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Brat is Not a Learning Disability
我要生氣!photo © 2009 Yellow | more info (via: Wylio)
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. I didn't want to publish last week's on Friday because of the Easter weekend. It seemed sacreligious. So here it is, better late than never!

Back a few centuries ago, shame meant something. If you transgressed the community's values, you were an outcast, a scarlet letter, a source of derision.

We've tossed shame aside because we don't want to be cruel, but I have a brilliant idea of where shame could make a welcome comeback: I think we should make it a source of great shame to raise kids who are brats.

Think about how many of today's problems are caused by the fact that so many kids are holy terrors. Teachers have difficulty teaching, no matter how small the class size, if there are even one or two kids who won't sit still, who swear a blue streak and who terrorize other children. In response, we've created anti-bullying programs, and values education, and "Student of the Week”, all to try to give these bratty children an incentive to not be so bratty. It doesn't work.

So to all parents of brats, let me be frank: you are making life very difficult for the rest of us. And, as one blogger recently wrote, brat is not a learning disability.

A child may have ADD, but that doesn't mean he or she is mean, or violent, or cruel. It simply means he or she has trouble paying attention. If your child likes punching kids, or talking back to the teacher, or swearing loudly, he or she is likely not suffering from a psychological disorder. He or she is more than likely suffering from a parental disorder.

Schools cannot make up for lack of parenting. They can institute lunch and breakfast programs, write new curriculum, and hire teachers' aides to watch the out-of-control students, but in general, if a child doesn't behave at school, it's because he or she has never been taught to behave at home.

A century and a half ago, 18-year-old school marms managed one-room schoolhouses with way more children than your typical grade one class today, but they were able to do so partly because the kids behaved. And it wasn't just because the school marm had the ability to rap one's knuckles with a ruler. It was because if word of a child's misdeeds made it back to the parents, that child would be in a whole other whackload of trouble. Parents refused to tolerate brattiness.

I'm not saying schools don't contribute to the problem. I know one boy with ADD who acts out at school but doesn't act out at church or at home, because he simply needs structure. His open, multi-grade classroom doesn't give enough structure, and he can't handle it.

But not paying attention is completely different from being mean. And when teachers have children in their classrooms who talk back, who won't stay in their seats, and who hit and yell, then how do we expect other children to learn? It's not fair to the kids who do want to practice their multiplication tables and read in peace.

We must have compassion for badly-behaved children who are in the care of the Children's Aid Society, or who have grown up with truly horrific home situations. Their behaviour is a natural reaction to the horrors they have been dealt, and I hope that our schools and our children's welfare system can at least make a stab at getting these children on healthy footing. But many of the mean, badly behaved children I know have parents who should know better. You are not supposed to be your child's friend. You are not doing your child favours if you never discipline, never set limits, and give children everything they want. You're creating monsters the rest of us have to deal with it. And that is truly a shame.

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At 7:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

My son has ADHD. And you're right, it doesn't cause him to be mean, or to swear or cause problems for his teacher. In grade one he was put into a "behaviour assessment class". Now with that structure and reduced distractions he is doing very well. The teacher adores him, and he is one of the best behaved children at church!


At 11:39 AM , Blogger Christie said…

My son has emotional and social delays, so we discipline him the way it is appropriate for his developmental age and not his chronological age. The key here being that we discipline him. We think that having Autism is enough of a handicap. We don't also want him saddled with the handicap of being an undisciplined and spoiled little boy--a.k.a. a brat.


At 12:36 PM , Blogger MamaMay said…

I completely agree! In fact I feel that brattiness in children is to be seen as a warning sign of neglect in the home. Neglect of a parent that loves their child enough to discipline and correct them. I also do mean parent because if one does discipline and the other is permissive, you can get the same problem. Both parents need to be on board.


At 12:48 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

Yeah, that really is the truth.


At 12:58 PM , Blogger Bethany from Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom said…

I LOVE this post!! It is so true. The title made me laugh out loud - for real! I've been tempted to use a line like this is the grocery store.


At 1:09 PM , Anonymous Wendy said…

Spot on! What a wonderfully worded post that drives the point straight to home base.


At 2:14 PM , Blogger A'ine said…

No, brat isn't a learning disability...
But let me introduce you to my 7.5 year old daughter who has PDD NOS and ADD. Before we found out her diagnosis, we were the parents who figured her problems were our parenting skills (or lack thereof) or she was just being a stubborn child. We figured that Autism was a lack of proper parenting, and if "those parents" would just get their collective acts together, there wouldn't be such an issue...and God laughed.
Now we are "those" parents, and we have "that" child. Although we try and combine an approach of discipline that takes into consideration where she is with things (she's high-functioning as well as being very tall for her age, the perfect storm of "stuff"), there are times, when despite our best efforts, things go pear-shaped, and she behaves in a way that isn't appropriate. It isn't because we aren't good parents, and it's not because she is an evil child. She, to put it simply, has a hard time with situations and with things that the rest of us just seem to know...and she so struggles. Instead of her communicating that in an age-appropriate and socially acceptable way, we will have for example a 7.5 year old throwing a 3 year old temper tantrum...and there is no rhyme or reason for when she will do this, why she will do this, or where she will do this. We might not have an episode like that for MONTHS, and then, boom, here we are again.
I have been the receiver of "the look" from other parents, and she is now starting to sadly figure out that she's not like other kids, and the social awkwardness that goes with her diagnoses is creeping in now. It makes my heart ache to see her struggle so, over things that in some respects, she has no control over, or has a very hard time managing. I have felt some of the more stinging end of things from fellow Christians...the very folks whom you would think would be more understanding.
So now, when I see a kid acting in a "bratty" way, I sit back and observe more before I write it off as "bratty" behaviour, knowing that in a lot of instances, my daughter's "bratty" behaviour has been a result of her diagnoses. It's not an excuse, but it is a reason...and there is a huge difference between excuse & reason.


At 3:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I agree with you Sheila. But like A'ine said, there are situations where children do have a disability that can cause "bratty" behavior. I am so guilty of thinking badly of parents when I see their kids misbehave, but I shouldn't judge if I don't know the situation. If you actually know the family and see how the kids and parents interact with each other, sometimes you can know that there is a parental problem. But when we see a kid throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, we should think twice before just assuming it's the parents' fault.


At 3:37 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

I see what you're both saying about how it COULD be a disability, but let's take that temper throwing tantrum in the grocery store as an example.

I don't tend to judge parents as bad parents when kids throw tantrums in the grocery store. All kids at some point or other throw tantrums. Where I get upset is in how the parents handle it.

Whether the child is autistic or not, or has Asperger's or not, or is developmentally delayed or not, if a child throws a tantrum, it should be dealt with. And if the parent is dealing with it, I don't judge anyone at all. But if the parent is standing there and letting it happen, or giving into it, then obviously there's a parenting issue.

So I don't think the temper tantrum invalidates the point exactly. It's just another opportunity to see parenting at work in public! And we all should be doing that, no matter what our children's limitations are.

What I think should happen, too, is that teachers should be made far more aware of a child's preferred learning style and how they react in crowds--and they should take the parents' word for it. I have known parents who have severely autistic children or troubled children under great control at home, but the teacher can't manage them because they don't listen to the parents about watching for warning signs before a child blows, or keeping them secluded when they need down-time, or simply putting them in a structured environment. Sometimes teachers don't listen ENOUGH to parents, and that creates the "bratty" behaviour.

Thanks so much for your comments! This makes it a much richer discussion.


At 8:43 PM , Blogger Tina Hollenbeck said…

Very much agree here, Sheila. I taught for 9 years in "at-risk" schools (in U.S.) and my students - most pretty down-trodden refugees who didn't speak a lick of English when they arrived - could have had every excuse in the book for bad behavior. And some had it - but very few. Instead, it became clear that, though the parents were mortified that they didn't speak English and, thus, couldn't help with academics, they did their job at home. That is, they provided discipline and structure - and communicated to the kids what they expected to hear about their behavior at school. Interestingly, I later started to have kids who were born here - that is, they were more acculturated to U.S. norms - and THEY were large measure because their parents had been permissive.

Similarly, kids with really serious issues that parents know about are too often shoved off on the system when, in reality, the best place for those kids would be at home with their parents. I once took on a young boy in my at-home daycare, but neither his parents nor his grandmother chose to tell me that he had Asberger's AND was hypoglycemic; thus, one day when he threw a fit and refused to eat, I followed through with discipline and said, "Fine, then you won't eat anything if you don't want what I have." But, not knowing his medical issue, that almost sent him into hypoglycemic shock...and I was mortified that I'd put his health in danger but only because I didn't know. Needless to say, I terminated his care immediately...because I couldn't meet those needs or (more importantly) anything the parents knew he had but failed to disclose. And, frankly, they should have just kept him home in a safe environment...but, in those cases, they were all to bent on being out in society and "fulfilling" themselves to even consider that. No, they wanted to foist the kid on someone else so they didn't have to deal with it. And I dealt with another situation similar to that just just can you tell this is a little raw?

Bottom line is that I am tired of kids with severe issues (whatever they are) being mainstreamed into every regular ed. the expense of every other child in the room. Sometimes the "least restrictive environment" (the buzzword for special ed. here) needs also to take into account how other kids will be restricted with these out-of-control kids mainstreamed with them. And, frankly, little out-of-control Johnny isn't learning anything in the regular ed. room either - except how to cause scenes because he's uncontrollable and can't be moved to a different situation by law. Aargh.


At 7:47 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

My child is in a special education class and I absolutely would not have it any other way. The gains he has made in grade one have greatly surpassed anything he learned in jk and sk. After sk he was only printing capital A's, now he's writing sentences and learning to read. It would be a great disservice to him to expect him to function in a "normal" classroom. And his behavioural issues have almost disappeared. (he has adhd)


At 7:59 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

Truly, there are children with special needs, and they fall into a completely different category, IMO. (A'ine - my heart goes out to you!!)

Often, when I see truly bad behavior, I consider that thought -- does this child have special needs? Even if they don't, I don't need to judge them or their parents.

And yet...the brattiness seems to be epidemic, doesn't it? Everywhere you go, children are throwing fits.

I have three boys who are reasonably well behaved. When we're out in public, people come out of the woodwork to tell me how well behaved they are, like it's some shocking / amazing thing.

And I'm like, well, we're sitting in a restaurant and they're coloring quietly while we wait for our food. Is this really such an anomaly??


At 9:17 AM , Blogger A'ine said…

I wanted to make clear, that direct and outright disobedience does exist here, and that when it is direct and outright disobedience and defiance, I discipline it accordingly.
HOWEVER...the caveat here, is that with my daughter, it's a never-ending playing of detective to make sure that we are disciplining her for this and that what may appear to be bratty behaviour isn't masquerading something else underneath. Again, I'm not excusing, I'm giving a reason.
Her brain is wired differently than us "normal" folks. She has a hard time with different situations, and this is also detective work, because what might be hard for her today, might not be tomorrow, but might be hard again 2 weeks from now. It's exhausting, and it often is all-consuming, mentally.
Sometimes when she behaves in an inappropriate way (a lot of this is social inappropriateness, etc.), it's because she is having a hard time in a situation, and she "acts out" because she is having a hard time handling things. We are trying, with varying degrees of success, to teach her to put words to what's going on. Where we have run into problems, is with well-intentioned adults who choose to ignore reality and deal with her like she's a constant discipline problem, and you can bet she feels picked on when that's going on.
Put it this way: if you had an uncontrollable twitch in your right hand, and were constantly being "disciplined" for it, you'd feel pretty rotten after awhile.
Sometimes, we can't discipline her "in the moment" because it only adds fuel to the fire...and we have to be constantly inventing and reinventing the wheel with her.
Our school and church and inner circle of friends have been very supportive of us.
I am not saying all this to cry out for sympathy and pious platitudes; I am, rather, trying to communicate, that sometimes things aren't always what they appear to be. Medication(s) can also be involved, as well.


At 10:48 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

A'ine, Thanks for your helpful comments! You're right; we all need to be more aware that some parents are dealing with a lot, and trying to be creative in helping their children learn socially appropriate behaviour, which is definitely not easy.

And I don't mean to be saying that THESE kids are the brats; not at all. I'm more thinking of the kids in the Sunday School class who make it miserable for all the others, or the kids in the school classroom who make it awful for the kids who want to learn.

And while "special ed" (for want of a better word) children may be challenging, these really aren't the kids I mean, nor, I don't think, are they the ones who are most disruptive. It is usually the unruly kids who are "normal", so to speak, who don't have a label except for "oppositional defiant disorder", which basically means that they don't listen to any adult.

I think there is a world of difference between those who have a real emotional/social/processing/
learning disability, and those who are simply BAD. And I hope that we all can recognize the difference.


At 2:41 PM , Blogger Rebekah said…

Ok guys, so we get it. There are always special circumstances that can counter generalities. However, the main point of this article cannot be written off by a few exceptions. Also, contrary to popular belief, the common disorders of today existed long ago as well. What did the parents do about it then? They invested themselves in their child with special needs, protecting them and doing the majority of their education at home. Carefully controlling their environments, introducing them to stressful situations slowly, one at a time, and with ample teaching and training before, during, and after so as to help their child understand and become functional on whatever level they could be, actively looking for those children's strengths and lovingly capitalizing on them. Oh, lookey there, that is a restatement of a Parent's job. This is why my own grandma was able to get a job, get married, and have a family herself as an adult, when others in her same condition simply graduated from the early programs into an assisted living complex, into a nursing home very young, etc. and haven't enjoyed life as much as my grandma. Yes, the difference is indeed, at the last, the parents.


At 8:03 PM , Anonymous Christin @ Joyful Mothering said…

This is an excellent article and I'm so glad you wrote it.

The comments are rich with discussion and I really do believe the special needs children are typically an exception to this rule -- as Sheila stated, their needs go beyond an outsiders eye-grasp. While some of it can be handled and disciplined, other outbursts are a result of the need that child has. Again, this is the exception.

But overall, many children are going without training and discipline today. There are a plethora of reasons, but I have to agree with Sheila that it makes the rest of us miserable. Not only do teachers have to "deal", but so do parents who constantly have their children coming home with this new learned defiance that must be broken, near constantly.

We have a special needs child at our church and he even responds to discipline. I think the case is truly rare in percentage of those who truly cannot control their children/children cannot control themselves. Rare compared with the number of truly out of control children.

It's amazing how pleasant our children can be when we take the time to train and discipline them. :)


At 11:40 PM , Blogger Staci said…

I hope to shed more light on this subject, particularly in agreement with A'ine. My story is nearly identical to hers and it still breaks my heart to see even fellow believers continue to judge (and deny it!) moms in these situations.

If I've learned one thing from my own story is that you absolutely cannot judge a situation or a parent by observing one catastrophe in a grocery store. You have absolutely NO idea what is going on.

I wholeheartedly agree that there are bratty, undisciplined kids in this world and that many parents do blame it on "disabilities".

I invite you to read an entry I wrote on my (much neglected and amateur) blog a few years ago. This was before the word "autism" ever entered our vocabulary. It's not the greatest writing or the most eloquent, but hopefully it gives another perspective.

I truly urge you all, if you have a friend or family member that is struggling with the discipline of a child and desperately trying to do the right thing, please reserve judgment and offer prayer. There truly may be an underlying issue.

I can say from my own experience, with a vast amount of shame, that my quest to discipline the "brattiness" out of my son nearly led me to borderline abusive behavior with him. Again, I urge you to support your friends or family members who may be struggling with a deeper issue. Please don't assume that you "know" it's lack of discipline. Please.

I know that some of you still won't agree or ever understand, but hopefully I was able to offer another perspective.

A final thought: Proverbs 22:6 says to "train up a child in the way *he* should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Each child is unique in their need for discipline.

I think brattiness is as much about an issue of the heart as it is about lack of parenting. And I can assure you that my son, has the most tender, God-fearing heart, even in the middle of a meltdown over a fuzzy on his toe.


At 11:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

For those of you with children with true disabilities, I do not believe this post was directed toward you...I too, have two boys, one with ACC and Aspergers, the other with ADHD depression/anxiety/gifted.
One of the gifts that comes along with Autism is fits of never know when it will happen unless you know the child's trigger. My son's trigger is "change"...Don't even think about changing this kids routine unless you are prepared to listen to the rant. Though, sometimes change is inevitable and you have no choice but to deal with it when it happens and go on. However, he is never allowed to get violent or be mean. His safe place to rant at home is the bathroom, where he can close the door and yell to the GODS of the television network because his favorite show did not air at it's scheduled time.
Students like this should have special passes to leave a classroom or to go to a safe place or cool off area. At my school we do. These are true special needs and can be dealt with with close communication between parents and teachers/special ed coordinators. BUT...I will tell you that I happen to be one of those people who have to deal, on a daily basis with children who will tell you to your face, that they do what they do because they find it FUN to get a rise out of the other kids and teachers. These are not special needs children...These are the BRATS that you speak of in this post. And every year I see it getting worse and worse...And now because these BRATS have caused others around them to not receive proper education while they're around, school grades suffer, whole classrooms of students become nothing more than audiences while these BRAT's are putting on their show.
It is a travesty to think that we now have to legislate teachers pay based on student achievement when students like these impede our ability to actually teach.
I am also tired of teachers being the scape goats for poor achievement when this type of behavior has literally become common place in our schools.
If you stop and think about how very little time is actually spent with a middle school student you will see my point. ie.
The average class is 45 minutes ...times that by 180 days of school.You get approx. 135 hours of teaching time per year. Which rounded in to full days is roughly 5 and 1/2 days ...a year... of total teacher student face time...So, a teacher has 5 1/2 days a year to teach your child an entire grade level of information and Parents have them the other 359 1/2 days...

Now tell me who's at fault... Just saying.


At 1:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

ABSOLUTELY AGREE !!! I've been running a preschool for a very long time now and over the years I've seen more and more children coming in with MAJOR disrespect and unruliness. A lot more children are enrolling full time, whose moms are stay at home moms in "need" of a break from their little angels.
These are the children who get rewarded with a little trip to the dollar store after pulling a fit at pick up time because mom or dad didn't pick them up last or first or whatever the time they wanted for that day! Parents are quicker at buying the peace than standing up to their child's misbehavior and risk not being "nice" or their "best friend".

To be honest, I see this type of parenting more than occasional. No one ever said parenting would be easy, but like its said in the book of Proverbs "train up a child in the way *he* should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
At the rate things are going, i
it's kind of scary to see what the next generation will bring....


At 9:33 AM , Blogger Gutsy Living said…

Great controversial post and as someone who has 3 sons, lives in the U.S., but has family and friends in France, Denmark and England, I can say there are differences in the way kids behave internationally, so this must have something to do with parenting to a large extent, as ADD and Autism exist all over the world. Now teenagers are a different story, and our family had to handle defiance, just like other families, but we did uproot and yank our kids away from Orange County, California, and moved to Belize, Central America, in order to get them away from entitlement attitudes and peer pressures. Best experience for our family.


At 10:26 AM , Blogger Maggie Dodson said…

Brat is a teaching failure.
Brats are children who have not been taught how to BE in this world either in private or in public and because they have never been shown where the boundaries are they also lack respect for anyone who might then ask them to desist from their bad behaviour.
It is interesting however that most adults do not challenge these children when they're out of control in public and seem to be scared to do so.
I believe it is our duty as adults to look after all children not just our own, I don't hold with the 'It's none of my business' theory.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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