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Is Your Child Spoiled?

Who’s ruling the roost? Set age-appropriate guidelines, and take back control.
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3 Signs You're Spoiling Your Child

So if an often-cuddled infant and a toddler with tantrums are not spoiled -- how do you tell if your child is?

  • The cafeteria dining plan. "You serve dinner, and the child doesn't want to eat what's on the table, so you always have to go out of your way to make a special meal," Elkind says. Once or twice is one thing, and of course children with special dietary needs must always be accommodated. But a child who insists on special orders every night could be on the way to being spoiled. "If a 5-year-old misses a meal it won't hurt him," Elkind says. 
  • Tantrums. They're normal in toddlers. But when a 5- or 6-year-old throws a fit because she doesn't get what she wants, that's age-inappropriate. "For little ones, it may be the only way they can express their feelings, but in older children, tantrums are manipulative," Elkind says. 
  • Extreme dependence on parents. If your child can't go to sleep unless you're there, won't ever let you leave him with grandma or a babysitter, and throws fits when it's time to go to school or day care, that's a problem, Elkind says. "Your child depends on you, yes, but as they get older, children have to learn to be comfortable with other people and with being on their own.”

Instead of "spoiled child," Gorski prefers to use the term "overindulged" or "overprotected." These children may indeed "run the house" -- but it's because parents treat them like they're much younger than they are. "A key warning sign," he says, "is any child much older than the toddler years who continues to act like a baby or toddler -- kicking and screaming, biting other children, not using age-appropriate ways of communicating thoughts and feelings. This is a sign that they're not very secure about themselves."

5 Hints to Help You Raise an Unspoiled Child

Set age-appropriate boundaries so that kids go after life exuberantly, testing the limits, Gorski says. You can start in the toddler years.

  • Establish your outer limits of safety. For example: "Never touch the hot stove," and, "Never run into the street." Relay what is and is not acceptable and never vary the message you give about safety, Gorski says. 
  • Reinforce positive social behavior in a similar way. Know what you will encourage, such as saying please and thank you and playing gently with friends. "Reinforce positive behavior more than you harp on negative behavior," Gorski says. 
  • Talk openly with your children about behavior as they get older. "School-age and adolescent children are capable of insight, so sit down and to try to figure problems out together," Gorski says. For example, if you ask a child "Why are you doing this?" the child may not be able to tell you. But if you say "I wonder why this keeps happening," that open-ended question might give the child room to speculate. You might be surprised by what you learn.
  • Stay calm. Losing your temper with bad behavior only makes you feel bad and look out of control (kind of like a spoiled child), and it doesn't teach the child better behavior. 
  • Be consistent. Always do what you say you're going to do. If you tell your child there will be consequences for a certain behavior, he or she should know you mean it. "This time I'm really taking the toy away if you don't play nicely," doesn't work when you've already said it 10 times.

A kid being out of control is a cry for help, not a sign the child is spoiled, Gorski says. "What's best of all is to start early and consistently to set limits, to understand developmental needs of the infant and young child for this delicate, critical balance between freedom and limits."

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Reviewed on December 02, 2012
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