How to Unspoil Your Child: What You Should Know

“But I want it now!” All children have passed through me, to me, now as little babies and small children, and it is normal for them to be egocentric. In other words, they are the center of the universe, and everything revolves around them.1 You are not a bad parent, and neither is your child if they go through this stage. But what is normal, and when do you have a spoiled child on your hands? And if you notice some bad features creeping in, don’t worry; it is entirely possible to unspoil a child.

Signs of a Spoiled Child

Spoiled children are ungrateful and used to getting what they want when they want it. And if not, wait for the fall. They don’t just learn how to navigate the world and consider other people; they have no appreciation for the needs of others and expect people to meet their needs or wants without giving (or doing) anything in return.1 Other signs or behaviors to watch for include:2

What Causes a Child to Be Spoiled?

I’m sorry to say that a lot of bad behavior comes down to parenting. This does not mean that parents who spoil their children are bad, because it is usually unintentional.3 Many children become spoiled because their parents want the best for them! As parents, we want to please our children and ensure their happiness. We give them gifts, arrange special meals, and visit restaurants, shops, amusement parks, etc., to entertain them. However, this may accidentally result in children becoming eligible or dependent on this type of treatment all the time.

But the main reason why children become spoiled is from lenient or permissive parenting. This is when a parent does not have firm boundaries or many rules and does not use discipline.4 It can make children selfish, immature, selfish, and narcissistic. No one can be perfect all the time, including parents. And it’s easier to give in sometimes and say “yes,” but kids learn that if they make noise, whine, or throw a tantrum, they’ll get what they want.

Sometimes, treating and spoiling children or being permissive comes from guilt. Many parents work long hours outside the home. Spending time away from their children makes them feel bad, so they try to “buy” their love or even unconsciously try to make things easy and fun because they don’t have enough time with them. And it’s a better way to spend time together than having arguments and setting rules or consequences.

There’s nothing wrong with the odd splurge or special treatment, and no one will always be perfect. We’ve all been those tired parents who picked their fight, pushed aside challenging behavior that ultimately wasn’t harmful or dangerous, and decided not to do it anymore. But we are talking about patterns, where being worthy and broken, or having a lack of boundaries and rules, is reinforced over and over again, not a small deal from time to time.

How to Unspoil Your Child

With all this in mind, can you figure out how to unspoil your child? Absolutely!

In essence, bad behavior persists as long as we continue to reinforce it. This means we eliminate entitled and demanding behavior by being consistent with rules, expectations, boundaries, and consequences and not giving up. Easier said than done, because kids who are used to things happening to them can have strong feelings when the rules change. So, here are some strategies to help your child re-engage with their empathy and compassion and to support you in getting rid of them.

1. Don’t Make It Too Easy for Them

I’m not saying to be mean or unhelpful, but sometimes we unintentionally do too much for our kids and don’t allow them to learn life skills. When we do too much for them, we smooth the paths in their lives, meaning they don’t learn how to deal with disappointment or challenges. So, start small and let them experience a challenge or a little discomfort. For example, instead of rushing to tie their shoes, let them walk first. Or instead of buying them another ice cream because they don’t like vanilla, let them eat the vanilla flavor or not eat the ice cream you bought.

2. Patience is a Virtue

In our modern world, almost everything we want is “the touch of a button” away. Want to talk to grandparents on the other side of the world? Finished! Want to watch any movie you can think of on demand? Finished! We need to give our children the opportunity to practice perseverance. It is a skill learned over time. So, don’t be in a hurry to give things away. Similar to the previous strategy, don’t be too quick to give them what they want. Wait or earn them before they get what they want.

3. Teach Them to Manage Big Emotions

A big part of getting over a meltdown in a child means you have to help them manage strong emotions. This is because they need to learn how to cope with persistence, frustration (as mentioned before), or anxiety when things don’t go well. Teach them calming skills or techniques to help manage their anger — moving their bodies, learning to talk things through, breathing calmly, etc.

4. Know How to Cope When They Throw a Tantrum

This is more for you than your child. There is no need to intervene if they are not in danger during the tantrum. Stay present and close through (we don’t reject our kids when they have big feelings), but don’t engage in a tantrum. I know; it’s hard when you’re in public and embarrassed that they’re melting because they can’t get the chocolate bar. But giving up at that point will only reinforce the broken behaviors you want to get rid of.3 Stay strong, let them have a tantrum, and make sure you take care of yourself, because it can be stressful and overwhelming when our children express strong emotions.

5. Have an Attitude of Gratitude

It is important to know how to teach a spoiled child appreciation. A key way of doing this is by developing an attitude of gratitude. Grateful children are happier, more optimistic, have better social support (they tend to give more social support and receive support in return), and are more satisfied with their lives.5 We can teach gratitude through things like:

  • Modeling the behavior we expect from our children
  • Getting their attention on the positives and silver linings in life
  • Giving back (giving time and resources to help others)
  • Being aware of other people and their lives (differences, culture, history, challenges, etc.)
  • Developing a daily ritual of recognizing one small thing you are grateful for in your life
  • Gratitude exercises and activities

It is possible to unspoil your child; it just takes consistency and persistence. When you do this, not only your child will benefit, but you and the whole family. Being thankful and appreciative helps your child to be happier and improve his well-being.5 Of course, your child isn’t perfect, so sometimes he may seem ungrateful or a little demanding, but that’s normal. Make them teachable, and stick to your consistent rules, boundaries, and expectations. These broken moments will soon fade away.

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