No matter your child’s age, the word spoiled is synonymous with unappealing characterizations for young and old children. Many parents believe that “spoiled” behavior is a normal part of development. They treat it as a phase that their little ones eventually grow out of as they get older. However, too frequently, this unappealing conduct carries over even into adulthood. Spoiling a child results in challenging behavior.1 It is also embarrassing for parents when out in public. And it interferes with a child’s ability to form and maintain healthy relationships with family, peers, and community members.
Describing and labeling children as spoiled only functions to identify a problem. It does nothing to pinpoint the actual cause of the unwanted behavior, its effect on development, and what parents can do to avoid nurturing it. The truth is spoiled children are not, at their core, bratty, rude, or selfish. Instead, they are stuck in varying stages of emotional development that no longer suit their age and level of functioning. Parents need to look for three key signs and solutions during specific childhood periods to be proactive and prevent the unwanted behaviors that stem from spoiling. Below are signs you may be raising a spoiled child and what to do about it to unspoil them.
Signs of Spoiled Behavior During the Early Years: “Demanding”
The most common label and behavioral indicator used during early childhood to describe a spoiled child is “demanding.”
Toddlers and older preschool-age children are often called spoiled when they consistently scream and tantrum to get what they want, when they don’t get what they want, and when they hear the word “no.” Contrary to popular belief, parents who give in to demanding behavior are not doing so because they want to raise spoiled children. Instead, they do so to make the behavior stop.
From birth, a parent must tend to every physical and emotional need of their child. Newborns and infants are entirely dependent beings. When babies cry, parents know and respond immediately to satisfy hunger, fatigue, anxiety, sadness, and illness. This type of parental responsiveness is automatic and fueled with love. So it is not surprising that moms and dads across the country continue satisfying these basic needs on-demand as children grow older.
The problem with this relational dynamic between parent and child is that an increased ability to wait and function independently comes with age. Not requiring children to do what they are capable of doing creates regressive conduct characterized and viewed by society as spoiled behavior.
Solving Demanding Behavior
Toddlers rapidly form deliberate sounds and attach them to desired objects and people. Two-year-olds use one or more words to ask for what they want. For it to grow and flourish, verbal language requires both responsiveness and opportunities to practice. If left unacknowledged, children will remain in an infant stage of development.
When, for example, parents give food to screaming and/or demanding children who can communicate verbally, they do so because they believe satisfying the physical need of hunger will stop the screaming. But in reality, it functions to nurture it. Conversely, if moms and dads require children to use the language they are capable of, the demanding or spoiled-like behavior will go away naturally.
Signs of Spoiled Behavior During Middle Years: “Inconsiderate”
By the start of kindergarten, children should have learned the basics of communicating appropriately with adults and peers. They should also have practiced patience and, most importantly, developed a sense of empathy. Empathy does not just mean the ability to walk in another’s shoes. It also means the understanding that sometimes the needs and feelings of another are more important than one’s own. However, if the demanding phase from early childhood is not addressed, the behaviors will continue as children grow older. This time they will present as inconsiderate. Examples include immediately expecting attention upon walking into a room, continually interrupting adult conversations, and dictating play dynamics with peers.
When older children are not required to wait, are given what they want whenever they want it and are given attention just because they are physically present, the egocentric stage persists and remains a permanent part of their identity. Egocentrism is a crucial part of development during infancy. Babies need to understand that they are the center of the universe, deserving of having their needs met immediately because they are entirely dependent beings. However, with age comes independence, the ability to self-regulate and cope. As such, the egocentric mindset must dissipate. Egocentrism and the development of empathy cannot coexist.
Solving Inconsiderate Behavior
As children grow older, they should become aware and respectful of social cues and dynamics. They need to be able to walk into an environment and evaluate if they would be welcome if the timing is right to ask a question or even join in the conversation. Additionally, youth in this age group are expected to be in the cooperative play stage. Sharing, turning-taking, and listening to friends’ needs, feelings, and ideas are a natural part of their peer relationships and interactions.
Remedies for inconsiderate behavior include discussing with children about not interrupting adult conversations, whether in person or by phone. They need to understand they should wait unless the issue is an emergency. Ignoring children who regularly disrupt is another effective way to deter and eliminate this unwanted behavior. At the same time sends an indirect message that waiting their turn is mandatory.
For children who dominate play with peers, parents can organize playdates and facilitate different social scenarios ensuring that each child gets a turn to choose a game or activity and, if appropriate, establish the rules and roles. Through parental guidance and consistent practice of these social cues, children will learn to appropriately assess different situations to know when it is and is not okay to interrupt. They will also come to understand the importance of listening, sharing, and reciprocity in their relationships with friends.
Signs of Spoiled Behavior During Adolescence: “Entitled”
Over-attending throughout childhood can create a powerful sense of entitlement during the teenage years. Entitled or spoiled behavior during adolescence takes the form of a child being materialistic. They do not just want but expect the best clothes, electronic devices, and the like without having to earn them. In relationships with parents, spoiled teens talk back, are disrespectful, and often believe the household rules do not apply to them. In relationships with peers, entitled children are frequently takers who do not understand the pleasures of sharing and giving in their relationships.
Entitled adolescents struggle in the social realm. But because they are rarely provided opportunities to earn desired items like clothing and iPhones, they do not feel a sense of accomplishment, which can lead to low self-esteem. When children work to earn and achieve a targeted objective, they increase their self-confidence and create a natural motivation to work independently towards other desired goals.
Solving Entitled Behavior
Entitled, noncompliant, disrespectful, and apathetic teens will be a handful for even the most resourceful parents. The most advisable course of action is for parents to stop giving their teenagers what they want on demand. Start requiring them to start earning desired items. Teens should have daily household chores that they are required to complete independently and without reminders. They are part of the family unit and should contribute. They can also do so to earn an allowance. Further, children aged 16 and up are old enough to obtain part-time work to earn extra money. Youth who work hard for material items typically take better care of their belongings. They come to value their efforts and, ultimately, their property.
Turning spoiled behavior around in these almost adult children will be no easy task. This is why parents must address and prevent spoiled-like conduct from arising in the early years. Starting when children are young, proactive parents will not give demanding children what they want. Instead, they will require them to calm down, learn to accept the word “no,” wait patiently, and use words to meet their needs and desires.