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. He wants to stay longer at the park or get a new superhero figure (never mind the many others sitting in a box at home).
Then it escalates to throwing a fit when you try to tell him no, or outright disobeying on purpose when he gets upset. He might even begin to 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 your kids. Giving in seems much easier than putting your foot down, especially when you’re exhausted.
But taken too far, and you might realize you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands than you anticipated. You’ve always wanted your child 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 her child’s behavior. Many others have realized that typical time outs and counting to three don’t have the effect they used to.
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?
So, how can you tell if your child is spoiled? In this video below, I share three not-so-obvious signs you’re raising spoiled kids:
Then, take a look at the following telltale characteristics and signs of a spoiled child — and why you need to change course:
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 her 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 your child’s every request actually goes against putting 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 might even learn that she only needs to whine, pout or otherwise throw a fit and make another person uncomfortable enough to cave in to her wishes. This isn’t a healthy way to begin friendships and relationships.
She won’t learn how to listen to another person’s point of view or understand the logic and reason behind decisions. Instead, her focus is only on her wants.
Giving in to every request doesn’t establish the boundaries your child 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.
Free resource: Want to know how to unspoil your child? Despite what it can sometimes feel like, you’re not stuck living this way. Grab my printable handout, How to Unspoil Your Child—at no cost to you. Plus, you’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:
“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
We’ve all been guilty of saying 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 said, “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 just because they were goofing around, and I also wasn’t planning on throwing away any toys.
So why did I say those things then?
Often, we’re exasperated and react instead of pausing to see whether this is even the most effective or respectful way to speak to our kids. Other times, we feel threatened when they don’t listen and try to up the ante by saying something extreme. And sometimes, it just seems like nothing else will get through to them.
But empty threats hold no value. We usually say them when we’ve reached our limits or are too tired to think properly, so we’re barking threats and orders. We don’t consider their point of view or how we might be making the situation worse.
Second, empty threats might work the first or second time before kids call our bluff. It was likely not the first time the little boy’s grandmother had made grand claims, only to fail to follow through.
And finally, steer away from the kind of relationship that relies on empty threats to get anything done. Focus instead on mutual respect and communication, not commanding orders when possible.
3. You’re inconsistent with expectations and consequences
Despite their demands, kids want consistency, especially with enforcing consequences and establishing expectations.
We can’t tell our kids to stop jumping in the living room when just yesterday we created an obstacle course using couch cushions and pillows. And we have to consistently address the times they hit or tease their siblings instead of only when we’re in the mood.
You see, it’s unfair to expect your child to know what to do when you’ve been inconsistent. He gets confused when his responsibilities aren’t clear, or if you don’t always follow through with consequences.
Plus, 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.
Be consistent as much as possible, even if it means upsetting your child 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.
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 and struggle with seeing them hurt or upset. And sometimes we’d rather cave in that let them have a meltdown.
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 kids 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 learns to avoid—rather than deal with—them.
And perhaps the worst consequence? She begins to 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 ups and downs. Rather than trying to protect your child from inevitable difficulties in life, show her how to cope. And explain that all emotions come and go, including difficult ones she’ll get through.
5. You overindulge with material items
We all want the best for our kids, from experiences we never had to a lifestyle we want them to enjoy.
Maybe you want her to stay current with trends her peers rave about, or you figure you can afford to provide with no problems. You likely even enjoy the process of giving gifts and relish in their 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 your child 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. Your child might expect these gifts as the norm than the exception.
And finally, you risk tying your child’s 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.
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 might resist putting on his shoes, or takes his good ol’ time coming to the door. Whining and complaining have been more common, and sometimes 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 kids beyond ice cream—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, your child will begin to expect better rewards before agreeing to do the task. Motivation wanes with each time you need to convince him to agree to the bribe.
He’ll also begin to seek joy in external, not internal, rewards. You’ve trained him to come to expect something external in exchange for a task he should be expected to do and perhaps even enjoy and take pride in. 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. Helping you clean the living 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 we’re bogged down with monitor our kids’ behavior. Who can think to remind her kids to say “please” and “thank you” when we’re barely trying to get them to finish their lunch already?
Truth is, manners and behavior go hand in hand. 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 your child to show remorse.
Manners go beyond saying the “magic words,” too.
Teaching courtesy means your child doesn’t always run to be the first in line or hog all the food at a party. He knows that being silly and loud isn’t appropriate when his little sister is crying. And he understands he can’t always get what he 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. The girl who insults and almost 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 also doesn’t have any boundaries and may likely continue to push your buttons until you explode. The lack of boundaries also sets him up to insult others in ways he never knew he wasn’t supposed to.
And finally, allowing your child 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 your child choices is healthy, so long as the options are parent-approved and child-appropriate. You can ask him to choose between two sweaters to wear, but not to have the final say in clothes he wears.
While taking his opinion into which restaurant to eat is fine, doing so too often gives him too much control. You especially shouldn’t have to bow to his pleading and whining.
Why? It’s not his place to make all the decisions—that’s your responsibility. In fact, giving him decision-making power is far from helping him feel empowered. Instead, he’ll feel burdened with a responsibility that shouldn’t have fallen on his shoulders in the first place.
Kids also don’t have the family’s best interests in mind when making decisions. If it were up to them, many kids would prefer to eat fast food and ice cream every day, a choice that wouldn’t sit well with their health.
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 them, especially when it seems simple enough to buy that new toy or give her what she wants.
Spoiling is the quick fix-it that seems to solve the problem now.
But in raising spoiled kids, we deny them lifelong lessons, such as how to develop grit, cope with disappointment and show 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.
Featured parent questions
“How do I train my child and remain consistent and patient when I have these emotions and am already feeling exhausted from my daily chores?
If I give in I will at the very least have some sort of peace. But the behavior disgusts me. So maybe my question is silly but how do I endure long enough to get the job done?”
His behavior is likely very normal and common. What you must focus on now is your own well-being. Have you spoken to your doctor about any treatments, or your husband for support and help? Perhaps find a local moms club that meets regularly to get to know others better.
We can’t be good parents to our kids when we’re not taking care of ourselves. We do a disservice to them when we’re not present, joyful, or firm when we need to set boundaries.
In short, don’t think so much about “fixing” your child or his behavior. Instead, start with yourself, and the rest will trickle to your family.
“How do I correct the damage that I’ve created? Everything you mentioned has come true with us. I know it’s my fault but I was only trying to make him happy. I just want him to be able to cope with life. Please help.”
I think that our job isn’t always to make our kids happy or to save them from discomfort, but rather to raise future adults. You’re doing the best you can, and it’s never too late to turn it around. Connect with your child, find ways to hold your ground in a nurturing way.
“We gave our kids permission to discuss and argue so that they learn to form their own opinions about stuff. Now that they’re going into the teen years (13 and 10), we don’t think that the idea’s so hot anymore because they want to argue about anything and everything.”
I would define what is negotiable and what is not, and put your foot down on what is not. Your kids, regardless of what they say, *need* boundaries and for you to tell them what is allowed and what isn’t. And most importantly, follow through with logical consequences. That’s the only way they’ll learn for next time.
Aim for consistency with flexibility. Obviously you don’t want to be a tyrant and go the opposite extreme and get down on them too hard. You really want to parent kindly but firmly, with their best interest always in mind.
Get more tips:
- How to Tell Grandparents to Stop Spoiling
- 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:
*Source: Michigan Health
Are you beginning to realize just how important it is to know how to respond to your child’s challenging behavior? In my ebook, Parenting with Purpose, you’ll discover how to prevent outbursts and handle meltdowns in a purposeful way.
Because ask yourself this: what’s your life going to look like a year or two from now if you continue to do what you’re doing? If you’re serious about parenting, grab your copy of Parenting with Purpose and begin to build a strong relationship with your child today: