Struggling with your child’s behavior? Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re guilty of spoiling. Here are 9 early warning signs of a spoiled child to look out for.
It can start off as the occasional whining. She wants to stay longer at the park or get a new unicorn toy (never mind the many others sitting in a box at home).
Then it escalates to throwing a fit when you try to tell her no, or outright disobeying on purpose when she gets upset. She might even demand which restaurant to eat this week, all without showing gratitude when you agree to go.
No parent intentionally sets out to raise spoiled kids.
Maybe you want to provide financial comforts you never had, or a busy work schedule makes you feel guilty for not spending enough time with her. Giving in seems much easier than putting your foot down, especially when you’re exhausted.
But taken too far, you might realize you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands than you anticipated. You’ve always wanted her to be polite, listen most of the time, and be kind to others.
Instead, you feel like you have no control over her any longer.
If you feel like you have a spoiled child, rest assured you’re not the only parent struggling with this kind of behavior. Many have realized that time outs don’t work and counting to three doesn’t have the effect they used to. And you dread the idea of this getting worse over the years.
9 signs of a spoiled child
Except sometimes it’s not always so easy to see the signs of a spoiled child. How do you know if her behavior is normal for her age, or if it’s a sign of serious issues you’ve overlooked? When might you be too strict about boundaries, or too lenient about picking your battles?
Maybe we’ve even seen other kids show similar traits, or worse, adults who didn’t seem to outgrow these behaviors. How can you prevent the same from happening with your child?
The first step is by being aware. The earlier you can spot problem signs, the quicker and easier it is to steer course. Take a look at the following telltale characteristics and signs of a spoiled child — and how to turn things around:
1. You give in to your child’s every request
Have you had one of those days where you’re just too tired to be on your A-game in parenting?
Maybe you just came home from a long, I-had-to-skip-lunch-and-now-I’m-hungry day at work. Or you’re not in the mood to deal with yet another tantrum about eating a snack 30 minutes before dinner.
Other times, you’re driven by the desire to make your child happy. Tossing in a toy into the shopping cart doesn’t seem like much harm done, especially when you can afford it easily.
Except giving in to her every request doesn’t put her best interests first. This teaches her that she can get anything she wants, an unrealistic expectation not only from you but from others she’ll meet in the real world.
She’ll learn that she only needs to whine, pout, throw a fit, or make another person uncomfortable enough to cave in to her wishes. This clearly isn’t a healthy way to begin future friendships and relationships she’ll have later in life.
She won’t learn how to listen to another person’s point of view or understand the logic and reason behind decisions. Instead, she focuses only on her wants.
Giving in to every request doesn’t establish the boundaries she needs. She may look like she wants you to cave in, but deep within, she truly wants a parent who can stand up to her tantrums and remain strong and consistent.
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“Thank you! You have an amazing look at those frustrating situations we as mothers deal with. You help me find some way out of the yelling game I seem to always find myself in with my kids.” -Kristy S.
2. You deliver empty threats
My kids and I were getting ready for swim class when they were fooling around instead of doing what they were supposed to. So I said, “If you don’t get ready, then we’re not going to swim class!” Other times I’ve threatened, “If I see any of these superhero toys left lying on the ground, I’m going to throw it in the trash.”
I had no intention of skipping swim class or throwing any toys away. Instead, I resorted to making empty threats to get them to listen.
It’s easy to see why we do this.
We’re exasperated and react instead of pausing to see whether this is even the most effective or respectful way to speak. Other times, we feel threatened when they don’t listen and try to up the ante by threatening something extreme. And sometimes, it just seems like nothing else will get through.
But empty threats hold no value. We say them when we’ve reached our limits or are too tired to think properly, so we bark threats and orders. We don’t consider their point of view or how we might be making the situation worse.
Empty threats might work the first or second time before kids call our bluff. They’ll no longer take our word or believe we’ll follow through with what we say.
And finally, no parent wants the kind of relationship that relies on empty threats and power struggles just to get anything done. Focus instead on mutual respect and communication, not commanding orders or bossing your child around.
3. You’re inconsistent with expectations
Despite his demands, your child wants consistency, especially with enforcing consequences and establishing expectations.
Maybe you told him to stop jumping in the living room when just yesterday you created an obstacle course using couch cushions and pillows. Or you don’t always address the times he hits or teases his sister, getting down on him one day, only to brush it off the next.
You see, it’s unfair to expect him to know what to do when you’ve been inconsistent. He’s confused when his responsibilities aren’t clear, or if you don’t always follow through with consequences.
Being too lenient can make him feel anxious of the rules that seem to flip flop all the time. With no expectations in place, he doesn’t learn how you want him to behave, or what’s acceptable or expected from him.
Instead, be consistent, even if it means upsetting him or dealing with a meltdown.
You can be flexible and “pick your battles”—after all, we need to accommodate life’s inconsistencies as well. But let those be the exceptions, not the norm. Because despite what he says, he needs you to remain consistent to guide his behavior and decisions.
4. You shield your child from difficult emotions
No parent wants to see her child deal with difficult emotions and experience, but sometimes we take it too far.
We can be so hung up on pleasing our kids that we’ll try to shield them from disappointment and boredom. Or we want them to be happy all the time, so much so that with seeing them hurt or upset pains us. And sometimes we’d rather cave in that let them have a meltdown or deal with their frustration.
So we give them toys when they’re bored, or reassure them they’re still the best even though they lost a competition. And when their ice cream cone falls to the ground? We’d rather walk all the way to store and get another one than see them throw a fit.
Even with the best of intentions, shielding them from difficult emotions does a greater disservice to them.
Protected from difficulties, your child can’t learn from these experiences or develop the coping skills to bounce back. Instead, she’ll have a hard time dealing with moments like these and learn to avoid—rather than deal with—them.
And perhaps the worst consequence? She’ll lack faith in herself that she’s strong and resilient enough to get through these challenges. She’ll doubt how she’ll ever get through them when she’s never had to before.
Life has its ups and downs. Rather than trying to protect her from the inevitable difficulties in life, show her how to cope and get through them. And explain that all emotions come and go, including difficult ones she’ll eventually overcome.
5. You overindulge with material items
We all want the best for our kids, from experiences we never had growing up, to a lifestyle we want them to enjoy.
Maybe you want your child to stay current with trends her peers rave about, or you figure you can afford to provide with no problems. You even enjoy the process of giving gifts and relish in her reaction and joy.
But taken too far, overindulging with material items can be one of the telltale signs of a spoiled child.
An excess of items can prevent her from appreciating what she has. With so many things to choose from and an endless supply, she isn’t able to practice gratitude. After all, it’s pretty hard to cherish one special stuffed animal when 50 others are piled in her room.
Giving too many things also raises unrealistic expectations. Finding joy from “external” sources like lavish gifts and experiences forces you to up the ante when the initial buzz fizzles away. She might expect these gifts as the norm, rather than the exception.
And finally, you risk tying her joy with receiving gifts, and not to the relationships and simple pleasures that matter most. You focus on the item rather than the thought behind it.
One alternative? Focus on simple experience gifts instead of material gifts. Studies have shown that giving kids experiences over material items provides more happiness. From The Atlantic:
“Over the past decade, an abundance of psychology research has shown that experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions.”
Rather than the latest toy, take her to a beach outing, and instead of 10 Christmas gifts, give a few and participate in holiday traditions.
6. You need to bribe your child to get things done
Getting out of the house isn’t always easy for many parents. Your child resists putting on his shoes or takes his good ol’ time coming to the door. Whining and complaining have been more common, and you find yourself taking a whole hour to leave the door.
It’s tempting to lure him into compliance with a minor bribe: “Hurry and put on your shoes, and we’ll get ice cream at the store,” you might say.
You’re too tired to deal with yet another hour-long power struggle, especially when nothing else seems to work. Plus, bribes can feel like an effective way to motivate him—grades and chores seem to improve and get done with these rewards.
But bribes are a short-term solution that can backfire. As bribes become the norm, he’ll come to expect rewards before agreeing to do the task. Motivation wanes each time you need to convince him to agree to the bribe.
He’ll also seek joy in external, not internal, rewards. You’ve trained him to come to expect something in exchange for a task he should be expected to do and perhaps even enjoy and take pride in. For instance, he should clean his room because:
- that’s what you expect him to do,
- he’ll be able to enjoy a clean room, and
- he’ll feel proud of himself.
And finally, bribes don’t nurture a sense of goodwill or instill the values you want to teach. Cleaning his room should be the right thing to do, even without a bribe.
7. You don’t teach manners and courtesy
Manners can be easily overlooked, especially if you’re bogged down with monitoring your child’s behavior. It’s hard to remind her to say “please” and “thank you” when you can barely convince her to take a bath and go to sleep already.
But manners and behavior go hand in hand. Showing good manners isn’t about raising goody two-shoes or robotic children for show. For instance, saying “please” and “thank you” instills a sense of gratitude, while “sorry” offers a way for her to show remorse.
Manners go beyond saying the “magic words,” too.
Teaching courtesy means she doesn’t always run to be the first in line or hog all the food at a party. She knows that being silly and loud isn’t appropriate when her little sister is crying, and she understandss he can’t always get what she demands.
8. You allow your child to disrespect you
You may have seen it: The boy who speaks rudely to his mom as she helps him with homework or the girl who insults and terrorizes her parents. Talking back and being rude are some of the biggest signs of a spoiled child.
Here’s the thing: kids almost always have valid reasons for being upset. Maybe the mom had been badgering her son about homework without letting up. The girl may be going through changes at home that are making it hard to express her frustration calmly.
But it’s unfair to kids to allow them to speak to parents that way.
For one thing, kids don’t learn a better way to communicate. However valid their reasons may be, they’re not held accountable or shown how to communicate calmly.
Disrespect and talking back also creates a rift in the parent-child relationship. It’s much harder to have any influence on your child when he can speak rudely to you.
He doesn’t have any boundaries and may likely continue to push your buttons until you erupt. The lack of boundaries invites him to insult others in ways he never knew he wasn’t supposed to.
Allowing him to disrespect you doesn’t model how a person ought to be treated. As parents, we need to respect ourselves enough to demand a certain way to be spoken to. Kids can definitely disagree with us, but they should do so respectfully, as we would to them.
9. Your child has too much say in family life
Does your child decide you’re going to eat at her favorite restaurant… again?
Giving choices is healthy, so long as the options are parent-approved and child-appropriate. Choosing her outfit is one thing, but making the master bedroom her room is another. Yes, welcome her opinion, but don’t bow to her pleading and whining.
Why? It’s not her place to make all the decisions—that’s your responsibility. In fact, giving her decision-making power is far from helping her feel empowered. Instead, she’ll feel burdened with a responsibility that shouldn’t have fallen on her shoulders in the first place.
Kids also don’t have the family’s best interests in mind when making decisions the way you and I do. If it were up to them, many would prefer to eat fast food and ice cream every day, a choice that wouldn’t help with their health at all.
So, how do you avoid spoiling your child and course correct?
Giving in to children’s demands and whining is the easy way out. We avoid feeling embarrassed by their outbursts or guilty for not spending enough time with them. We’d rather not disappoint, especially when it seems simple enough to buy that new toy or give them what they want.
Spoiling is the quick fix-it that seems to solve the problem now.
But we deny them lifelong lessons, like developing grit, coping with disappointment and showing empathy to others. Our job isn’t to stop tantrums or whining—it’s to raise future adults ready to face a world that won’t always bend to their whims when they grow up.
After all, kids want their parents to be parents. We’re not doing them any favors by being anything else.
Get more tips:
- How to Handle Grandparents Spoiling Grandchildren
- The Best Advice for New Parents (From Parents Who’ve Been There)
- Top 7 Ways to Make Parenting Toddlers Easier
- 8 Remarkable Parenting Goals Every Mom Should Have
- Do You Have an Ungrateful Child? What to Do:
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