Catch it early.
We all want to give our kids every single thing they need to succeed in life, but when does loving them cross the fine line to downright spoiling them? And what do you do if you notice your crew starting to expect things and take you for granted?
We talked with Dr. Michele Borba, a parenting expert, child psychologist, and the author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World about how to identify spoiled behavior and how to nip it in the bud ASAP.
Calling It What It Is
There are a few things to look for if you suspect your kid is acting spoiled, and it starts with how you act as a parent. “Kids tend to act spoiled when their parents give them too much stuff and do everything for them,” explains Borba. “The key is the too much aspect.”
And while this definition seems simple enough, it’s actually a pretty hard habit to break for parents since nurturing is high on their priority lists. But Borba suggests that giving them everything today can lead to issues down the road. “You don’t want your child to make a mistake or look unhappy, so you do [things] for the child as opposed to helping the child do [things] for himself,” she said.
And for parents who believe that they are doing right in giving their kids everything they want, Borba says that’s a huge misconception. “One misnomer is many parents think giving their child everything is going to make them happier when in reality it isn’t,” she says. “They think it’s going to help their child stop the behavior in the here and now, and it might in the short-term, but it backfires later on.”
Why the Behavior Needs to Change
Although having a kid who’s entitled is very frustrating for parents, it can also affect kids’ relationships with others as they get older. Borba believes keeping your children’s best interests in mind can be a huge motivator when it comes to correcting behavior.
“It comes down to what you want for your kids to get out of life,” says Borba. “If you want your kid to be charitable or respectful or have gratitude, then what happens is the spoiling actually counters those value structures.”
Spoiling your children at a young age can also affect how your kids come off to other people, and ultimately, how they relate to their peers as adults. “Parents really frown on spoiled behavior, and other children don’t like being around self-centered kids. Spoiling your kids also reduces empathy and makes it harder for them to understand people’s differences later on.”
Teaching Kids the Value of a Dollar
Teaching your kids about money from a young age is a surefire way to combat spoiled behavior down the road. Do they need to know how to balance a checkbook by age 3? No. But giving them the rundown on finances in a digestible way for their age will prevent them from thinking cash just sprouts from a money tree in the backyard.
Talk to your kids during day-to-day activities about the prices of things, like groceries or an ice cream cone. Borba thinks it’s important to teach children financial literacy without physically forking over the dough to them.
And if your child is old enough to do chores, make sure they complete them without any tie to cash at first. You can give them an allowance down the road and incorporate concepts like budgeting by asking questions like, “How much money do you think you’ll need for back-to-school shopping?”
Ways to Curb Spoiled Behavior When They’re Young
If your little one is showing signs of being spoiled there are a few essential things to keep in mind. It’s important to realize that behavior can be corrected; you just have to work at it. Borba recommends starting by reading up on behavior in books or other parenting resources — it’ll make you realize you actually have more power than you think.
Another proven-to-work idea is to track your kid’s behavior using a calendar to see if there are any patterns. “What you’ll discover is that there’s usually a weak point for every child that’s consistent,” says Borba. “They usually have bad behavior at certain times or in certain places. Maybe they meltdown at 10 a.m. or tend to get cranky around 1 p.m., but either way it’s important to know when they’ll be most prone to tantrum.”
Borba suggests jotting your findings down in a notebook or simply taking the two seconds to record it in the notes app on your phone.
Once you’ve got their schedule down to a science, use it to your advantage. If they tend to get fussy at 3 p.m., try to avoid doing an activity, — like going to the grocery store — and put them down for a nap instead. Knowing her patterns will give you a leg up when it comes to preventing bad behavior before it even starts.
And if they do completely melt down, not fueling the fire is the way to go — even if it’s hard at first. “The more attention you give the tantrum, the longer it’ll last,” says Borba (and there’s research from Johns Hopkins to back that up!). “The other big mistake we make is waiting until the meltdown or tantrum begins. You’re far better off to look at the pattern and go, ‘Oh, he’s starting to get that stressed look. He’s starting to sound like he’s ready to blow.’”
What to Do If You Have Older Kids
If you’ve noticed your older kid has been showing signs of being spoiled, it’s not too late to put the kibosh on his attitude. Borba describes the behavior as “womb to tomb,” which means it can always change for the better . . . just not overnight.
Depending on the child it’s important to focus on one unsavory behavior at a time, rather than tackling all of them at once. For example, start with their eye-rolling before trying to correct the back talk in the same afternoon.
“Wherever you’re at on the spectrum, go down the ladder one step at a time,” suggests Borba. “In a calm moment be clear and say: “’This behavior isn’t acceptable anymore. I see you doing it, let’s talk about it, and then let’s talk out what’s going to happen.’”
And if you’re sitting there thinking to yourself that being calm is easier said than done, you’re not wrong — especially once they get a little older. The key is consistency.
“Chances are he’s already figured out it works, and he’s been engaging in that behavior for 10 years and will initially think: “’Ah, they’re not going to do anything about it,’” explains Borba. “What you’ve got to do is draw your line in the sand of what’s not going to be tolerated anymore and stay consistent.”