Parenting Solutions: Selfish and Spoiled (page 5)
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.
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.
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.
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.
- "No!" The child can't take no for an answer. He expects to get his way and usually does.
- "Gimme!" The child is more into getting than receiving. He is usually unappreciative and a bit greedy.
- "Me!" The child thinks more of himself than of others. He expects (and receives) special favors and privileges.
- "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.
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?"
- 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.
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.
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.
What To Expect By Stages And Ages
Preschooler Kids this age will be a bit self-centered and egocentric. They need reminders to wait their turn, share their toys, and think about others. Your goal is to stretch them to consider others' needs and feelings.
School Age Competitiveness gears up, which can make kids more one sided in their thinking and inconsiderate of their class- or teammates' feelings. Use competitions and team activities as opportunities to help your child be less selfish. Watch for a materialistic need always to be "one up" on another friend.
Tween Self-centeredness and the need to "fit in" peaks during these ages. Watch out for put-downs, vicious gossip, and verbal bullying (especially among girls), which are usually rampant with tweens. Call your kid on any callous actions so that she considers the other girls' feelings.
One Parent's Answer
A mom from Toronto shares:
My husband and I always volunteered in our community, but my son was always too busy. It was when I saw a selfish side of him that I decided to drop his violin lessons so he could work with me at the homeless shelter each week. He hated it at first, but I insisted that he had to start giving back. When he began playing games with the kids, within weeks his selfishness was gone—all because he was required to think of somebody besides himself.
One Simple Solution
Play the "Step into My Shoes" Game
Research proves that a great way to stretch your child from always thinking "me-me-me" is to have him actually stand in another person's shoes. You can start with your own shoes or that of an older or younger sibling. Your child literally acts out the situation from the other perspective. "How do I feel? What would I say? What would I want to have happen instead of what did?" The trick is to help your kid switch roles so that he starts thinking about others instead of always himself.
One Simple Solution
Let's face it, deprogramming a selfish, spoiled kid is tough work, but it needs to be done. If you find your resolve waning a bit, answer this simple question: "How would you or others honestly describe your child's typical behavior?" If most terms are derogatory (such as rude, demanding, self-centered, obnoxious, impulsive, bossy, materialistic, selfish, only thinks of himself), reenergize your commitment to change your kid's current ways.
More Helpful Advice
Don't Give Me That Attitude! 24 Rude, Selfish, Insensitive Things Kids Do and How to Stop Them, by Michele Borbae Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children, by Robert Shaw
Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age, by Dan Kindlon
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