- Delayed gratification, or the idea that waiting and withholding now can reap more substantial rewards later (such as saving for a big-ticket item).
- Understanding their limits. They will constantly push their boundaries, sometimes to potentially unsafe or disastrous ends.
- Healthy social life. Kids (and eventually, adults) don’t like being bossed around or constantly having to give in to someone’s whims every time.
- Empathy. Without the skills to put herself in others’ shoes, a spoiled child won’t have an understanding of what others could be feeling or experiencing.
- Self-soothing. When we give in to every tantrum, kids are denied the ability to soothe themselves, whether by finding quiet time in their room, doing a new activity or breathing calmly.
Given all the benefits of establishing limits and allowing kids to feel disappointment, take heed of the following 9 warning signs that you’re spoiling your kid:
#1: You give in to every request
One of the tell-tale signs of spoiling a child is teaching her that everything comes easily and at her every whim. Or that she only needs to throw a fit and she’ll get her way. Saying “no” is perfectly fine and even necessary because not everything will be conducive nor available to your kid’s desires. Wanting to stay at the park until hours on end simply isn’t possible when you have to go home for dinner and bed.
#2: You deliver empty threats
“If you throw that toy one more time, we’re leaving the library,” you might say to your child. If you do, make sure to follow through and actually leave the library should your child throw the toy. Or don’t tell your kid you’re not going to Disneyland if he keeps acting up when you know full well that you’re still going to go. Kids will eventually catch on to your empty threats and not take you seriously.
I made this mistake just today. My three-year-old didn’t want to clean up his connect-and-create toy pieces, and I had threatened to throw them away if he didn’t. And just as I said it, I cringed, thinking, “I really don’t want to throw this toy away; it’s too cool to get rid of.” Instead, I just gathered the toys and stashed them in my room to make a point, albeit a weak one.
#3: You’re inconsistent with rules and consequences
Picking our battles and making exceptions to the rule are fine—when they’re the exception. But when kids can’t even tell which rules are in place because they always change, they’ll have a more difficult time abiding by them (and an easier time bending them).
#4: You shield your kids from disappointment
If your son cries when he accidentally drops his ice cream cone, driving all the way back to the store to appease him does little for his personal growth. Yes, you’ll likely have to deal with a crying child, and no one wants to see their little ones frustrated or upset, but trying to keep him from feeling sad doesn’t offer the coping skills he’ll need to bounce back. If you’re near the ice cream store and don’t mind parting with a few more bucks, then sure, treat your kid to a second helping. But to go out of your way just teaches them to avoid disappointment at all costs instead of dealing with it head on.
Similarly, try not to rescue your child when he gets into his own mess. One of the best ways we learn is through our mistakes, so when parents scoop kids up and shield them from a potential learning moment, we’re doing more of a disservice than our initial intention.
#5: You overindulge with material goods
Often cited as the poster child of spoiling, lavishing kids with material goods prevents them from expressing gratitude and raises unrealistic expectations. They’re also bound to tie their inherent joy to material goods instead of on relationships, experiences and personal happiness. Simple ways to curtail spoiling kids with toys, clothes and everything they ask for? Allow less media and commercials, focus on simple outings and highlight everyday joys such as a fun time at the park.
#6: You bribe with external rewards
Establish your authority as a parent by requiring your kids to obey without having to bribe. Telling your son he’ll have a new toy if he cleans his room sets him up to expect unrelated and external rewards for doing regular tasks instead of feeling rewarded within for a job well done. He should clean his room because 1) that’s what is expected of him to do, 2) he’ll be able to enjoy a clean room, and 3) he’ll feel proud for doing a job well done are just some of the reasons you don’t have to use bribes.
#7: You don’t encourage gratitude
Model and tell your child the appropriate times to say “thank you” and she’ll eventually pick it up and say it on her own. Remember to thank her as well when she does something for you so that she knows this is what everyone does. Steer clear from allowing her to keep taking and receiving without so much as an acknowledgment to the giving part.
#8: Your kids interrupt conversations
Kids don’t usually interrupt conversations on purpose, but allowing them to cut you off mid-sentence is simply rude and doesn’t teach them the proper way of talking with other people. I usually tell my kid that I’m talking to daddy right now, and when I’m done, then it can be his turn to talk.
This will only be effective if adults respect kids’ conversations, too. Recently my kid was saying something when another adult started talking to me as well. I held up my hand to the adult as if to say, “Hold on,” and kept my attention and responded to my kid before finally turning to the other conversation. This way, he knows that the rule applies to everyone and that his voice isn’t diminished simply because he’s a kid.
#9: Your kids have too much say in family life
Does your daughter decide (through tantrums, outbursts or whining) that you’re all going to eat at the restaurant of her choosing… once again? Giving kids choices and the chance to offer input is healthy, but doing so too often and especially because of whining will only disrupt your family life. Kids aren’t meant to control households; parents have to be the authority.
Giving in to our kids’ demands and whining is the easy way out: we don’t want to be embarrassed by their outbursts, or feel guilty for not spending enough time with them, or witness their disappointment. Spoiling is the quick fix-it that seems to solve the problem now. Yet in doing so, we’re denying our kids lifelong lessons that include building their own strengths, finding new methods to cope, and appreciating the simpler things in life.
After all, kids want their parents to be parents. We’re not doing them any favors by being anything else.
Are you guilty of any of the nine warning signs? What are other ways parents can avoid raising a spoiled kid? Let us know in the comments below!