No parent intends to educate a spoiled child. However, babies do not come with an instruction manual under the arm, so it is often necessary to resort to our instinct – which is not always a guarantee of success.
There is no doubt that parenting is one of the most complex and challenging tasks that we face throughout life, so it is normal to make mistakes that end up being reflected in child behavior.
The good news is that we can rectify those failures. It is never too late to detect what we are doing wrong and redirect our educational guidelines because too protective or permissive education can have terrible consequences, not only for the child’s development but also for family dynamics.
Parents should keep in mind that a spoiled child is not a happy child, and neither is his family. That is why it is essential to learn to detect the first warning signs and stop them as soon as possible.
What is a spoiled child?
The spoiled child is not born, he’s done. That means he is the result of an overly permissive parenting style. A child isn’t spoiled by receiving love, hugs, pampering and affection. He is spoiled by the absence of limits and norms.
In fact, although the label “spoiled” is assigned to the child, in reality it is only the reflection of an inadequate education in which everyone folds to his wishes. The spoiled child is, therefore, a child who shows an arrogant, demanding and self-centered attitude that prevents him from relating assertively with the others, which ends up affecting his development.
10 Behaviors of spoiled children
1. Tantrums become everyday bread. Tantrums are common when children are young and can be considered normal until 3 or 4 years old because they are essentially an escape valve for the child to express his frustration. When the child is small, it is difficult for him to explain in words what he feels, so that he expresses it through his body. In addition, his level of self-control is still too low to contain his impulses. However, as he grows he increases his control and his ability to express himself, so tantrums have no place. Consequently, tantrums at school age often indicate a rude and overly spoiled child.
2. He never feels satisfied. If a child is used to receiving everything he wants and has not heard a “no” in his life, he will grow up believing to be the center of the universe, that everyone lives – and goes out of his way – to serve him. As a result, it is likely that he will not settle for what he has and demands more and more. These children, for example, will be happy with a new toy for a very short period of time, get bored quickly and demand to buy others. He’s also likely to order a special dinner dish, but then refuse to eat it.
3. He tries to control adults. Children are excellent manipulators, although most adults do not usually realize it. However, the spoiled child goes one step further and tries to control his parents’ behavior and guide his decisions. This is because it does not make a difference between adults and their peers. A spoiled child will believe that he is the navel of the world and that everyone should bend to their desires since he suffers the Emperor Syndrome. To achieve his task, he is likely to resort to all kinds of stratagems, from tantrums to pretend sick or even direct confrontation.
4. He does not follow the orders of adults. The children are not small soldiers or general infantry parents. However, children need certain rules, which will not only keep them safe from danger, but also make them feel safer and calmer. In theory, parents do not have to beg the child to comply with a sensible order and they do not have to bribe him to do so. The child must understand and accept that the parents have authority and must obey when asked for something.
5. He does not help at home. When children are young, they are very self-centered, they believe that the world revolves around them. However, after 3 or 4 years, the child abandons that attitude, begins to be interested in the feelings of others and is more cooperative. At this time parents should be giving him different responsibilities, such as picking up his toys or storing his shoes. However, one of the most distinctive characteristics of the spoiled child is that he does not seem to care about the work his parents do, he is not willing to help and often ignores your requests.
6. He shames you on purpose in public. When the child understands that some of his behaviors embarrass you, he takes advantage of them to manipulate you and draw attention in public. Therefore, it is common for his tantrums to take place in public places or to reveal things that make you feel uncomfortable, even if you have warned him not to say them.
7. He is not empathic. Children, when they are young, tend to have an egocentric perspective, which becomes blurred as the years go by. However, even younger children are able to show some empathy, such as hugging parents when they perceive they are sad or helping a little brother. Spoiled children, on the contrary, are not usually empathic. They have a hard time putting themselves in the place of the others, tuning in with the emotions of the others and understanding their views. As a result, they are not usually generous either.
8. He does not share his things. Up to 4 years, most children do not have a special interest in other children, they play in parallel. However, from this age they start playing together and share their toys. It is normal that the child does not want to share some toys, which he considers special and to which he is more attached, but this may not be the norm. The spoiled child is not only reluctant to share his toys and property, but also demands that others share theirs with him. He assumes a deeply selfish behavior.
9. He does not relate well to other children or adults. One of the most obvious signs that the child is spoiled are the problems in his interpersonal relationships. These children, being too self-centered, often have conflicts with their peers, so it is likely that they are always involved in fights or that other children end up avoiding it. The same goes for adults. When they realize that the child misbehaves, they usually prefer to avoid home visits.
10. He does not follow the rules of courtesy, but requires special treatment. Spoiled children do not usually follow the rules of good education. They do not say “thank you” as they think they are entitled to everything and do not ask for things with a “please”. That means they don’t show great appreciation for the help they receive from the others, which, in the long run, will become an obstacle to their social life. It is also common for them to demand special treatment and get angry when they do not receive it because they do not usually tolerate negative feelings such as frustration.
What are the consequences for a spoiled child?
A spoiled child is not happy. His family neither. When a child receives everything he wants and grows without limits, he will not be able to develop important life skills such as tolerance to frustration or resilience. As a result, he will not know how to deal with these emotions when they appear, which increases the chances of suffering emotional disorders such as depression at an early age.
These children will also not know how to delay gratifications and will have poor self-control, two skills that have been proven essential for success in life. In turn, they will have low Emotional Intelligence, so they are more likely to face numerous interpersonal conflicts, both in the personal and professional areas, when they grow up.
The family also suffers. Dealing with a spoiled child is becoming increasingly complicated because his demands are increasing, while obligations decrease, so that parents end up becoming subjects of a tyrant who orders and disposes at will. In this scenario, the family’s balance is broken, to the point that it ceases to be a developing source for its members and becomes a dysfunctional family.
What to do with a spoiled child? First you have to understand
Dealing with a spoiled child it is important to understand that this egocentric and immature behavior is usually the result of the inability of parents and adults in a general sense to impose consistent and age-appropriate limits.
Behaviors that concern parents of spoiled children are not usually due to psychological problems, they are a “normal” but maladaptive reaction to certain situations. In other words: the spoiled child has not learned to react adequately to situations that overflow him or has not acquired the correct rules of behavior.
A very interesting study developed at the University of Miami revealed that the behavior of French and American preschool children differs. When they play, French children are aggressive with their peers only 1% of the time but American children, on the contrary, were aggressive 29% of the time. Psychologists are convinced that these differences are due to different parenting practices.
Research has consistently shown that the difficult behavior of children is usually the result of inadequate adult care. In a study conducted several years ago at the University of Washington, were analyzed the effects of attention on a spoiled child who used to respond with cries and tantrums. Every time that child cried, an adult came to offer him comfort.
Psychologists asked the adults that, if the child was well and in no danger, they would not come immediately when he had a tantrum or cried. After five days, the boy went from having an average of 7 episodes of tantrums and cries a day to almost zero. Interestingly, when adults returned to pay attention to his maladaptive behaviors, tantrums and crying worsened.
That same pattern has been observed in school-age children. In other experiments in the elementary school classrooms, psychologists noted that some students repeatedly left their seats without good reason. The usual thing was for the teacher to interrupt the lesson to reprimand them. However, these efforts often increased the frequency of the bad behavior. When the teacher ignored children who wandered and paid attention to those who were concentrated in class, the frequency of that behavior used to decrease dramatically.
Unfortunately, most parents and teachers are more likely to pay attention to annoying behaviors than to desirable children’s behaviors. It is estimated that adults generally ignore 90% or more of the good things children do. Instead, they pay more attention to children when they behave badly.
How to correct spoiled children?
1. Identify the behaviors to change. It may seem banal, but it is not. Many parents make the mistake of generalizing so much that they end up throwing all childish behaviors in the same bag. By placing the label “spoiled child” what you do is reinforcing the difficult behaviors. Therefore, the first step to correct a spoiled child is to identify the behaviors to change and, above all, the positive behaviors to reinforce.
2. Stop excusing him. Don’t minimize your child’s bad behavior. Don’t justify his tantrums by saying “it’s a child’s thing” as this will encourage him to maintain that pattern of behavior. It is also not convenient for you to apologize for him when he makes a mistake. He must learn to take responsibility for his behavior and assume the consequences, so far, instead of excusing yourself for him, encourage him to apologize. Assuming mistakes is the first step to mature and abandon the egocentric posture.
3. Establish consistent rules. For a spoiled child to leave behind his bad habits and build new and more adaptive ones, you must point the way by establishing a series of rules. You must apply those rules no matter where the act of disrespect has taken place. The most important thing is to be consistent because if the child notices that sometimes you apply the rules and sometimes not, he will feel confused and will find it easier to continue behaving badly than striving to develop good behaviors.
4. Specify. Do not rebuke the child, rebuke the behavior. Don’t say phrases like “you are a spoiled child”. Specify what you didn’t like and how he should have behaved. You can tell him, “in this house noboday raises his voice”, so that you not only indicate the bad behavior, but also makes him notice what you expect of him.
5. Let the other adults scold him. In the past, it was normal for teachers and adults to scold children when they did something wrong. Now many parents disapprove and demand that they be the ones who scold the child. However, there is nothing wrong with other adults correcting bad behaviors, as long as they do it properly and within reasonable limits. That will motivate him to behave more respectfully in all contexts.
6. Let him face his own problems. Many times, a spoiled child is an overprotected and vitiated child. Parents generally want to avoid problems for their children, but becoming helicopter parents will not do them good; on the contrary, they will take away the child opportunities to test his skills and mature. Therefore, whenever possible, let your child solve the problems alone. Give small help, if he needs them, but don’t solve everything for him.
7. Do not interact when he’s angry. You should never tolerate rude answers, but it makes little sense to try to reason with the child when he is too angry. Explain that you will only respond when you are able to communicate properly. In many cases, spoiled behaviors are a demand for attention, so stopping to pay attention to your child when he is angry can make that behavior disappear because he will understand that it is not a valid strategy to achieve his wishes.
8. Do not allow any type of emotional blackmail. Many parents, in order to avoid the tantrums or anger of the children, especially when they are in public, end up giving in to their whims. Thus, they only manage to reinforce the negative behavior since the child will assume it as an effective strategy to achieve what he wants. Instead, you must make him understand that only through reason and assertiveness can he achieve what he wants.
9. Reinforce good behaviors. Most parents make the mistake of punishing only bad behaviors, forgetting to provide a positive role model. Therefore, do not forget to appreciate the good behavior of the child, let him know that you understand and value the effort he is making to change.
10. Discipline with love, controlling his reactions. Do not discipline because of shame or anger. It is possible to discipline firmly but from love. It is not convenient for you to make your child feel ashamed or lose his temper. Remember that you are his role model and, if you are asking him to be able to control his emotions, you must show that you know how to manage yours. Never conditions love. Your child should know that you love him.
Field, T. (1999) Preschoolers in America are touched less and are more aggressive than preschoolers in France. Early Child Development and Care; 151: 11-17.
McIntosh, B.J. (1989) Spoiled child syndrome. Pediatrics; 83(1): 108-115.
Harris, F. R. et. Al. (1964) Effects of Adult Social Reinforcement on Child Behavior. Young Children; 20(1): 8-17.