Parenting Solutions: Selfish and Spoiled (page 2)

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

Signs and Symptoms

Four words (No, Gimme, Me, Now) best describe selfish and spoiled kids. That's because they all are about putting their needs first and not considering others. So think of your child's usual daily behaviors, then read the following descriptions. The presence of any one of these kinds of behaviors can mean your child is slipping into the "spoiled" category.

  1. "No!" The child can't take no for an answer. He expects to get his way and usually does.
  2. "Gimme!" The child is more into getting than receiving. He is usually unappreciative and a bit greedy.
  3. "Me!" The child thinks more of himself than of others. He expects (and receives) special favors and privileges.
  4. "Now!" The child has the ability to wait, but won't. He wants his way ASAP, and it's usually easier to give in than to delay his request. He doesn't stop to consider that others may be inconvenienced as well.

The Solution

Step 1. Early Intervention

  • Identify the reason Your first step to changing your child's selfish and spoiled ways is to figure out why your kid has this attitude. Once you figure out where his selfish ways are coming from, you'll be in a better place to turn them around. Here are a few of the most common reasons. Check those that may apply to your child or situation:
    • You are spoiling your child out of guilt. (You feel that you are not patient, that you need to make amends for your past mistakes, or that you don't spend enough time with him.)
    • You want your child to have a "better" childhood than your own.
    • You are living in a "competitive" community where what you have matters.
    • You've always treated him as if the world revolved around him.
    • You or another adult member of your family is modeling selfishness.
    • Your kid is jealous of your partner or a sibling, or is craving your love and approval.
    • Your child has never been taught the value of selflessness.
    • Your child has poor emotional intelligence and has difficulty identifying or understanding other people's emotions.
    • Your child has had a past (or present) trauma, illness, preexisting condition, learning disability, or something else that caused pain in his life, and you feel you need to make it up to him with "stuff."
    • Your child is angry, anxious, or depressed or having some other problem that makes it difficult for him to think of others.
    • You don't treat discipline and setting limits as a high priority in your parenting, and your child has learned that he is going to get his way if he keeps at you long enough.
    • You (or other family members) have the money, so your thinking is "Why not raise our child with privilege?"
  • Once you figure out what is causing your child's selfish, spoiled ways, create one simple solution you can implement to prevent it from escalating further.

  • Use the right parenting formula. Research shows that the best formula for raising less selfish, more considerate kids has two equal parts: unconditional love and firm limits. Is your parenting evenly balanced between the two parts? Or are you providing too much nurturance and not enough structure? If your present parenting formula isn't balanced, then realign your response so you are more likely to get the right results.
  • Model selflessness. The simplest and most powerful way kids learn kindness, consideration, and thoughtfulness is by seeing it in action. Make sure you are the model you want your child to copy. And when you do those simple, selfless acts—such as watching your friend's child, phoning a friend who is down, picking up trash, giving directions, asking someone how she is, baking cookies for your family—make sure you convey to your child how much pleasure you get from giving to others. By seeing consideration in your daily words and deeds and hearing you emphasize how being kind and caring makes you feel good, your child will be much more likely to follow your example. The old saying about children learning what they live has a lot of truth to it.
  • Nurture empathy. Kids who are empathic can understand where other people are coming from because they can put themselves in others' shoes and feel how they feel. And because they can "feel with" someone else, they are more unselfish. So nurture your child's empathy to help him see beyond himself and into the views of others. You might help him imagine how the other person feels about a special situation. "Imagine you're a new student and you're walking into a brand-new school and don't know anyone. How would you feel?" Ask such questions often, because they help kids understand the feelings and needs of other people.
  • Boost character. Selfish kids see what they have as more important than who they are. So watch out for comparisons ("Did you see what Sally is wearing?") and comments about appearance ("I love Jen's new haircut—you should get your hair cut just like hers"). Emphasize in your child the things you can't see or buy: perseverance, compassion, honesty, respect, responsibility. And do stress why you value them. Your child will be more likely to adopt those values.
  • Don't let your kid always be the center of attention. Receiving constant praise and rewards can make your kid think life revolves around him, and increases self-centeredness. Praise only when your child earns and deserves the praise. Also teach your child to deal with boredom and enjoy his own company so that he doesn't feel the need to be entertained at all times.
  • Watch those TV commercials. Admit it! We're all susceptible to being seduced by advertising, and so are our kids. Need proof? Since the 1970s, the average number of commercials a kid sees in a year has doubled, and marketers now spend more than $3 billion annually on advertising directed at kids.83 And kids are not only spending more but also becoming more consumption driven and spoiled. A study by Penn State concluded that today's kids are also launching their big-time shopping careers at much younger ages.84 One reason is that they are seeing those TV commercials, which fuel their spending desires. The second reason: we're giving into their whims. Although the recession is causing a downturn in kids' spending, it hasn't seemed to have made a dent in curbing their selfish notions. There are two simple solutions: limit television viewing and just say no.
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