Difficult but not impossible: Getting your spoilt child back in line

What you need to know:

  • The spoiled child will seek to control you and other adults, oftentimes by throwing tantrums
  • Spoiled kids are usually stuck in the ‘me mode’. Everything revolves around their needs, wants, feelings, concerns, and desires. They don’t outgrow this tendency.
  • Regularly address the importance, virtues, and values of giving over receiving.

You and your son are queuing to pay at the supermarket. As the cashier rolls down your items, your son grabs a bar of chocolate and a pack of kinder joy. “Mom, can I have these? I really, really need to eat them! I have never eaten them before!” he says, even though he has eaten them multiple times before. Because you are running out of cash, you tell him, no, but promise to buy the two items during your next supermarket visit. Then all hell breaks loose. “I hate you. You’re a bad mother!” your son blasts off. He then unleashes a huge cry, screams, and starts kicking things. At one point, he pushes the shelf holding the bar of chocolates to the ground. All this while, the queue is getting longer and everyone is wondering what a spoiled child you have. Eventually, the supermarket’s manager offers to purchase a bar of chocolate for your son to calm him down. With your face in your hands, you walk out of the supermarket.

However, instead of disciplining your son, you blame yourself for not having adequate money to get him what he wanted.

 “To some extent, the spoiled-child syndrome is attributed to the failure of the parent to enforce consistent, age-appropriate limits. It could also be a result of temperament or personality. Overly, spoiled children usually have a degree of dissatisfaction. Whatever they have is never good enough,” says child therapist Damaris Kamau.

A child gets spoiled gradually, and through getting concessions that give him a sense of entitlement. According to Damaris, spoiled kids do not distinguish between their parents and peers and will easily and expressly embarrass you in public to get your attention or have things done their way. “The spoiled child will seek to control you and other adults, oftentimes by throwing tantrums. Whether she is with her age-mates or adults, she or he will expect full attention,” she says. If the behavior is not checked, it can be carried on into adulthood. “The impatience, greedy and self-centred attitudes associated with spoiled kids may carry on into adulthood, and manifest through disorders such as narcissism,” says Damaris.

This is echoed by Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and the author of Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. “Spoiled kids are usually stuck in the ‘me mode’. Everything revolves around their needs, wants, feelings, concerns, and desires. They don’t outgrow this tendency,” says Borba. While it may not be easy to turn a spoiled child around, Damaris says it is possible. “The first step is being unspoiled yourself,” she says. “Learn to act responsibly in order to show your child the right way to act or react. Children normally watch and react according to how their parents behave and present themselves.”

This means that you will need to change your parenting tactics and see your child as a child whose behavioural development you are responsible for. For instance, you will need to sit your child down and state what will be expected of them going forward and the disciplinary steps you will take if they don’t toe the line. “You should not give in to resistance. Avoid making empty threats. If your spoiled child breaks the rules, strictly follow the stated disciplinary course. This could be taking his or her playing gadgets or dolls away or effecting time-outs. Don’t spank them or order them to do very severe punishments.” Learn to say no to your child’s demands without feeling guilty. According to Damaris, you can start stretching your child’s ability to wait. For instance, you can start showing and emphasising the value of giving over receiving, to shape her character.

How to do it…

According to Damaris, here’s how to un-spoil your spoiled child:

Enhance rules: Do not allow his or her temper tantrums to manipulate you. You are the parent and you are in charge. Clearly draw the line between his wants and needs. Keep in mind though that your spoiled child will not just swing along to your new way of parenting. Expect intense protest and cries. Be consistent.

Stop constant praise: Do not praise your child too much. This will prevent him or her from becoming the centre of attention. Bear in mind, though, that praise is critical in a child’s development. Learn the art of praise moderation so that you don’t demolish their self-esteem.

Enhance character: Regularly address the importance, virtues, and values of giving over receiving. Let your little one know that who they are is more important than what they own. Show this by being a good role model and by example. Similarly, teach the importance of patience and apply delayed gratification.

Value of work: Make it a habit to give your kids a list of chores to do. You may include some rewards and praise gifts if the chores are carried out well. Make sure that whatever you outline is done. If you give your child money, teach them to buy only what they really need. This will help them understand the value of hard work.

Sharing: Teach your child the importance of sharing their items such as toys. Similarly, you may take your child somewhere they can be with other children and volunteer. This could be a parents and children activity. Importantly, the social exposure will show him or her that one does not always have their way and teach them to appreciate what is given to them.

Signs that your child is spoiled

According to Damaris Kamau, you should start worrying that you’re raising a spoiled child if he or she:

  • Behaves flamboyantly or is excessively showy.
  • Exhibits narcissistic or egoistic tendencies
  • Has a character or disposition betrayed by over-solicitous attention and excessive pampering.
  • Has an irritable or unpleasant temperament.
  • Has little or no respect for rules, argues incessantly or refuses to compromise.
  • Is still throwing temper tantrums after the age of 4.