Why does my child brag so much?

     Every child at times talks proudly about his possessions, his activities, and his family. Usually he just wants to share his excitement with friends. Sometimes, however, he boasts, exaggerates, or lies about his possessions and accomplishments. He may try to show off or to impress his friends. This is bragging, and it’s difficult for most parents to listen to. They wonder, “How did this child become so materialistic?” “Why doesn’t he think about other people’s feelings?”

     Elementary school-aged children brag because they have competitive feelings about each other. They sometimes judge themselves and their peers by abilities—“Can you do a cartwheel?”—and by possessions – “She’s lucky. She’s got a lot of toys.” Friendships at this age are based on shared interests, and a child may feel threatened if he doesn’t have what his friends have. This in turn may lead him to lie, brag, and put down others just to feel accepted by his peers. One boy exaggerated the size of his baseball card collection because he felt left out when his friends talked about their cards. Bragging made him feel like he belonged.

     Some kids brag because their self-esteem is low. If a child feels inadequate, he may seek attention by lying about what he owns or by making up elaborate stories about family activities. Boasting makes him feel important. Siblings may brag because they feel jealous of each other. One will chant, “I got to go outside twice today for recess and you didn’t!” and the other will respond, “I can sleep at Julie’s and you can’t!”

     Bragging often has a negative effect on young listeners. Children between six and nine usually believe what friends tell them, so they may end up feeling hurt and angry about seemingly far-fetched claims. One girl said she had a new necklace and her friend responded, “So? I got five new bracelets.” Some children just listen, feeling uncomfortable. Still others are so impressed by their friends’ bragging that they start boasting for them: “My friend has a huge train set!”

     Parents, overhearing their own or another child brag, wonder what to do. If you’re concerned about your six- to nine-year-old’s boasts, remember that he may not realize he’s bragging. In the early elementary years, kids are just leaving the stage of egocentric, self-centered thinking and only beginning to consider other people’s needs. His feelings of respect for others will come and go in this stage before he fully understands the impact bragging has.

     Still, it’s important to talk with him about boastful behavior. Let him know that his innocent exuberance may be thought of as bragging by those who have less than he does. One boy who liked to talk about his comic book collection was upset by a friend who lied about having a similar collection. The boy’s mother used the incident to talk about friendship and jealousy. You can speak to your own child about bragging, using real or hypothetical situations. You may be frustrated during your discussion if he shows a lack of concern for others, but keep talking and listening. If he feels heard, he’ll eventually be more willing to listen to you.

     When you overhear him and his friends bragging excessively, let them try to handle the situation themselves. If one seems to be getting upset, step in and either distracts them all or set limits for them. If your child is bothered by bragging at school, remind him that he can set limits, too. He can say, “I don’t want to talk about that anymore,” or, “That’s all I want to hear about your bike.”

     If your child boasts excessively to his siblings, try to find out what the underlying issues are. Your children may need more attention or may be bothered by problems at school or in the family. Once you discover the reasons, you can help your children build better sibling relationships.

     Finally, you can help by demonstrating the right behavior for your child. If you boast about your home, cars, vacations, and even his accomplishments, you’re teaching him to act similarly. However, when you’re respectful of others’ feelings, you help him learn to control his bragging and become a more thoughtful and considerate person.

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