Parenting Solutions: Selfish and Spoiled

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 31, 2010

The Problem

Red Flags

Can't take no; wants things ASAP; feels entitled to receive special privileges; always wants to be entertained; is unappreciative, never satisfied, selfish, greedy

The Change to Parent For

Your child learns to consider other people's needs and feelings and recognize that who you are is more important than what you own.

Question: "I focused so much attention on my son that he sees the world as one big catering service just for him. What can I do so he's less selfish and thinks of someone besides himself? Help!"

Answer: The way to bring selfish kids "back to the civilized world" is to stop indulging their every whim and to show them how to consider other people's needs and feelings. It will take patience, energy, and fortitude, but research shows it's actually what makes kids happier and more fulfilled.

Why Change?

Do you have a little princess or prince in your house who feels entitled to luxury and privilege? Does she think only of herself? Does he expect the world to revolve around him? If so, you're not alone. In fact, national surveys show that two-thirds of parents say their kids measure their self-worth by possessions and are spoiled.77 Eighty percent of respondents in a recent AOL/Time Warner poll said kids in America are more spoiled than kids of ten or fifteen years ago, and two-thirds of parents admit their kids are spoiled.78 One thing is for sure: selfish kids are no joy to have around. These critters always want things their way, put their needs and concerns ahead of other people's, and rarely stop to consider others' feelings. And that's because they want you to believe that their feelings are actually more important than the feelings and needs of others.

The truth is, kids don't arrive in this world selfish. Research shows that our children are born with the marvelous gift to care and be concerned about others. But unless we nurture those virtues, they will lie dormant. Research also proves that you're not doing your kid any favors if you allow that selfish streak to continue. Selfish, spoiled kids are found to be less happy and satisfied about life, to have more troubles with relationships, and to have difficulty handling adversity.79 They are also less popular and more likely to be depressed and anxious.80 And they argue more with their parents. Without intervention, spoiled kids are more likely to become less happy adults. So let's roll up our sleeves to squelch this bad attitude and pronto.

Late-Breaking News

Use Discipline That Sensitizes Kids to Others' Feelings

University of Michigan: Martin Hoffman, a world-renowned authority on empathy, aimed one of his most influential studies on selfless kids.81 He wanted to determine the type of discipline their parents most frequently used with their children, and the finding was clear. The most common discipline technique parents of highly considerate children use is reasoning with them about their uncaring, selfish behavior. Their reasoning lessons helped sensitize their children to the feelings of others and realize how their actions may affect others. It's an important parenting point to keep in mind in those moments when we confront our own kids for any uncaring, selfish deed.

Pay Attention to This!

There are two legitimate reasons kids may appear to be selfish or spoiled but are not.

Developmental lags. Young children are self-centered because they are egocentric. They will have trouble waiting and do want their needs met ASAP. As they mature, they will be able to think of others. Also, any child diagnosed with attention or impulsivity deficits will have difficulty "waiting." Solution: tailor your expectations to your child's capabilities.

Emotional lags. Children who suffer trauma, who are depressed or overly stressed, or who have low self-esteem will appear selfish. Their emotional pain hinders them from reaching out to others. Children with Asperger's, attachment disorders, and dyssemia (a term coined by psychologists Marshall Duke and Stephen Nowicki to describe difficulties with nonverbal communication82) will also have trouble reading emotional cues and may seem inconsiderate. Solution: please seek professional help.

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