Parenting Experts Share Tips on Reversing Spoiled Behaviour in Kids

Explore expert advice on transforming entitled behaviour in children. This guide covers setting consistent boundaries, encouraging empathy, autonomy, and teamwork, and avoiding shame tactics. Learn effective parenting strategies to nurture responsible, kind, and well-adjusted children.
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Parenting Experts Share Tips on Reversing Spoiled Behaviour in Kids (Picture Credit - Freepik)

A child who is often labelled as spoiled typically behaves as if they are the centre of the universe. They are accustomed to having their desires met promptly, and when this doesn't happen, they may react with tantrums or persistent demands. Such children often lack gratitude for what they have and expect others to constantly accommodate them, usually without offering anything in return.
Several parenting experts are cautious about using the term “spoiled” for children, as it suggests that the child is irreparably damaged. Instead, they prefer “entitled” to describe such behaviour, emphasizing that it's the behaviour that's problematic, not the child’s inherent nature. This distinction is important in focusing on correcting actions rather than labelling a child's entire personality.
Parenting coach Amy McCready, founder of 'Positive Parenting Solutions', explains that entitled behaviour in children can manifest as expecting things to be done for them, such as household chores, or receiving undue rewards like candy for minimal effort or payment for completing homework.
McCready notes that entitled children often act as if they are the centre of the universe and above the rules. They typically get their way and lack gratitude for what they receive.
McCready, author of 'The ‘Me, Me, Me’ Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World,' emphasizes that while all children may have days when they misbehave, it's crucial to recognize if these behaviours are occasional or part of a consistent pattern of entitlement.
Parenting coach Traci Baxley, who authored 'Social Justice Parenting,' shared with HuffPost her perspective that she focuses more on parents' habits and methods rather than the child's behaviour. Caregivers don't intentionally aim to spoil their children but might end up doing so for various reasons.
Baxley explains that parents often use the limited parenting tools they have learned or try to make up for what they felt was missing in their own childhoods. She emphasizes that parents are first and foremost humans, carrying their own experiences and past traumas, which can manifest in their parenting as fear, protection, and love that is well-meaning but sometimes misguided.
Aliza Pressman, co-founder of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center and host of the 'Raising Good Humans' podcast, points out that spoiling a child is not about "over-loving" them. Love is limitless and doesn't contribute to a child developing an entitled mindset.
However, if showing love means constantly fulfilling every wish and need of a child without teaching them about limits and self-reliance, then, according to McCready, it's more likely that the child will develop a sense of entitlement.
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Parenting Experts Share Tips on Reversing Spoiled Behaviour in Kids (Picture Credit - Freepik)
Traci Baxley emphasizes that no child is inherently "spoiled" as it's a behaviour that is learned. The encouraging aspect is that by altering our parenting styles, we can guide our children away from entitlement and towards more positive behaviours. Here are expert strategies for reversing the spoiling of a child.
Engage in Self-Reflection
Take a moment to introspect and understand the reasons behind your parenting choices.
Consider asking yourself questions like, "What drives me to buy excessively for my child? What makes it hard for me to say no? How do I feel after acquiescing or making a purchase against my better judgment?" suggests Baxley.
She encourages exploring these thoughts to uncover connections between your past experiences and current parenting methods, and to take gradual, deliberate steps towards change.
Be mindful, however, that such self-reflection can be challenging, as it might unearth uncomfortable memories from your own upbringing.
Baxley advises understanding that this journey might require professional help, a lot of patience, and the need to be kind to yourself throughout the process.
Foster Independence
Encouraging your child's autonomy involves not doing tasks for them that they are capable of doing on their own. It also means guiding them to accomplish tasks they're nearly able to do, and teaching them how to do things they aren't ready for yet, as explained by Pressman.
This could involve everyday activities such as dressing themselves, tying their shoes, or preparing a simple snack.
Implementing and Upholding Boundaries
It might be tough to set limits or say "no" to your children, especially when it leads to exhausting or upsetting reactions like tantrums. However, children actually need and desire consistent boundaries, as Baxley points out. Expect resistance, especially if they're not accustomed to boundaries from their parents.
During their emotional outbursts or when they struggle with self-regulation, it's important to acknowledge their feelings rather than rewarding their tantrum or negative behaviour, Baxley advises.
How can you do this effectively? By saying things like, "I understand you're disappointed about not getting that toy today" or "I realize you're upset about not having a sleepover with friends." This approach shows empathy and compassion while still maintaining necessary boundaries.
Assigning Home Responsibilities
Introducing responsibilities at home to a child used to having their needs catered to by you can be challenging. McCready recommends using what she calls "when-then routines" to ease this transition. These routines link regular household tasks to everyday activities. For example, you can say, "When you've walked the dog, then you can meet your friend," or "Once you've brushed your teeth and are in your pyjamas, we can read your book, but remember, lights out at 8 p.m." It's crucial to note that the 'thens' in these routines are not rewards but regular occurrences or activities.
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Parenting Experts Share Tips on Reversing Spoiled Behaviour in Kids (Picture Credit - Freepik)
Eliminate Rewards for Routine Activities
Offering rewards like money, treats, or toys to encourage children to complete everyday tasks like homework or tooth brushing might seem effective temporarily. However, McCready points out that in real life, such rewards for basic tasks are rare or non-existent.
Therefore, it's crucial to foster long-term motivation, focusing on the ability to work hard and achieve on one's own. Emphasizing the intrinsic rewards and satisfaction that come from effort is key.
Letting Kids Learn from Mistakes
It's natural for parents to want to intervene and solve their children's problems, but it's often better to let them face the consequences of their actions. Allowing kids to fail and deal with the outcomes is beneficial for their development.
Pressman advises that if a child doesn't get a role in a play or a spot on a soccer team, it's important to support them emotionally without trying to alter the situation. Similarly, if they forget their homework, they should learn to handle the repercussions rather than having a parent intervene. This approach teaches children how to cope with disappointment and encourages them to seek emotional support and resilience.
Prepare for Your Child's Displeasure
Be ready for your child to occasionally express anger or disappointment towards you. They might even claim to dislike or not need you. However, Baxley points out that parenting isn't about always being liked or popular.
She advises not to let your child's behaviour or words sway your family's values and boundaries. Children, from toddlers to teenagers, are learning to use their voice and test its power. They navigate between the desire for independence and the need for parental love and care.
Allow your child the freedom to express their feelings and frustrations, but maintain firmness and don't always yield to their demands.
Baxley suggests listening attentively and with love, reinforcing the idea that their voice and opinions are important. Stay consistent with your family's values to provide clear guidelines and teach them accountability for their words and actions.
Encouraging a Sense of Community and Teamwork
Children who exhibit entitled behaviour may have difficulty considering the needs of others. Encouraging them to help with household chores or engage in community volunteering can foster values like community and teamwork. Baxley notes that participating in acts of kindness brings joy and, over time, these acts can cultivate habits of kindness in children. These habits eventually become the desired behaviors.
It's important to shift their focus from a self-centred 'me, me, me' attitude to a more inclusive 'we, we, we' mindset.
Educational psychologist Michele Borba suggests seizing everyday opportunities to encourage this mindset, like asking a child to consider what a sibling or friend would like to do, how another family member feels, or participating in community service activities like volunteering at a soup kitchen.
Avoid Shaming Your Child
Using shame to address your child's entitled behaviour is counterproductive.
Pressman advises against making children feel ashamed, as it doesn't contribute to positive change. Rather than accusing them of being spoiled, it's more effective to guide them in understanding that while their behaviour might need adjustment, their value as a person remains unaffected in your eyes, and they are loved unconditionally.
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