Am I spoiling my child?

All children occasionally act in selfish, spoiled ways. They make demands without consideration for people or circumstances: “Why can’t I have Barbie with the beach clothes now?” Still, most six- to nine-year-olds, most of the time, have reasonable expectations and, are learning to think about other people’s feelings and needs. “Spoiled” children are the ones who remain almost totally self-centered and focused on their own desires, possessions, and activities.

A child who’s constantly overindulged often will act spoiled. She might be so used to getting her way that she feels entitled to do as she wishes. This can happen if parents fail to set limits on her behavior, or fail to follow through when she acts in unacceptable ways.

She also can be overindulged with material objects. Owning many toys does not necessarily make her spoiled; children with lots of possessions can be loving and considerate. However, if parents constantly give without reinforcing positive values, they may unconsciously encourage their child to behave in socially unacceptable ways. She may come to expect more and more and find that what she already owns has little meaning.

Some parents have a hard time controlling their buying. They may enjoy giving to their child or feel that buying presents is the only way to please her. Some parents give out of guilt—they may not offer their child the attention she needs, so they buy gifts instead. Even when parents know they’re overindulging her, they may rationalize their actions: “She’s only a kid for a short time.” “Why not? We can afford it.”

The danger in continually overindulging a child is that she might come to expect it. She may grow up unable to handle disappointment or tolerate situations that don’t go her way. Since parents want their child to become a caring, strong person capable of taking care of herself, they should avoid treating her in overindulgent ways.

They should set limits on her negative behavior. They should act as positive role models, showing her how to graciously accept and offer kindness, and how to deal with disappointment. Although it’s not always easy, they should teach her to appreciate what she has, respect friends and siblings, find pleasure in learning and physical activity, and consider those more needy than she. If she grows up with basic values, she won’t act spoiled no matter how many possessions she has.

If you feel your child is becoming too self-centered, evaluate your relationship with her. Are you spending as much time as you should together? Are you available to hear about her needs, ideas, and worries?

If you believe that you buy her too many things, gradually cut back so both you and she can get used to a new level of giving. Although you may be disappointed with her attitude, avoid labeling her “spoiled.” She may act more selfish than you’d like, but she has good traits that may be overshadowed if you concentrate on one negative characteristic. Instead, talk about areas she needs help with: “I want you to take better care of your toys.” “I’d like you to stop interrupting your sister.” “You need to be more accepting when things don’t go your way.” If you do this, she may be less defensive and more willing to change.

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