Bragging is something that usually emerges midway through elementary school, and is common among children ages 7 and up. A child may brag to their friends, or do so in front of adults.
Why children brag
Children brag because they want others to like and admire them, especially as they progress in their social development and the opinion of peers becomes more and more important to them. “After age 7, children develop New a new cognitive ability to think of themselves as having enduring traits and abilities,” explains developmental psychologist Martin Ford, Ph.D., professor of education at George Mason University. “They’re excited about these new ideas about themselves, so they want to talk about them and have others notice – which is what leads to bragging.” (Colino, 2011)
Most kids do not recognize bragging as a problem. They’re just really excited and want others to be as interested in their lives and activities as they are. It never occurs to them that telling others all the different ways you’re wonderful and awesome may come off as sounding obnoxious.
Bragging can also sometimes emerge in the spirit of competition. I’m sure that at one time or another you’ve witnessed an exchange that went something like this:
Child 1: My dad is so strong he could lift up all the weights.
Child 2: Yeah, well my Dad is so strong he can lift a car.
Child 3: But my Dad is so strong he could lift a whole bus with your dads in it!
This type of verbal sparring is normal in children, and there’s no reason to interfere so long as it seems all children are participating in good spirit. You might, however, use this opportunity to later talk with them about how everyone wants to feel like they’re talented or part of something special.
When is bragging a problem?
All children brag to one degree or another. It’s normal and healthy for kids to engage in self-promotion from time to time, and your child’s peers likely act in similar ways. But there are several situations in which a child’s bragging can become especially problematic:
If a child’s bragging is alienating her from her friends.
When a child’s bragging seems to take on a taunting nature to it.
When a child’s bragging seems to revolve around an “I’m better than you” theme. While it’s normal for kids to be competitive, you don’t want a child to develop the habit of lifting herself up at the expense of others.
If a child’s bragging seems to arise from insecurity or becomes obsessive
- If a child’s bragging also involves putting other down.
How to deal with a child’s bragging
Recognize that this is a normal developmental behavior, so don’t overreact.
Tell kids that it’s perfectly okay to talk to others about the things in their life that they are proud of or happy about. But help them appreciate how talking too much about this can make others feel bad. Explain that talking too much about what you have or what you can do might make others feel inferior, and this makes them feel bad. It might also make them think that you’re selfish, snobbish or stuck up.
Without making fun of them, reflect the situation back to them. Play a quick game where you become the bragger. Tell them about how wonderful you are, and if they try to get a word in, talk over them, and tell them how you’re so much better. It should give them an idea about why bragging can be so upsetting.
- Tell kids to think of it like taking turns. Pride becomes bragging when it’s all one-sided. Just like any other conversation, they need to take turns and allow other people their turn to talk about what they do well too. So teach kids this rule: Whenever they talk about themselves, it should be accompanied by a compliment or an invitation for others to talk about their own good things. Make sure they’re an equal-opportunity bragger who allows others their time in the spotlight too.
- Many kids don’t understand that others will notice their talents or admirable traits without them having to exaggerate or talk about them all the time. Promote the concept of speaking through our actions rather than our words, and praise children for exhibiting a “quiet confidence.”
- Make a rule against bragging about possessions, which can make other kids jealous. Tell others about it in the spirit of sharing your life, but don’t brag. Since possessions speak nothing about us as a person, they aren’t something to brag about.
- Don’t scold your child in front of her friends for bragging. If you need to, pull her aside for a quick talk. It is okay, however, to drop gentle reminders in everyday conversation, so long as it’s not going to shame or embarrass them. A simple reminder to “take turns II and let the other person talk about their talents often does the trick.