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Is Your Child Spoiled Rotten?

Experts tell parents how to decode the spoiled child.

What Kids Need continued...

Consistency is also key in preventing a child from thinking he can get away from following the rules. This means moms, dads, and whoever else is caring for the child are in agreement with each other on rules and discipline. "A unified front is so important," says Schmitt. "A child knows when adults don't come from the same position."

Steven Adelsheim, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, says one way to keep kids from becoming spoiled and self-centered is to expose them to diverse environments. "It's important for children to have experiences with others who have a wide range of needs, and people with different challenges, so that they can be more sensitive to the diversity of people in the world," he explains.

Adelsheim, himself, has four children, one of them a teen daughter who coaches a Special Olympics basketball team. Since his daughter's involvement with the team, he has seen her become more sensitive to the needs of other people. He says she is able to get past differences, and observe more similarities with others.

If there are extenuating circumstances -- such as an extended vacation, divorce or a major crisis in the family -- it's even more vital to enforce the rules. Structure helps children adapt to stress, says Kindlon.

Yet moms and dads also need to be sensitive to the needs of the child. "Parents have a job of figuring out what is behind the pleading and demanding," says Tanner, noting that kids' desires might be momentary -- such as if they saw something appealing on TV or in the toy store -- or the child might be signaling a deeper need, such as time with a parent.

Unspoiling a Child

If parents find themselves always angry at their child, because the kid doesn't answer to them, or if they feel their rules have become too excessive in response to the child's bad behavior, then it may be time to make changes, says Ross Black, MD, a spokesman for the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Moms and dads who want to do something about spoiled children need to do the basic things that need to be done to prevent spoiled kids in the first place, including setting firm limits, being consistent, and providing choices.

The process of unspoiling, however, may be a lot harder because it would be like breaking a bad habit, says Black. He suggests having an initial conversation with the spoiled child, laying down what is going to happen to avoid confusion.

"You can approach it by saying, 'I don't like what has happened with what we've been doing, so we need to change. I still love you as my child, but when you do these kinds of things, I feel concerned and I would like to change that,'" says Black.

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