Bragging is a hot topic these days in this country, having just come off the most successful winter Olympics ever in terms of medals. In a rather un-Canadian manner, we crowed proudly about our nation’s prowess in hockey, curling and more. Great for the ego? You bet. But our boasting was poorly received by some who countered that we really didn’t own the podium. When I mentioned to my five-year-old daughter that a few athletes from other countries weren’t too pleased with how Canada was talking about being the best, she asked, “Why? Were we showing off?” Well, sort of.
Olivia and Sara, both six, may be the best of friends, but it is hard to tell when they are involved in a game of one-upmanship, says Sara’s mom, Anne Giro* of Ottawa. “Olivia has a two-wheel scooter that Sara doesn’t and likes to remind her of that. At the same time Sara will say how much better she is at skipping because she knows Olivia is still getting the hang of it. We are constantly reminding the girls that it’s not nice to boast.”
Not nice, perhaps, but perfectly normal, says Betsy Brown Braun, a child development specialist and author of You’re Not the Boss of Me (HarperCollins). This type of comparative bragging is common among this age group and is implicit when what your child is bragging about is followed with “and you don’t” or “you can’t.” “We want our children to have a healthy self-esteem, a sense of themselves. We want them to derive pleasure and satisfaction from their accomplishments and to see themselves as successful,” says Braun, but not at the cost of someone else’s feelings.
While parents want to encourage a child and build his confidence, kids can become praise junkies. “Children who are praised too much, who are given the old “good job’ about everything, learn to expect it. And when it might be missing, they may need to brag as a replacement.” Or, she continues, the exact opposite is occurring. “Some kids may in fact not be getting enough attention at home, or the only attention they get is when they brag. In bragging they are calling attention to themselves and filling the void.”
Learning not to brag is in fact a social skill, explains Braun. “And kids are capable of learning how to right their ship.” Explain to your child it is fine to brag about a success when it happens, or to you or grandma. But, suggests Braun, remind her that when she talks too much about herself to her friends, that they may think she doesn’t care about them or doesn’t think they are as good as she is. “Explain it’s better to show some interest in other people by asking questions that are complimentary like “Where did you get those cool shoes?’ or “How did you learn to ice-skate so well?”
So how do you rein in your child’s one-upmanship? Braun has some suggestions.
The good news, says Braun, is that the older kids get, the better able they are to see the impact of their behaviour on others. “There is a developmental component to the lessening of bragging.”
CF’s senior editor Robin Stevenson’s daughter Charlotte would like to win a gold medal someday. Although she’d probably brag about it.
* Name has been changed