Veruca Salt is the second child to “find” a Golden Ticket. Unlike the other children, her father made his peanut factory workers unwrap crates of Wonka bars until they found one for her. Throughout the tour, Veruca constantly demanded completely irrational things, like an Oompa-Loompa, a candy boat, and the catalyst for her demise, a trained squirrel (or a golden goose in the 1971 film). When Mr. Wonka tells her that the animal is not for sale, she throws a fit, the squirrels retaliate, declare her a “bad nut”, and toss her down the garbage chute.
Was it Veruca’s fault that she became a brat? Or are the Oompa-Loompas right and the mother and the father to blame?
As parents, we love seeing our kids happy. So when they cry or fuss, we instinctually try to ease the discomfort and make everyone happy again. We may give in to their requests even if it’s at the most inconvenient times. We might let them have a candy bar or stay up past their bedtime because it’s not worth the fight (or your child’s tears). We may show our love through gifting and find ourselves just saying yes.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong submitting every now and then. But if it’s done too often and there isn’t a clear boundary, we start to teach our kids that if they plead hard and long enough, they can get whatever they want.
Being called spoiled is never a good thing. It’s often a reason why some couples choose to have more than one child, thinking an only-child would automatically be spoiled. It’s a derogatory term referring to someone that is immature and self-centered. They are unwilling to follow family or community rules, feeling above them, and can resort to public temper tantrums to get what they want. Other characteristics include:
- Difficulties hearing or processing the word “no”
- Not content with what they have, lacking gratitude
- Believing the world revolves around them, not considering others
- Expecting their demands and whims will ALWAYS be met
- Frequently says, “I need” or “I want”
- Blame others for their failures while expecting praise for everything they do
What’s the recipe for creating spoiled children?
- Giving them everything they ask for, creating a sense of entitlement
- Being overprotective, leading to children developing an unhealthy attitude towards authority figures and rules
- Shielding them from difficulties and disappointments, not allowing them to deal with the consequences of their actions
- Giving empty threats, preventing them from feeling remorse for their behavior
Figuring out the difference between spoiling your child and meeting their needs can be muddled. Nurturing your child is providing them with unconditional love, support, time, and patience; establishing boundaries when necessary for this development. Being present with your kid allows them to know that you are a safe place where their needs will be met.
Spoiling, on the other hand, is giving your child what they want, when they want it, without them facing strife. This practice teaches them that their desires and whims will always be met (like a having a genie with unlimited wishes).
Some actions we do for our kids, despite its good intentions, can actually encourage this unwanted behavior. For example:
- Toddlers are developing a sense of self (the “me” phase of “I want” and “I need”) and learning to advocate for themselves. Consistent limits and boundaries are necessary during this time, so that they can learn self-control and compromise. However, that can easily be dismantled if we attempt to win every battle or give in to all their demands.
- Children will often request for items that catch their eye when roaming the aisles at a store. We may purchase it for them to show how much we love them, even if the cost isn’t relatively much. There is currently no evidence showing that material objects makes a child feel more loved. However, it may promote the idea that material belongings equate to one’s worth. (See Childish Reads: 5 Love Languages of Children)
- School-aged kids may experience academic demands or social situations that can stress them out. Parents may try to help by completing a homework assignment to avoid their child getting a bad grade or requesting a birthday invitation when their child wasn’t invited. By taking away an obstacle, you remove an opportunity for them to process their emotions and problem solve together.
- For us parents, spoiling may just come from being tired and not having the energy to battle our kid over something trivial. The problem lies when we constantly give in because we’re in survival mode. This makes our jobs harder because we now have to deal with more demands or behavioral outbursts when we do try to put our foot down.
Side note: Babies cannot be spoiled. They actually need you to survive and aren’t developed enough to have ulterior-motive. There is no scientific evidence that responding to your infant’s cries and coos will cause this. What is does do, however, is develop consistent, predictable, and nurturing interactions to let them feel emotionally safe and secure. So, hug them, hold them, and give them all the love and attention you desire.
What’s the Worse that Could Happen?
When kids are given everything they desire all the time, they lose opportunities to build resilience, adaptability, or responsibility. This can turn them into needy, reckless, and defiant adults later on in life. The brain makes associations to every situation it experiences. If kids learn their parents will do ANYTHING it takes to make them happy, then they will impose that belief on others. That sense of entitlement can affect future relationships with others since their happiness is driven by what others can do for them.
As they realize their easy living set by their parents isn’t sustainable, they may become despondent. They will have a tougher time enjoying the little things or appreciating the feeling of hard-earned successes.
You Live, You Learn
In a recent poll, 42% of parents admit that their child is spoiled and 80% think spoiling kids will affect them in the long run. If you are one of those parents that recognize the issue, here’s some ways to get your child back on track:
- Hit the reset button by enforcing non-negotiable house rules firmly and respectfully, but don’t make so many restrictions that your child sees no other option but to act out (be a Dumbledore, not a Dolores Umbridge). Let them know when the re-enforcement will occur and follow through.
- Acknowledge your role. Admit to your kids that you have not set a clear boundary and that it takes two to play this game. If you can give your perspective and understanding, they can see how actions can affect other people.
- Get comfortable with telling your child “No.” Remain calm whenever your child throws tantrums and hold your ground. Remember, this will get worse before it gets better. If it’s in public, you can quietly shift their performance to a bathroom or the car to limit the audience. This is also a time for you to practice your own self-regulation and not escalate the situation.
- Make time for quality time. Kids want your time and undivided attention, not the random trinkets you get them.
- On Their Own. When they are doing an activity or an assignment and want to quit, don’t finish it for them. You can walk them through the problem and be a tutor, but this is their project, not yours.
- Stop apologizing when you can’t obtain something your child wanted. Instead, acknowledge their feelings and talk to them about it. For example, why was that object so important for them to have?
- Build their patience by teaching them restraint. For instance, if your child sees a toy they like, tell them to write it down on their holiday or birthday wishlist. If they’re still thinking about it, discuss a plan for how they can buy it themselves.
- Give with purpose. Don’t just get them something because they want it, get them something because they earned it.
These suggestions may take longer if your child is older, so give yourself a learning curve. It’s also much harder to raise kids now than it was 20-30 years ago, so if you hear comments about spoiling your kids from older family members, take that with a grain of salt. Don’t feel the need to make your kid walk 15 miles in the snow and do hard labor. “Spoiled” is a learned behavior, so take your time to unteach and make the right connections to rebuild.
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