Avoid Raising a Spoiled Child

How to encourage respect, self-reliance, and good behavior

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Deena Steele* knew her daughter was spoiled. The youngest of four kids, four-year-old Kate* was the "baby" of the family, and knew it. If she didn't get her way, she'd throw a temper tantrum. Even though her room was overflowing with toys, Deena was always buying her new things so she could get some shopping done. Her bedtime was non-existent and her back talk was so bad it was embarrassing.

"Things were really bad," admits Deena.

"It got to the point that at the slightest whimper from Kate, whomever in the family was dealing with her would just give up and let her have what she wanted. I was just so exhausted from handling her all the time -- we all were -- it was just easier to not fight. It was especially hard because our other kids were all so good. I guess I just figured it was a phase she was going through."

Things started to change when Kate entered preschool. About three weeks into the school year, Kate's teacher asked for a conference and said that something needed to be done about Kate's behavior in the classroom.

"Apparently everything she did at home, she did at school," Deena said. "I guess she felt like she was the Queen! I felt bad because she was starting to bully some of the other children. Deep down I knew she was a good kid at heart. I knew I knew we had to make changes."

The Era of the Spoiled Child
No one wants to raise a spoiled child, but it happens very often, especially in this age of "helicopter parenting, and excess.

Between all the toys, gadgets, and gizmos that are available to kids, not to mention television programs, apps, and other resources all geared at kids, it's almost easy to see how parents begin to view life as being totally about their children and nothing else. When parents indulge like this -- either in the sense of giving their child everything they want physically or emotionally or both -- a spoiled child is almost an inevitable conclusion.

The good news is, there are things you can do to avoid raising a spoiled child or, if you think your child is already too far gone, help her change her behavior. Here's how:

  • Be Consistent If one day you discipline your child for jumping on the couch, but the next day you don't, you are teaching him that your rules don't mean anything. Same if you threaten your child with taking away a toy for inappropriate behavior and then don't follow through. Staying true to your word is important, because your child will learn that you mean what you say. If you have no real intention of "canceling Christmas" because your little one won't hold your hand when your cross a parking lot, then don't say that. Find more realistic punishments that you will actually do.
  • Say no Just because your child asks for something -- a toy, a second dessert -- it doesn't mean you have to cave it.

    "I always indulged Kate in the store, buying her things, because I wanted her to have what I didn't," Deena said. "My family didn't have a lot of money growing up, so now that I'm in a situation where we are comfortable, I liked that I could buy her a toy if she asked for it." That's nice every once in a while as a surprise, but if you do it every time, a child learns to expect it, and learns not to be happy with what they have.

  • Use Discipline This seems like a no brainer, but there are a lot of parents who don't discipline their children. For Deena, it was not wanting to hurt Kate's feelings.

    "In the beginning, we would laugh it off if Kate would do something bad," she said. "And then it got to be that I felt bad if I yelled or punished her because she was so little. I was always making excuses for her behavior." By not correcting your child when he does something that isn't appropriate, you are teaching them that their actions don't have consequences.

    "Once I learned that there are other discipline techniques besides spanking and yelling, I felt better about discipling her," Deena said. And like manners, the older a child gets, the harder it is to teach them what behaviors are acceptable and which aren't.

  • Set a Routine Whether they realize it or not, little kids crave routine. Living life by the seat of your pants, never knowing what is coming next might work for some grown ups, but for a child it just causes stress. That's not to say your schedule can't vary (say during the holidays or on a vacation), but kids just do better when they wake up at the same time every day and go to bed at the same time every night. Enforcing bedtimes, mealtimes, school times, and any other every day things that you do will help give your child a sense of stability.
  • Assign Chores By asking your preschooler to take more responsibility around the house, you are giving her an important role in the family as well as teaching her that everyone has to do their fair share.

    "I never had Kate do any work because I always felt like she was too young," Deena said. When Kate would hear Deena say something like, "She's too little, she doesn't have to clean up," even if it was Kate's mess to begin with, she eventually started to feel entitled. There are plenty of age-appropriate chores that little ones can do to be helpful around the house.

  • Teach Manners Manners tend to be another one of those things where parents often brush them off because they feel their kids are to little to use them. It's a lot harder to teach a six- or seven-year-old to start saying "please and thank you" then it is a three-year-old. But manners aren't just a social nicety. They demonstrate respect to the greater community.

With a little guidance from the preschool teacher and a lot of effort from Deena and her family, Kate changed her ways.

It was definitely hard in the beginning because Kate's behavior was so ingrained in her," Deena said. "Although I had been giving her everything she wanted, I know now I actually failed her." Deena said Kate will sometimes return to her old ways, but quickly bounces back.

"I feel like I rediscovered my daughter. We are all very happy!"

*Names have been changed.

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