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Parenting Solutions: Selfish and Spoiled (page 3)

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

Step 2. Rapid Response

Your second step to deprogramming a spoiled kid is to change your current response so that your parenting is aligned with proven practices that raise less selfish and more considerate kids.

  • Decide to change your ways. Turning around your kid's spoiled habits isn't going to be easy or pretty. Expect big-time resistance from your child, and so be it. Keep a mantra going inside your head: "I'm doing what is best for my child." You must be consistent and determined. You will prevail. Be strong!
  • Take back control and set limits. How many times do you have to say no to your child before he understands you really mean it? Selfish, spoiled kids have learned to get what they desire. And the more often they do, the less likely they will think about others. Decide what issues and things you will not—under any circumstances—give in to (such as spending extra money on a particular video game, seeing a PG-13 or R-rated movie, staying out late on a weeknight). If you think through your priorities, you'll be more likely not to back down or let your kid wear you down. And if you need a little reinforcement, do know that hundreds of child development studies conclude that parents who set clear behavior expectations and stick to them turn out less selfish kids. (P.S. Research shows that the average kid nags nine times to get parents to give in to his whims.85 Keep saying no until your kid learns you won't give in!)
  • Censor selfishness. If you really are serious about changing your child's selfish ways, you must stand firm and be consistent. Start by clearly laying down your new expectations: "In this house you are always to be considerate of others." Then clearly state your disapproval each and every time your child acts selfishly. It won't be easy, especially if your kid is accustomed to having his every whim catered to. But a major step in squelching your child's selfishness is simply not to tolerate it.
  • Maintain your rights. You should be allowed to talk on the phone without being interrupted. You should be able to sleep in your bed without another warm body less than three feet tall curled up beside you. You should be able to say no to your kid without feeling guilty. You are the parent. Don't feel as if you always have to put your kid up on that pedestal and shove your own needs aside. If you do, you're liable to end up with a spoiled child who feels entitled to get his way.
  • Call out selfish deeds. Whenever your child does anything even remotely inconsiderate, always express your objections to the self-centered behavior. Allowing the selfish action sends a message that you tolerate it. So call it for what it is: "That was selfish" (or inconsiderate or unkind). Then help your child consider the needs of the other person. "How would you feel if that happened to you?" "How do you think your friend felt?" "What can you do next time so you consider your friend's feelings?" That simple reasoning process helps kid become less selfish and more sensitized to the feelings of others.
  • Get other caregivers on board. You'll be more successful at changing your child's spoiled ways if you get at least one other person who cares about your kid to support your deprogramming plan. You may have to have a serious talk with other caregivers in your kid's life (such as grandparents) who are guilty of overindulging or always making this kid the center of attention. Let those folks know in no uncertain terms that you are serious about curbing your kid's selfish attitude and need their cooperation to do so.

Step 3. Develop Habits for Change

The third step to deprogramming selfish, spoiled kids is to stretch them away from assuming the world revolves around them, so that they start thinking about others. Here are simple, proven ways:

  • Focus on others. Selfish kids put themselves first. So gently start helping your kid step to the side and think of others. "No, let Rob have a turn. He's been waiting just as long as you." "I know you wanted to use the Wii, but let's think of your brother also." Also help your child recognize the strengths of others. "Kira is a good artist. Let's ask her to help draw the poster."
  • Teach your child to wait. Selfish kids want their way N-O-W. They rarely stop to consider whether you or anyone else is being inconvenienced. You need to stretch your child's waiting quotient so that he doesn't put his own needs in front of others'. If you're on the phone, put up your finger and signal that you'll talk to him in a certain number of minutes. If you're at the mall, tell him you won't stop what you're doing to go to the bank for more cash. He'll have to make the purchase when he remembers to bring his allowance. If he wants to get on the computer, don't let him push his sister's time aside to suit his own convenience. It will take patience and fortitude on your part, but a less selfish attitude will be the outcome.
  • Reinforce selfless acts. One of the fastest ways to increase selflessness is by "catching" your kid doing considerate and unselfish acts. So look for selfless behaviors in your child and acknowledge them. Describe the deed so that he clearly understands the virtue and point out the impact it had on the recipient. Doing so will also help your child be more likely to repeat the same act another time. "Did you see Kelly's smile when you shared your toys? You made her happy." "Thanks for giving your CDs to your brother. I know you don't listen to rap anymore, but he just loves it."
  • Require giving back. Dr. Ervin Staub, a world-renowned researcher at the University of Massachusetts, has extensively studied the development of selfless, considerate kids.86 His studies found that children who are given the opportunity to help others tend to become more helpful (and less selfish) in their everyday lives. Require your child to do for others on a regular basis, every day: do his chores; give part of his weekly allowance to charity; bring cookies to the shut-in neighbor; take the dog for a walk; call Grandma every Sunday to see how she's doing. Just plain expect that he think of someone besides himself and contribute to your family. If you don't expect him to give to others, he will feel entitled.
  • Help kids realize the impact of giving. Research also finds that it is important not only for kids to help others but also to understand the effect of their kindhearted action on the people they helped.87 Posing the right questions to a child after he performs any selfless, considerate act helps a child recognize the impact his behavior can have on others as well as on himself. So use giving actions to stretch your child from "me" to "we" by posing such questions as these:
  • "What did the person do when you were considerate?"

    "How do you think she felt?"

    "How would you feel if you were the person?"

    "How did you feel when you were being kind to her?"

    "How did you feel when you saw her reaction to your gesture?"

    Even better, decide to give back as a family. Find a cause you support and then bring your kids along to experience the miracle of giving. It could be taking extra toys to a children's ward in a hospital, helping at an animal shelter, reading to the elderly. There is no better way to stretch your child than having him experience the joy of giving.

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