably because she doesn’t want to share time with you when you wouldn’t share your candy with her.”
“She doesn’t want to read your favorite story to you? Probably because she asked you three times for Sour Patch Kids, and you wouldn’t even give her a single one.”
“She didn’t help you clean your side of the room? Probably because earlier today you wouldn’t consider trading a licorice for three Tootsie Rolls.”
Slowly but surely, he began to recognize his generosity “purchased” him favors.
And then, he started feeling good about being less selfish, and that feeling meant more to him than what his sisters would trade with him or do for him later.
In 6th grade, my son believed the world was out to get him. Whether the threat of attack was real or imagined was insignificant; he was ready to protect his ego from any potential harm.
Kenny’s rebuttal of choice was, “So? That’s stupid.”
It was short.
It was impactful.
And though it wasn’t eloquent, it made its mark.
As a parent, you pick your battles. This particular mantra of his became my battle for 24 hours until Kenny would not dare repeat it again to avoid my barrage of questions.
“What do you mean ‘So’? Do you mean, ‘So, I don’t care’ or ‘So, stop talking to me’, or ‘So, I didn’t know that?’”
“And how is it stupid? Can you define stupid? What does stupid have to do with anything?”
With each question, I waited for his response. I listened to the response, and then I formed another question based on the response.
Where he was short, I was long.
Where he had been negatively impactful, I asked him to clarify so I could better understand.
And yes, I feigned ignorance, but he knew it. He understood what was going on, but it took a while for him to let down his defenses and surrender defeat.
In the end, we were laughing.
I said, “So. That WAS stupid.”
And we laughed harder because it was the truth, and he could finally see it.
In the last year, my husband and I switched from giving our kids’ allowances to allowing them to earn commissions based on what we read in Dave Ramsey’s book, Smart Money Smart Kids.
Kenny wanted to attend multiple summer camps. Jeff and I did not plan on footing the bill 100%. When we clarified that he would need to cover half the cost of whatever camps he wanted to attend, he displayed the depth of his entitlement.
Ramsey writes that the word allowance “implies that a child is ‘allowed’ a certain amount of money just for living and breathing.”
We’ve come to understand that earning potential says, “How can I earn?” and “What can I do for you?”, while entitlement says, “What do I deserve?” and “Why aren’t you doing this for me?”
Since it is unlikely that Kenny’s self-love and self-service (pride) will pay his bills at a later date in life, we want to groom a habit of differentiating between earning potential and entitlement.
Controlling one’s emotions is a learned behavior. It doesn’t happen overnight and, unfortunately, it’s a lesson learned fastest by failing.
Kenny’s explosive behavior of chasing his friend down the street is the clearest depiction of volatility I can remember.
As Kenny matured, we encouraged him to remove himself from situations where he felt he might lose control. After all, we may not always be present.
And now, with a better repertoire of emotional intelligence tools and more skilled at self-evaluation, he walks away from situations or conversations with friends as needed, even though some parents want to force him to stay and talk it out.
He knows he can’t always manage it effectively until he cools down. We honor this and challenge other parents to see it as a form of self-control.
Fear is multi-faceted, and there are times when fear is a valuable tool in our life’s belt. There are times fear may drive us to run, or be quiet, stop, hide, and any number of life-saving measures.
I’m not talking about that kind of fear.
The fear I’m talking about stems from pride. It’s debilitating. It’s the kind of fear that says, “I will do whatever I can to keep from embarrassing myself.”
Maybe your child doesn’t reach out to others because they could reject him.
Maybe your child won’t ask forgiveness from someone they’ve wronged because they may not receive it well, and that would hurt her pride.
With my son, it was the final presentation in his American History Part 1 course, and he was concerned that everyone would laugh at him.
“If I stand in front of the entire homeschool class and give that speech, I may mess up and they will all laugh at me.”
We affirmed that he had a point. Yes, the kids might laugh. They do that – especially a class filled with a bunch of nervous kids waiting to give their reports.
Then, we reminded him of the opposite side of the coin. He might not mess up in his speech.
We wanted him to know his fear was valid, but all that mattered was that he did the best he could, and when it was someone else’s turn, instead of jeering at them, he could be their biggest cheerleader!
Thankfully, in parenting we are past the dreaded age of “I don’t know,” but for a while, it was a daily occurrence.
“Who cut a hole in the tablecloth?”
Tucking scissors behind his back – “I don’t know.”
“Who broke the (fill in the bank) and didn’t tell me?”
Hiding out in his room – “I don’t know.”
“Who borrowed the screwdriver and didn’t put it back?”
Tonka parts were strewn across the floor – “I don’t know.”
Deviousness is lying. It is saying one thing and knowing another. It’s built on a desire to avoid accountability, and by default, consequences.
When we couldn’t get Kenny to admit he was lying, we simply returned the favor and mimicked his response.
We’d “borrow” something of his and when he came looking for it, “We didn’t know” where it was.
Of course, it had to be meaningful, like his Nintendo or his pocketknife, but he quickly came to realize we were not as foolish as he previously thought, and he’d admit to lying.
Of the many faces of pride, arrogance is the one I dislike the most. It is haughty and ugly. As an aunt of mine would say, “It is putting on ‘airs.'”
Whether arrogant people honestly think they are better than others or not is irrelevant because their behavior reflects a heart that supports the belief.
Kenny is not a child prodigy. He is mostly at his grade level, but when it comes to communicating effectively in the written and spoken word, he excels.
Kenny’s biggest hurdle right now is an understanding that it is unusual for 12-year-old boys to communicate so easily and clearly.
He doesn’t stumble over his words.
And he gets impatient and irritated when others do; so, he is quick to correct his friends or jump in and re-phrase things for them.
His corrections come across as arrogant because…they are. We’re in the midst of working through this right now, but the only way I could even get him to acknowledge he did this was by having friends repeat back to him what he said.
Without that feedback, Kenny couldn’t understand he had a lot of “know it all” in his tone and actions.
But having his friends explain what he said was undeniable. And since he’s sensitive enough not to want to be “that” boy, it gave us a point to work from in helping him alter his behavior.
What’s the saying? “Pride comes before a fall?”
Whether it is subtle or screaming its way down the street for everyone to hear, pride makes relationships difficult and if not nipped in the bud, can have long-term consequences in the lives of our children.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
It’s time to see how all this applies to you and your family. Take a quick minute to focus on one instance where your child misbehaved in the past week.
- Do you think pride may have been at the bottom of it?
- What was your response?
- If you think pride was at the bottom of it, are you happy with how you responded? If not, how could you respond in a way that both respects your child but also allows him to see the misbehavior for what it was and choose a different action the next time?
- Do you think your pride influenced the way you responded?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
No one knows your child like you. You see things others don’t see – the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you’re anything like me, you also see things in your children that reflect your own behavior.
Before we can build our child’s character, we have to be willing to assess our own. My husband and I often talk about the fact that we feel like we are growing up with our children. They teach us about ourselves. We teach them about themselves. Combined, our family has matured in love and respect for each other.
Take time to consider how your child’s pride may be your pride. Make a list of the 9 faces of pride listed above on a piece of paper. Do you see any of these attributes in yourself? Write them down. If you come up with others, write those down too. Focus on one of them a week. By fostering our personal growth, we often see our positive motion replicated in the lives of our children.