Roald Dahl rightly put it in1964 in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, “A girl can’t spoil herself, you know.” The most common cause of a spoiled child is a lenient and permissive parent who gives in easily to the temper tantrums and demands of the child. According to one poll, commissioned by Time and CNN, two-thirds of American parents think that their children are spoiled. A spoiled child is often undisciplined and rude, manipulative and unpleasant to be around. He is constantly complaining and easily frustrated. And believe me, you can start seeing many of these patterns as early as age 3 or 4! As children get older, setting limits and establishing family routines and expectations gets more complicated. But it’s a matter of balancing immediate gratification and teaching larger life lessons. We all want our kids to be happy all the time but there is a greater lesson to be taught by teaching patience, tolerance and discipline in our kids. Spoiling kids is often painless and takes an easily tread path in parenting. It is challenging to be firm and set limits in a way that prepares our kids to become courteous, responsible and productive individuals.
An average American child is perhaps the most indulged child in this world! It’s just not the amount of clothes, toys and gadgets that they are spoiled with; it’s also the amount of authority that is given to them. I remember growing up, I was often thinking of ways to please my parents with my grades, achievement in sports, activities etc…But I look around now and see many parents striving for their kid’s approval at the cost of allowing poor behavior in the child. There is a lot of confusion in the parents’ minds about distinguishing between a child’s needs and a child’s wants. You are not doing any good caving in and buying them six toys at one time just so ‘you don’t hurt your child’s feelings or prevent them from crying’. You are just setting precedence for unrealistic demands as they grow up. By setting limits, we’re teaching them what our values are and the way we think they can lead a happier, productive life in the real world.
Some basic ground rules one can try to follow to prevent a spoiled child-
- 1. Age appropriate rules for your child: Children need external controls until the age they develop self control and self –discipline. You have the rights and the responsibility to set limits for your children in a way that disciplines them.
- 2. It’s OK if they cry! Attention is good and in fact, it is essential for normal development. Attend promptly to your child’s needs like pain, hunger or fear. But excessive attention or attention at the wrong time can interfere with your child’s learning to do things and deal with frustrations later in life. For example, your child wanting you to get off the phone immediately so that you can fix his toy right then sounds unreasonable.
- 3. Responding to directions: This is a pattern that needs to be set even before your child enters school. If not, you’ll be dealing with complaints from school in addition to your struggles at home. If you have to remind and coax your six year old multiple times every night about brushing her teeth, then something needs to change.
- 4. Do not give in to tantrums: Your cute, little master-mind may offer an array of tantrums ranging from crying and whining to breath holding and pounding the floor. As long as he is not too disruptive or in a position to harm himself, leave him alone. They are trying to push the boundaries and it’s your job to hold ground.
- 5. Teach them patience: Patience is an integral part of perseverance and emotional strength. Jumping up to fulfill every mundane demand from your child immediately is just going to create an easily frustrated person who will give in too easily to immediate gratifications. Don’t allow your child to interrupt adult conversation if it is not an emergency.
- 6. Don’t compromise discipline: Even during fun activities, be cognizant of the fact that you are the parent. Often in working families, when parent –child quality time is precious, it is easy to lean towards flexing the rules to make the kids happy. Do not condone bad behavior just so the evening can be uneventful.
- 7. Teach them life skills: Assign chores regularly, even if they are simple things like helping with setting the table for dinner, folding clothes in the laundry room, or making their beds. It may be small but it is symbolic, in that, they need to acquire the basic skills in life and they need to help people around them.
- 8. Let them face normal challenges: Life’s biggest lessons are learned from dealing with failures. Let your child become confident and self reliant. Teach them to become responsible for their actions. Be available and supportive but try not to do things for them that they can handle for themselves. It might take more time and more attempts for them but then, practice makes perfect!
- 9. Do not over praise: This to me is an easily committed foul by many of us. I know it is essential to praise and reward for good behavior and following rules. But it should be well earned. Overdoing it can make your child take it for granted and it loses value. Avoid the tendency to over praise normal developmental tasks.
- 10. Teach your child to respect you and others: Your job as a parent is to prepare your children for the world. Instilling good manners and teaching your child to respect others is primal to that task. Be consistent, be calm and do not be emotional about your expectations. Apologize when it is warranted but do not apologize for discipline!
When my daughter was barely three, like many mothers, I often worried that she would grow up spoiled and feeling entitled. On the other hand, I surely did not want to raise her like a ‘tiger mom!’ I set out to work carefully along the lines of limit-setting, instilling responsibility, disciplining and non negotiability in respecting others while balancing it out with fulfilling her fair demands and positive reinforcement. So far, I’m thankful that it has worked well. However, when she turned thirteen this year, I became fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead in dealing with her teenage years! Oh, the teenage years…That’s a whole different topic altogether!