Parenting a Spoiled Child: The trick is the opposite of what you might think!

Mom scolding her child

There seems to be a lot of complaints going around that we are raising a generation of spoiled children, that ending up parenting a spoiled child is a very real danger. Many parents greatest fear is that their child will become “Spoiled like the rest of them” and they therefore adapt their parenting approach to prevent that undesired outcome. The logic behind this is supposedly that spoiled children are created by parents who are too generous, permissive and soft with their children. They coddle and overindulge them, never say no and buy them anything they want. This supposedly leads children to be spoiled, selfish, demanding, very unhappy and generally very unpleasant to be around. In addition it causes them all kinds of emotional, social and behavioral problems. Many parents complain that such children are very commonly found and they don't want their children to end up like that. It sounds logical but in practice, it is extremely puzzling to me.

If parenting a spoiled child is such a common problem, where are all these overindulging parents with their miserable children? I haven’t met one yet!

I've been doing psychotherapy with children full-time for seven years and before that I was a teacher for many years. If these parents’ fear is warranted, my office should be full of clients who are spoiled and miserable with many emotional, social and behavior problems, whose parents report that they coddle and indulge them, buy them whatever they want, are overly permissive and generous, never say no and always give in. My phone should be ringing off the hook with parents calling to complain, “I don't know what's wrong, I do everything to make my kids happy, I'm so nice and generous, I never punish them or criticize them, I'm never mean or nasty, yet my children are so spoiled and miserable and have so many problems! Help!” Where are all these parents? They never seem to call me! I have not yet had one client come into my office who fits that description, nor have I even heard of any of my colleagues to experience such a client! When I was a teacher I never found a student whose relationship with his parents fit that description.

Who does come into my office?

girl pouting

Indeed it is children who act spoiled, are miserable, angry, demanding, frequently tantrum and can be very difficult to be around. But their parents are never too nice, generous and overindulgent. The parents are always very strict, harsh, anxious and punitive. They yell, criticize, scold, rebuke, reprimand and administer punishment and consequences. They almost always report a conflicted relationship between parent and child with much anger and negativity and bad feelings expressed both ways. As a matter fact, this pattern is so predictable that when a parent calls me and complains of tantrums, anger and other behavior problems, I automatically can predict that they are being too strict and harsh before they even tell me anything. It's always the same story. As the years go by I am becoming more and more convinced that it is not being too overindulgent, generous and permissive that creates spoiled, troubled children, but it is being too harsh, strict, controlling and punitive that does it, and I can even prove it! On many occasions through therapy many strict parents have changed their approach and adopted a gentle, patient, flexible, sweet, kind, generous, non-punitive and non-critical Parenting approach, and after 3-6 months it resulted in greatly improved behavior in their children and a much more wonderful relationship between parents and child. Of course, reasonable limits need to be set, but the point is that many parents are setting too many, not too few.

If you know a parent who is extremely patient, tolerant, flexible gentle, kind, generous, indulgent, soft and permissive, and sets only moderate limits, and their child is spoiled rotten and miserable with many behavior and emotional problems, please tell them to call me right away! I would be amazed to meet them! I would ask them where they have been hiding all these years and why have they and all their friends like them been avoiding me!

So-called spoiled children are often under stress!

mom speaking to child who is not listening

This an additional dynamic that often comes in to play as well. Many times children are suffering extreme stress from the separation of their parents or conflict between them, and it is that stress that is fueling the spoiled behavior, and not their parents' overindulgence. The solution, which I can help you with, is to fulfill the child’s emotional needs, not to be less generous.

Feel free to peruse my interesting blog, download one of my informative free reports, or view my video. If you are concerned you may end up parenting a spoiled child, and would like guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in NYC, you may call me directly at 646-681-1707 for a complementary phone consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!