Have I raised a tiny tyrant?

Article at a Glance

  • Highly spoiled children are often entitled, impatient, and lack empathy toward others.
  • Spoiling a child is common with first-time parents and usually done with good intentions­.
  • It’s never too late to turn things around and teach gratitude, patience, and thoughtfulness.

It wasn’t until her son kicked an extra-large lemonade out of a stranger’s hand that Sarah realized she’d been spoiling her son. As an only child, he’d rarely heard the word “no,” so it came as a shock to him when his mother, needing to move on with her errands, was ready to end his first trip to the play place. When reason failed to budge him from his perch, Sarah climbed in and scooped up her four-year-old. As she carried him through the restaurant, the lemonade-destroying tantrum began.

Spoiling a child is a common mistake many first-time parents make, but they usually do so out of good intentions­. When we say a child is spoiled, we typically mean they’ve been conditioned to become entitled, impatient, and lacking in empathy towards others. Fortunately, we as parents have the power to change our behavior to better impact a child’s behavior. But first, how can a parent detect if their parenting style has created a tiny tyrant?

5 Signs That a Child Has Been Spoiled

  • Sense of entitlement – A spoiled child may have an entitled attitude and expect to get what they want without putting in the effort or work.
  • Struggles to handle disappointment – A spoiled child may become upset or angry when things don’t go their way, and may even throw a tantrum to get what they want.
  • Lack of empathy – A spoiled child may have difficulty considering the feelings of others and may be self-centered. Kids at different ages have different capacities for empathy, so consider what’s developmentally appropriate when weighing this symptom.
  • Refusing to do things on their own – A spoiled child may expect others to do things for them and may refuse to take responsibility for their own actions.
  • Poor social skills – A spoiled child may struggle to make or keep friends and may not know how to interact with others in a respectful manner.

Children don’t become “spoiled” on their own. It takes a series of parental actions and responses over time to teach kids that this pattern of behavior gets results. That’s a tough pill to swallow for parents, but there’s a spoonful of sugar to go with it: if we parents teach a child to behave one way, they can also teach him to behave another way.

5 Tips for Teaching Kids to be Grateful, Patient, and Considerate of Others (i.e., Not Spoiled)

  • Teach and model gratitude – Encourage your child to express gratitude for the things they have, and help them understand that not everyone has the same privileges. Go out of your way to show your own gratitude to others and to your child when they do something helpful.
  • Set boundaries – Setting limits and boundaries for your child can help them learn patience and self-control, and understand that they can’t always get what they want.
  • Encourage empathy – Teach your child to consider the feelings of others and think about how their actions may affect others. Talk about your own actions, good and bad, and what observing their impact has taught you about how you want to behave in the future.
  • Foster independence – Encourage your child to take responsibility for their own needs and teach them skills that will help them become more self-sufficient. Slowly begin to raise your expectations of what they can handle themselves. As they advance, put them in charge of caretaking tasks for others in the family.
  • Practice delayed gratification: Teach your child that not everything they want can be immediately obtained. Let them save their allowance for wants and wait for special occasions to receive gifts rather than rushing to indulge every interest. Let them see you planning, saving, and working for your goals.
  • Set clear expectations and consequences: Establish clear expectations for behavior and logical consequences if those expectations are not met. Consistently enforcing rules and expectations can help your child learn self-discipline and respect for boundaries.

We all want to raise happy kids, but often what will create happy young adults later is in direct conflict with what will satisfy our kids in the moment. Parenting is a long game, so if you’re struggling to identify which behaviors are “spoiling” and which are just being an attentive parent, it may help to ask yourself, “What will my child learn if I repeat this behavior 500 times?” In Sarah’s case, her son later enjoyed many happy visits to the play place, but not until he learned to respect her clearly-defined rules about leaving.

We want to hear your practical tips on unspoiling a child or keeping them unspoiled. Hop over to our Instagram post and leave us a comment with your suggestions.

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