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Are Your Children Spoiled?

For all ages and a myriad of behavior problems, WebMD helps parents regain control.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

If you are spoiling your children, you’ll know it. They’re rude to you and other adults. They won’t share with other children. They will act bossy and demand to be first in line. They don’t answer your questions and ignore your instructions. If you deny them a new toy or treat, you’ll face a tempest of crying, howling, and little fists pounding the floor.  

Feeling defeated? Nowadays, many parents do. But it’s not too late to curb spoiled behavior, child psychologists tell WebMD. In fact, they say, your child’s ultimate happiness depends on it.

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“I think most parents know when their kids are spoiled, but they feel kind of helpless to do anything about it,” says Richard Bromfield, PhD, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Unspoil Your Child Fast.

During more than 25 years in a private counseling practice in the Boston area, Bromfield has seen the gamut. A young boy who ordered his mother around and scolded her sharply for giving him yogurt when he wanted pretzels. An 8-year-old girl who cried and screamed when her mom and dad went to dinner or a movie without her, prompting frantic calls from the babysitter that sent her parents scurrying home. Or children who sass their parents for refusing them anything: “You stink.” “You’re a terrible mother.” “I hate you.”  

When spoiled youngsters become teenagers, they’re more prone to excessive self-absorption, lack of self-control, anxiety, and depression, says Dan Kindlon, PhD, author of Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age.

“If you give kids so much early on, they get to a point where they can’t be satisfied with anything,” says Kindlon, who is also a clinical and research psychologist at Harvard University.

When mothers and fathers stop spoiling their children, Bromfield says, not only will they feel less frustrated as parents, they’ll also prepare their children to handle life’s curve balls -- a tough task for kids who have always gotten their way.

So where do you start? Here are steps you can take to regain control.

1. Commit yourself wholeheartedly to stop spoiling your children.

“You have to commit. If you do it halfway, it’s better than not at all, but it’s not going to work until you really do it,” Bromfield says. For example, a parent who wants a child to start cleaning his room has to make sure that the job gets done right. “If they pick up one crayon and a piece of clothing and that’s it, it isn’t going to work,” he says.

In Bromfield’s experience, parents who take their new mission seriously see fairly quick improvements in their child’s behavior, he says. “A 10-year-old spoiled child does not need 10 years of reversal. Kids are smart and resilient and they want to grow right, so it’s generally not too late.” 

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