Raising Successful Kids

A child psychologist shares the 5 signs you've raised a 'highly spoiled' kid—and how parents can 'undo' it

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As parents, we hate seeing our kids unhappy, and giving in sometimes feels a lot easier than saying no.

But constant coddling and pampering can be harmful in the long run: Parenting styles that shield children from challenging experiences reduces their opportunities to build resilience.

As a child psychologist, I've seen spoiled kids grow up to be overindulged, selfish, unhappy and constantly dissatisfied adults.

Luckily, there are ways to undo their bad behavior before it gets worse:

Are you raising a highly spoiled kid?

The first step is to identify the signs of a spoiled child. Here are the most common red flags:

  1. Not taking "no" for an answer: Your kid expects to get things their way and usually does. In fact, they're the ones constantly telling you "no."
  2. Being more into receiving than giving: Spoiled kids are unappreciative of what you do for them. Instead of saying "please" and "thank you," their go-to word is "gimme."
  3. Demanding things ASAP: They don't consider that other people may be inconvenienced by their requests, and expect you to set your priorities aside and cater to them.
  4. Only thinking about themselves: They feel entitled and expect special favors. If another kid in class gets an MVP sticker, they get upset and say: "I deserve it more!"
  5. Never satisfied with what they have: They're used to having all the toys in the world, but it's never enough. They always want more, more, more.

Parenting tips: Teach your kid to be more considerate, caring

Since spoiled attitudes are learned, they can be unlearned. Just don't expect your child to appreciate your new parenting style. They'll likely be resistant at first, so take things slow and don't give in:

1. Say "no" without guilt.

Parents often believe that saying "no" decreases self-esteem, but research shows that kids who are raised with structure and less-permissive parenting have higher self-worth and feel more empathy towards others.

When you say "no," give a short reason to help them understand why: "Homework comes before playtime. This way, you can have fun without worry," or, "No playtime today because you have a cough and may be contagious. We don't want your friends to get sick."

2. Praise the right things.

If your kid is addicted to praise, try praising them when they do something for — or with — another person.

For example: "You and your classmate did such a great job on that science fair project," or, "Giving your old Lego set to the toy drive was very thoughtful. I love your kind heart."

This reinforces the importance of caring. So don't be quick to ask: "What did you get on the spelling test?" Instead, ask: "Tell me about one nice thing you did for someone today."

3. Boost gratitude.

Practicing gratitude helps children feel happier, cope better with adversity, and increases their life satisfaction

Hold regular gratitude rituals with your children. Younger kids can draw things they're grateful for, and older kids can write their appreciations in a diary.

You can also take turns sharing appreciations at the dinner table or keep a shared family gratitude journal that everyone can write in.

4. Stretch waiting.

Research shows that being able to pause, wait and delay is highly correlated with future academic and financial success.

  • If you're on the phone and your kid wants your attention, signal: "Later!"
  • If your daughter wants that sweater now but forgot her allowance money, tell her: "Next time!"
  • If your son pushes his sister off of her chair so he can use the computer faster, say: "Wait!"

5. Point out insensitive actions.

Whenever your child does anything remotely inconsiderate, help them consider the other person's feelings: "How do you think your friend felt when you grabbed the candy from his hand without asking?"

Then ask, "What can you do to avoid those hurt feelings next time?" The right questions can help kids learn empathy and recognize how their spoiled actions affects others.

6. Focus on giving, not getting. 

Find opportunities for your child to do things for others, like baking cookies for an ailing neighbor. Or identify a cause together so that they can experience the miracle of giving, like taking toys to a children's hospital.

When it comes to receiving, set limits on material items and stick to them. Teach your child how to accept gifts by rehearsing polite responses prior to the event: "Thank you. I really appreciate it."

Michele Borba, EdD, is a mother, educational psychologist, parenting expert, and author of "Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine" and "UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World." Follow her on Twitter @micheleborba.

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