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
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 y9u 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 child brag, wonder what to do. If
you’re concerned about your six- to nine-year-olds 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.