“But I want it now!” All children go through a me, mine, now phase as small babies and toddlers, and it’s normal for them to be egocentric. In other words, they are the center of the universe, and everything revolves around them.1 You’re not a bad parent, nor is your child bad if they go through this stage. But what is normal, and when do you have a spoiled child on your hands? And if you have noticed some spoiled characteristics creeping in, don’t worry; it’s absolutely possible to unspoil a child.
Signs of a Spoiled Child
Spoiled kids are ungrateful and used to getting what they want when they want it. And if they don’t, wait for the meltdown. They aren’t just learning how to navigate the world and consider other people; they have no appreciation for what others need and expect people to meet their needs or wants without giving (or doing) anything in return.1 Other signs or behaviors to watch out for include:2
What Causes a Child To Be Spoiled?
I’m sorry to say a lot of spoiled behavior comes down to parenting. This is not to say that parents who spoil their children are bad, as it’s mostly unintentional.3 Many children end up spoiled because their parents want the best for them! As parents, we want to please our children and ensure their happiness. We give them gifts, arrange special treats, and visit restaurants, stores, amusement parks, etc., to entertain them. However, this can accidentally result in children becoming entitled or expecting this kind of treatment all the time.
But the main reason children become spoiled is from lenient or permissive parenting. This is when a parent doesn’t have firm boundaries or many rules and doesn’t use discipline.4 This can make children self-centered, immature, selfish, and narcissistic. No one can be perfect all of the time, parents included. And it’s easier to give in sometimes and say “yes,” but children learn that if they nag, whine, or throw a tantrum, they will get what they want.
Sometimes, treating and spoiling children or being permissive comes from guilt. Lots of parents are working long hours outside of the home. Spending time away from their little ones makes them feel bad, so they try to “buy” their love or even unintentionally try to make things easy and fun because they don’t have enough hours with them. And it’s a nicer way to spend time together than having arguments and putting in place rules or consequences.
Nothing is wrong with the odd bit of spoiling or a special treat, and no one can always be perfect. We’ve all been that tired parent who picked their battle, looked away from challenging behavior that was not ultimately harmful or dangerous, and decided not to pick up on it. But we are talking about patterns, where being entitled and spoiled, or having a lack of boundaries and rules, are reinforced over and over, not a little treat occasionally.
How To Unspoil Your Child
With all this in mind, can you learn how to unspoil your child? Absolutely!
Essentially, spoiled behavior lasts as long as we continue to reinforce it. This means we undo entitled and demanding behavior by being consistent with rules, expectations, boundaries, and consequences and not giving in. It’s easier said than done, as children who have gotten used to things going their way might have strong feelings when the rules change. So, here are some strategies to help your child re-engage with their empathy and compassion and to support you in unspoiling them.
1. Don’t Make Things Too Easy for Them
I’m not saying be mean or unhelpful, but sometimes we accidentally do too much for our kids and don’t allow them to learn life skills. When we do too much for them, we smooth the pathways in their lives, meaning they don’t learn how to cope with disappointment or challenges. So, start small and let them experience a challenge or bit of discomfort. For example, instead of rushing to tie their shoes, allow them to have a go first. Or instead of buying them another ice cream because they don’t want vanilla, allow them to eat the vanilla flavor or not eat the ice cream you purchased.
2. Patience is a Virtue
In our modern world, nearly everything we want is the “touch of a button” away. Want to talk to grandparents on the other side of the world? Done! Want to watch any movie you can think of on demand? Done! We need to allow our kids the opportunity to practice being patient. It’s a skill learned over time. So, don’t rush to give things. Much like the previous strategy, don’t be too quick to give them what they want. Make them wait or earn something before they can get what they want.
3. Teach Them To Manage Big Feelings
A large part of unspoiling a child means you must help them manage strong emotions. This is because they will have to learn how to cope with being patient, disappointed (as mentioned previously), or distressed when things don’t go well. Teach them calming skills or strategies to help manage their anger — moving their bodies about, learning to talk about things, calm breathing, etc.
4. Learn How To Cope When They Tantrum
This one is more for you than your child. There is no need to interfere if they aren’t in danger during a tantrum. Stay present and close by (we don’t reject our children when they have big feelings), but don’t engage with a tantrum. I know; it’s hard when you are in public and mortified that they are melting down because they couldn’t have the chocolate bar. But giving in at that point will only reinforce spoiled behaviors you want to eliminate.3 Stay firm, allow them to have a tantrum, and ensure you look after yourself, as it can be stressful and overwhelming when our kids express big feelings.
5. Have a Gratitude Attitude
It’s essential to know how to teach a spoiled child appreciation. One key way of doing that is by developing a gratitude attitude. Grateful children are happier, more optimistic, have better social support (they tend to give more social support and receive support in return), and are more satisfied with their lives.5 We can teach gratitude by things like:
- Modeling the behavior we expect from our children
- Drawing their attention to the positives and silver linings in life
- Giving back (donating time and resources to help others out)
- Being aware of other people and their lives (differences, cultures, history, challenges, etc.)
- Developing a daily ritual of identifying something small you are grateful for in your lives
- Gratitude exercises and activities
It is possible to unspoil your child; it just takes consistency and persistence. When you can do this, not only will your child benefit, but so will you and the entire family. Being grateful and appreciative helps your child be happier and improves their well-being.5 Of course, your child isn’t perfect, so sometimes they seem ungrateful or a little demanding, but that’s normal. Turn these into teachable moments, and continue with your consistent rules, boundaries, and expectations. These spoiled moments will fade away soon enough.