As a parent, you are likely to have experienced a child acting out at the store, school, or even at a friend’s house, and thought, “Thank goodness that’s not my child!” But what if that is your child? And, how do you prevent your child from becoming that child?

Parents are entitled to parent, and children need and want their parents to be in charge. From the moment your baby opens her eyes, she is reaching for freedom and self-control. And, as your child’s first teacher, you have the responsibility to teach her the rules: what is and is not appropriate. Only then will she trust you to make the right decisions for her… to take care of her. Otherwise, she will push your buttons, challenging you to discipline her. And, if you don’t, and if you abdicate your role as a parent, she will act out, forcing you to limit her.

In fact, your child craves structure. Moreover, of course she will challenge your rules as she tests herself against her environment; nevertheless, in the end, she wants discipline. In fact, she is looking to you to establish limits because it tells her that you care about what happens to her… and that translates to love.

If your discipline style is too permissive, too open-ended, then your child will become too powerful. If she is given that message, then she will end up feeling guilty, knowing full well that she is neither old enough nor wise enough to deserve such power. This situation is counterintuitive and it fosters insecurity instead of love. Now you have a child who may try to force her parents to discipline her by raising the ante with disruptive behavior.

Here are some ways you can help prevent bratty behavior in your child:

1. Teach your child by allowing her freedom within limits. Be proactive, because all along the way you are preparing your child for life. So, you must give her a feeling of self-control and confidence. By being consistent, you give your child the opportunity to learn how to self-manage – how to have self control.

This way, she will also learn about taking on the responsibility for whatever her choices are, and the obligation and commitment for going forward with those choices. Then, you are teaching her to recognize the consequences for her actions and to build a sense of responsibility and control that is healthy. Thus, when it is time to go out into the world, she is already prepared, practiced, and rehearsed…she knows how to deal with freedom and how to cope with options.

2. If your child acts out in public, remove her from the situation and discipline her privately. You never want to shame or humiliate your child in front of others. Also, when at home, use my Empathic Process, discussing your child’s behavior in a safe setting.

3. Take advantage of teaching opportunities for manners throughout the day. 
Manners are important in knowing how to behave around others – what is acceptable and what is not. When your child feels comfortable, and knows her boundaries, she may be less likely to misbehave. From an early age, you can pretend play or role play with your child at home, teaching her not only good manners but also the appropriate way to interact when outside of your home, such as in a restaurant or grocery store. In a home or public setting, you are always teaching her by giving appropriate cues for interaction and social discourse, which she will then copy. Children are social animals and they learn through imitation. This is how we teach acceptable behavior and diminish bratty behavior.

4. Reward good behavior instead of bribing. You don’t want to bribe your child or do anything that encourages bad behavior; however, you can reward GOOD behavior. Remember: you are her favorite person in the whole world. So, give her extra time with you as a reward. When she shows great table manners, is kind to a friend, or does a great job helping you pick out groceries at the store – reward her with extra stories at bedtime or with a nice walk to the park together. Positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement goes a long way in curbing bad behavior.

5. Be funny. Having a good sense of humor goes a long way when it comes to parenting, and it is helpful when dealing with your bored or whiny child. If you don’t take everything too seriously, then your child will be more likely to adjust her behavior when necessary.

Practice, rehearse, and be prepared. When you give your child boundaries, you are preparing her for the outside world, so that she will know how to behave appropriately under all situations and circumstances. Proactively teaching empathy and good manners will give your child both confidence and competence when interacting with others. These steps can go along way in helping you turn a brat into an angel.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.