Good Kids, Bratty Behavior

Problem: Acting Spoiled

Fear Factor: "My child will grow up to be spoiled."

Trouble Signs: Preschoolers still think the world revolves around them. It isn't until around kindergarten that children begin to understand that they can't have and do whatever they want. Before age 4 or 5, it's harder to know whether your kid is actually spoiled or simply going through a typical stage. If your child is school-age and she frequently defies you, talks back, and won't take "no" for an answer, she's spoiled, says Dr. Berkowitz.

Fast Fix: Never respond to whiny demands. "Research shows that the longer you hold out before caving, the more you reinforce the negative behavior," says Dr. Berkowitz. "You've not only given in to what your child wants, but you've also rewarded her persistence -- which means she's more likely to continue the whining and begging in the future." Not exactly what you want. If you think she shouldn't eat another cookie, just say no and tell her she can get a piece of fruit. If she's bored or frustrated and begging for attention, suggest things she can do on her own; maybe she can get out some paper and crayons or sort puzzle pieces by color. Also, don't make unrealistic threats. Are you really going to cancel the whole family's visit to the zoo because she's misbehaving? Probably not. "Parents make this mistake all the time," says Dr. Berkowitz. "And the kid learns that your threats are empty, so why pay attention to them?"

Lesson for Life: One way to discourage kids from being too self-focused and demanding is to foster a sense of responsibility toward others, says Dr. Killen. For preschoolers, the family is their first community. Even young kids understand the importance of doing their part, so start by giving them small chores around the house such as picking up their toys, watering the plants, or placing the napkins on the table for lunch or dinner. "When you finish eating, teach your preschooler to carry her plate to the sink," suggests Dr. Killen. "This conveys: We're all part of the same family and this isn't a restaurant. Kids enjoy helping out -- it builds a sense of pride and autonomy." Later, as your child's sense of community expands to include her school and the neighborhood, you can encourage her to participate in a local park cleanup or a fund-raiser. She can help a neighbor water his plants or take cookies to a friend who's sick. Ultimately, she'll grow up to understand that the world doesn't revolve around her and that she has the power to help turn it into a better place.

Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the September 2007 issue of Parents magazine.

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