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Health & Parenting

Is Your Child Spoiled Rotten?

Experts tell parents how to decode the spoiled child.
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What Kids Need

"Kids need to know that there are firm limits out there, because it's not very secure to know that the limits change everyday," says Thompson. One way to teach children boundaries, he says, is to actually give them choices, beginning at 18 months old -- the age when people are capable of making simple decisions about right and wrong.

Choices may involve things like "Do you want orange juice or tomato juice?" or "Do you want to wear this outfit or that one?"

It is important to give kids options that you, as a parent, can live with. "You don't come home and say, 'Okay, you three kids, what do you want for dinner?' You might have three short orders,'" says Thompson.

As the children grow older, the list of options obviously becomes more complicated. But, if kids have practice with making simple decisions, they can be more trusted to make more difficult choices later in life, adds Thompson. "If you take the time [to present options to kids] in the first 11 years of life, it will pay off in dividends in the teen years. The child doesn't have to be a rebellious teenager."

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.

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