Are You Raising a Spoiled Brat?

Kids running you ragged? It's time to rethink discipline.

What Is Spoiled?

No one wants to raise a spoiled kid. But would you know one if you had one? By grandparents' definition, all of today's children -- with their Disney videos, Baby Gap wardrobe, and Gymboree classes -- could be considered spoiled. Also, few parents have the iron hand of previous generations, and for the most part that's good. But sometimes in the effort to be kinder, gentler parents, moms and dads let their sweet little darlings get the upper hand. Some parents put up with truly awful behavior.

Of course, all toddlers interrupt, whine, and throw tantrums, says Rex Forehand, PhD, coauthor of Parenting the Strong-Willed Child (McGraw-Hill, 1996). Those behaviors are normal ways for kids to assert their independence. What's important, he notes, is how parents react. Spoiling occurs when kids are predominantly in charge in the family. The parents have minimal authority, and kids continually get their own way by acting up. In other words, your child isn't spoiled because he whines; he's spoiled if whining consistently works to get him what he wants.

Granted, all toddlers have bratty and less-bratty days, says child psychologist Sal Severe, PhD, author of How to Behave So Your Child Will Too (Viking, 2002). And all parents have days when they cave in instead of standing by the house rules. But when whining, nagging, and misbehaving to get their way becomes a constant, repetitive behavior, you have a problem, says Severe.

To figure out where you stand, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you usually give up in exhaustion rather than enforce limits during a typical day?
  • Do you let your child regularly butt in and take over adult conversations?
  • Do you keep buying toys in an effort to avoid tantrums and keep your child happy -- even though your house is already overflowing?
  • Do you avoid taking him to the supermarket because you can't handle another embarrassing scene?

If you answered yes to more than a couple of these questions, you may be looking at a spoiled child in the making.

It's important to address spoiling now because you're setting up patterns that will stay with your family for years to come. If your 20-month-old has never heard the word no, for instance, how will she handle hearing it when she's 13 and wants to get her navel pierced?

Spoiled kids are those who never had a chance to handle disappointment early on, says Claire Lerner, a child development specialist at Washington, D.C.-based Zero to Three. The lessons they learn as toddlers -- delaying gratification, acting within limits -- will carry through to adulthood.

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