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Are Your Children Spoiled?

For all ages and a myriad of behavior problems, WebMD helps parents regain control.

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“Parents can remind themselves that the reason they’re going to give in is a selfish reason -- because it’s easier,” Kindlon says. “Remind yourself that you didn’t hesitate when the child, as a 2-year-old, wanted to drink the Chlorox. You had to take it away from them, right? Even if they said they hated you and they screamed, you didn’t feel bad about that. You have to develop the same mind-set and realize that this is best for them.”

Kindlon recently worked with a man who remembers how he chafed in his youth at his father’s steady discipline and refusal to spoil him. As the man recalls gratefully now, “My father told me, ‘I don’t care if you like me now. I want you to like me when you’re 40.’”

Why Do We Spoil Our Children?

Children don’t become spoiled because they’re innately bad, Bromfield says. Instead, a “spoiling” parent who doesn’t provide limits and structure can foster self-centered behavior in kids.

In more than two decades of counseling families, Bromfield has seen spoiled children become more prevalent, he says. Today, parents spoil their children for myriad reasons. They’re unsure about how to discipline children, they’re too tired and overworked to make an effort, they’re afraid of damaging their youngster’s self-esteem, or they fear that their children will become angry and dislike them. And, here’s a biggie: some parents spoil their children intentionally because it feels good, Bromfield says. “They find it gives them true pleasure to see their child happy, and they just always want that to happen.” 

No one is advocating a return to a strict and distant child-rearing style from the past. But today’s parent-child relationships, marked by more emotional closeness, spontaneity, and friendship, pose both advantages and pitfalls.

“Today’s parents tend to be less comfortable with their authority,” Bromfield says. “Instead of telling their child what to do, they ask. Demands become questions. Questions become special elections.”

For example, “Look at what ‘Please hand me that stick’ can morph into at the playground,” he says: "'Can you pretty please give Mommy the stick, and then we’ll go to the candy store?'"

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