A spoiled kid is one who thinks and acts like the world revolves around them. They’re used to getting what they want, when they want it — and if they don’t, they’ll throw a fit until they do. They show little to no appreciation for what they have and expect others to cater to them, often without contributing anything in return.
Some parenting experts don’t like to use the word “spoiled” to describe a child because it implies they’re somehow “ruined.” Some prefer the word “entitled,” with a focus on labeling the negative behavior, not the kid’s character.
According to parenting coach Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, examples of entitled behavior might include “the expectation that things will be done for them, like the household chores, or awarded to them unnecessarily, like getting candy for trying one bite of broccoli or getting paid to do homework.”
“Entitled kids may also believe they are the center of the universe and that rules don’t apply to them,” McCready said. “They usually get their way and fail to show gratitude.”
All kids will have “off” days when they act up from time to time. So “it’s important to distinguish between whether your child is just having a rough day or they are exhibiting ‘spoiled’ behaviors” consistently, said McCready, who wrote the book “The ‘Me, Me, Me’ Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World.”
Parenting coach Traci Baxley, author of “Social Justice Parenting,” told HuffPost that in her work, she focuses less on the kid’s behavior and more on the parents’ habits and approach. Caregivers rarely set out to raise a spoiled child, but they may end up indulging their kids anyway for a number of reasons.
“Parents show up using the limited tools they were taught, or attempt to overcompensate for lack in their own childhood,” Baxley said. “Parents are humans first, with lived experiences and possible traumas from the past that show up as fear, protection, and misguided, but well-intended, love.”
One quick thing to clear up: Spoiling a kid has nothing to do with “over-loving” them, said Aliza Pressman, co-founder of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center and host of the “Raising Good Humans” podcast.
“There is never a limit to how much love you have and show children,” she said. “This does not contribute to that sense of entitlement.”
But if your way of showing love to your child is “tending to their every wish and need without teaching them there are limits, and that they can do and work towards things themselves,” then your kids are more likely to be entitled, McCready said.
No child is born “spoiled”— it’s a learned behavior, Baxley said. So the good news is that we can help our kids become less entitled by modifying our parenting approaches and helping them change their behavior in turn. Here’s how to “un-spoil” a child, according to experts.
Do some self-reflection.
Take time to think about why you make some of the parenting decisions you do.
Ask yourself: “Why do I need to over-purchase for my child? Why do I find it too difficult to say no? How does it make me feel after I’ve bought something or said yes when I really wanted to say no?” Baxley said.
“See what bubbles up for you,” she said. “See if you can connect something in the past to your current parenting practices and engage in small intentional steps to make changes.”
Be aware that this kind of reflection can be difficult for some parents, because it may bring up painful memories from their own childhood.
“Please know that this process may include getting professional support, great patience and giving yourself grace along the way,” Baxley said.
“This means not doing for your child what they can already do for themselves, guiding and encouraging them to do what they can almost do, and teaching and modeling things they are not yet ready to do,” Pressman said.
Examples might include things like getting dressed, putting on their shoes or making a snack.
Set and enforce boundaries consistently.
You may hate setting limits or saying “no” to your kid because it’s exhausting or distressing to watch them have a meltdown. But kids want and need consistent boundaries, Baxley said. Nevertheless, they’ll push back — “and push back hard if they aren’t used to boundaries from their parents,” she said.
“During their breakdowns or lack of emotional regulation, acknowledge the feelings instead of rewarding the temper tantrum or negative behavior,” she said.
How do you do this? Say something like: “‘I see you are disappointed you couldn’t get that toy today’ or ‘I know not being allowed to have a sleepover with your friends makes you angry,’” Baxley suggested. “This demonstrates that you have empathy and compassion for them in this situation, but you’re enforcing boundaries.”
Give them responsibilities at home.
When you kid is accustomed to you catering to their needs, it’s not easy getting them to meet your new expectations to do more at home. It can help to use what McCready calls “when-then routines.”
“You can use a when-then routine for anything from getting household work done —‘When the dog is walked, then you can see your friend’ — to bedtime — ’When your teeth are brushed and you’re in your pajamas, then we can read your book. But remember, lights out at 8 p.m.,’” she said. “Please note that the ’thens’ are regularly occurring events and activities and not rewards!”
Ditch rewards for everyday tasks.
Rewarding your kids with money, treats or toys to motivate them to do their homework or brush their teeth may work in the moment — “but in real life, prizes for basic tasks are few or nonexistent,” McCready said.
“That’s why it’s important to nurture long-term motivation — the capacity for hard work and self-achievement — and the benefits that come from that effort alone,” she said.
Don’t rescue your kid when they make mistakes or experience setbacks.
Parents have a tendency to want to rush in, fix things and save the day, often unnecessarily. It’s OK — good, even — to allow kids to fail and experience consequences for their actions.
“If a child did not get the part in the play or picked for the soccer team, support them through their challenging feelings, but don’t offer to speak to the coach and change the situation,” Pressman said. “If they forget their homework, allow them to experience the discomfort of owning up to it rather than having you explain it to the teacher. That helps kids grow up knowing what it feels like to be disappointed and to seek emotional support and move forward.”
Expect — and accept — that your child will be upset with you.
It’s inevitable: Your kid is going to get angry or disappointed with you at times. They might even say they don’t like you or need you. But parenting isn’t about being popular or well-liked all the time, Baxley said.
“Don’t let their behavior and words determine your family’s values and boundaries,” she said. “As part of a child’s development, from toddler to teenager, they test the power of using their voice. They are caught between two ways of being — to be independent and take care of themselves and the need to be loved and nurtured by their parents.”
You can give your child space to voice their feelings and frustrations without giving in to them all the time.
“Listen attentively and lovingly,” Baxley said. “We want them to know their voice and opinions matter. Stay consistent with your established values, so they know what your family’s guideposts are and they learn how to be accountable for their words and actions.”
Reinforce values like community and teamwork.
Entitled kids may struggle to think about other people’s needs. Having them contribute to the household by assisting with chores, or having them participate in community volunteer work, can help reinforce this.
“When we participate in acts of kindness, we experience a sense of joy,” Baxley said. “Each time our children get an opportunity to do for others, we build these habits of kindness. Over time, these habits will become the learned behaviors that we desire for our children.”
Help them be more considerate of others, shifting their focus from “me, me, me” to “we, we, we.”
“Look for those everyday moments to do so,” educational psychologist Michele Borba previously told HuffPost. “Like, ‘Let’s ask Alice what she would like to do,’ ‘How do you think Daddy feels?’ ‘Ask your friend what he would like to play’ or ‘Let’s go volunteer at the soup kitchen.’”
Refrain from shaming them.
Making your kid feel ashamed over their entitled behavior isn’t going to be productive for them or for you.
“Shaming does not help kids get unspoiled,” Pressman said. “Avoid saying, ‘You’re spoiled because...’ Instead, focus on helping kids understand that their behavior may need some fine-tuning, but who they are as a person is someone you love unconditionally.”