Better Parenting: Spoiled Kids Now – Unhappy Adults Later, Part 1

What is a spoiled child?  

The sad truth is that for many parents it is easier to spoil our kids than not to spoil them.

How can I tell if I spoil mine? 

Ask yourself the following questions about your children:

Do they ignore home or school rules?

Do they keep going when you tell them to stop?

Do they seem to argue about anything?

Is it difficult to keep them happy or entertained?

Do they beg for things as though they are necessary as food?

Do they not seem to care about others feelings, wants or needs?

Do they throw tantrums on a regular basis?

Do they act like they should get what they want?

If you answered a solid yes to more than a couple of these questions, you have some work ahead of you.

Spoiling our kids is not about giving too much love. Spoiling them is providing too much care – care that may look and feel loving, but keeps a child from developing their own abilities.

Why do we spoil our kids?

I think that spoiling kids starts with a good heart. Maybe we want to protect our kids from feeling the pain we had growing up. Sometimes we are reacting from our own feelings of guilt, worry and sometimes we are just plain tired.

David J. Bredehoft, Ph.D., the coauthor of How Much is Enough? Everything you need to know to Steer Clear of Overindulgence and Raise Likeable, Responsible, and Respectful Children, states that after reading the facts about the harm that spoiling our kids really does, many parents might think about doing things differently.

What is the harm in spoiling a child?   And why should I be concerned?

Research clearly shows that the impact of childhood overindulgences lasts into adulthood.

Picture how loving parents provide toys or pleasure for their kids so their kids will feel good and happy. Picture parents giving in to their kids because they whine, complain, beg or tantrum.

Now try to imagine these same kids – as adults expecting their friends, spouses or employers to make them happy or feel good. Imagine these kids as adults whining, and demanding to get what they want. How many relationships, marriages or jobs do you think they will go through before they learn how the real world works?

Spoiled kids grow up facing many painful challenges as adults. A spoiled child is not ready for the real world and may butt heads with peers and adults for the rest of their lives. It will be easier for them to make these changes as children than to unlearn these patterns as adults.

Giving our kids too many toys, clothes, activities, sports, lessons, entertainment, or privileges 

As parents we sometimes think that if we do everything for them and give them everything they want, our kids will feel good about themselves and be more successful. In reality it will be the opposite.  This thinking is deceiving in many ways. If they have everything handed to them they develop expectations that blind them to the fact that they need to know how to work and earn the things that they want.

Doing things for our kids that they can and should be doing for themselves. This also involves hovering, rescuing and siding with the child when they are misbehaving. 

Our children’s self-worth is determined not only by how they feel about themselves inside, but self-worth is determined by how they compare themselves to kids their own age. What do you think happens inside our children when other kids make fun of them and hold their misbehavior against them?

Over giving is a form of child neglect. It hinders children from performing in their needed developmental areas, and from learning needed life lessons.  Over giving and overly permissive parents hinder their kids because the kids are not able to calm themselves when feeling overwhelmed. They have no frustration tolerance, self-control or anger management skills.

Not having rules, not enforcing rules, not having chores, giving too much freedom, allowing our kids to dominate the family.

These kids grow up unable to understand the feelings, needs or wants of their peers or the adults around them.

Some kids act out to be contained. They shake things up, and get worse to force parents to finally give them the structure they need. Many children want and need their parents to control them to feel safe when they can’t control themselves.

Spoiled kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, and bipolar disorder or other mental/emotional handicaps still need to have parental help or it will be the police and the courts that intervene eventually.  Medication, when necessary, and behavior management needs to be in place and evaluated periodically. It doesn’t seem right or fair not to do this for them when it’s needed. Our kids need as much help as possible to be able to manage their behavior throughout a typical day so they have a better chance to make progress in life.

Parents often do not understand what they are doing because they mix up needs with wants. They think that a crying child needs more from them.  But this is not the case – all kids need to feel disappointment and frustration in order to learn to manage it; if we do not allow this struggle they will get accustomed to attention and affection when they feel uncomfortable, and demand it from you and others.

For example, when you are shopping and your child cries and demands a toy, you shouldn’t feel bad about that, rather, in a calm voice explain to him that he does not need it and that he will be in trouble if this behavior continues. Even if you do not think he understands, if you stay calm and stay persistent he will understand it in time. Children need to know early that they are not the bosses of their parents.

Psychologist Ruth A. Peters, PhD., author of the child discipline manual, Laying Down the Law, agrees. ”Spoiling doesn’t prepare them for anything but heartache later in life” she says, adding that a spoiled child typically grows into a spoiled adult, and spoiled adults have trouble maintaining jobs, spouses and friendships.

It is better to learn about parenting before we get kids, but most of us don’t, and we all make mistakes.  It is never too late to make a new plan.