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Is Your Child Spoiled?

Who’s ruling the roost? Set age-appropriate guidelines, and take back control.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD

Every parent has probably heard it at one time or another: "You're going to spoil that child!" Yet what do we really mean by spoiled child? How do you know if your child is spoiled, and what can you do to avoid spoiling him or her if you haven't done so already?

No Such Thing as Spoiled Children?

Most child development experts cringe at the use of the term "spoiled child."

David Elkind, a professor of child development at Tufts University and author of The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon, says, "That's really a term from a different era. Parents who 'spoil,' often out of the best of intentions, really want to give their children everything without their having to work for it. But the world doesn't work that way."

Why You Can't Spoil a Baby

You cannot "spoil" an infant, Elkind says. "Infants cry when they need something, and it's hard to spoil them because they're not trying to manipulate or maneuver. In infancy, you really need to build the feeling that the world's a safe place."

Later on, he says, it's certainly possible to spoil your child by giving him or her too much, not setting boundaries, and not expecting your child to do what's healthy. But there's no spoiling a 6-month-old.

Peter A. Gorski, MD, director of the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies, says, "There is so much questionable parenting literature out there that still talks about spoiling babies. This is a myth that really needs to be addressed."

Research shows that infants whose parents respond quicker to their needs, including their cries, are happier and more independent by their first birthday, Gorski says. They learn to trust that you'll be there when they need you.

What about toddler temper tantrums? Are these children spoiled? No, Elkind says. Tantrums are simply a part of normal development. "This is a time kids are differentiating themselves, and they do that by saying no," he says. "That's normal." It doesn't mean you don't need to set limits for your toddler or that you should always give in. But saying "No no no no no!" every time you want him or her to get dressed or eat lunch doesn't mean the child's spoiled. It just means he's 2.

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