Avoiding Spoilt Child Syndrome

Spoiled childTwenty years ago, the term -Spoilt Child Syndrome was used to describe children who were seen as being self-centred, ungrateful, rude and obnoxious and who were unable to accept the word -no’. Bruce McIntosh, who coined the phrase, believed that if these so called -spoilt’ children were brought up differently and they were given a different set of rules to live by, their arrogant, impulsive and challenging ways would not have surfaced.

A child is not born spoilt, a child is raised spoilt and when parents fall short on setting appropriate limits, providing boundaries and making sure that age-appropriate discipline is in place, a child is not given the ability or is not taught how to effectively measure their own behaviour – both negative and positive behaviour.


Common characteristics of a spoilt child

Perhaps the word, spoilt is used too liberally. A child who occasionally submits to throwing temper tantrums to get their own way is not spoilt, nor is a child who sometimes voices their anger over a parent’s decision branded as a spoilt child. By definition, a spoilt child is a child who is continually throwing temper tantrums, aggressively demanding their own way in every situation, who shows little or no respect for teachers, parents, etc. and a child who manipulates the truth and seems to be unable to conform to the rules of appropriate and acceptable behaviour. A child who is given everything their heart desires, who believes that rules do not apply to them and who is not taught respect others will not simply lose the spoilt characteristics in adolescence or adulthood.

Any child who has never existed within boundaries will find it increasingly difficult to live in the real world. In school, they will defy teachers, bully children and later in life they will expect the same treatment from their bosses, work colleagues, spouses, partners, etc. A child who has never heard the word -no’ or who has never accepted the word, will grow up believing that the peers, teachers, friends will treat them, as they perceive themselves – extraordinary and beyond reproach.


What causes a child to be spoilt?

Children are not born spoilt they are taught to be spoilt! When the phrase -spoilt child syndrome’ was coined two decades ago, child psychologists agreed that given the right set of parenting rules, parents were able to raise children who were well-rounded, respectful, appreciative – regardless of their temperaments or personalities. Parents, who are willing to admit that their child or children are spoilt, will usually shrug the blame and place it squarely on their child’s temperament or nature. However, even though a child’s fiery nature or defying temperament may be part of the cause, the fact is that from the age of two years old, children look for guidance and they need to be taught what behaviour is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

The spoilt child syndrome is as a result of parents who:

  • Do not have meaningful and consistent forms of discipline in place are sending out the message that no matter what their child does, there are no consequences for the action and a child will get away with the negative act;
  • Are continually trying to make things right for their child. If a child has broken their favourite toy, rather than seeing their children upset, a parent will shield them and rush out and purchase a replacement toy. Or a child who has been reprimanded at school, a parent who wants to shield and protect the child, will confront the teacher! A child needs to learn that frustration and disappointments are part of a life – when parents spoil a child, their hope is to shield them (their intentions may be noble but the lesson is lost)!
  • Always meet their kid’s desires by buying the latest toy or game, even in cases where the child’s behaviour does not warrant a reward. The child is shown that no matter how they act or what they do, their parents are willing to overlook or turn a blind eye to their poor conduct and reward them.


Preventing Spoilt child syndrome

Ask any parent, and they will agree – children have the ability to wear their parents down to such an extent that a parent will be willing to give into their whims! Consistent parenting is hard and many parents do not feel up to the battle and will rather give in and enjoy the peace (while it lasts!).

Unfortunately, a child will quickly zone in on a parent’s weakness and swiftly manipulate the situation to get their way and to get exactly what they want.

Therefore it is important for parents to:

  • Ensure that defined boundaries are in place;
  • Hand out punishment when it is due;
  • Allow kids to experience the disappointments and frustrations of life (no matter how hard we try to shield our kids – life is not fair!);
  • Remember that rewards need to be earned;
  • Learn to say NO and stick to it!

As challenging as it may be, being a dependable parent has its rewards. A child will not grow out of being spoilt and as they grow, so will their demands and so will their manipulation skills. The well- known phrase -wrapped around her little finger was certainly coined for the actions of a spoilt child, who by throwing themselves on the floor kicking and screaming all because her parents uttered the word -no’ was rewarded with a shiny new toy!

Parents may believe that by meeting their child’s every desire and giving into their demands, they are displaying their love and dedication and showing their affections. This is however not the case – a parent who sets limits, disciplines the child in a positive way and who says no, when needed, is  truly showing the extent of their parental love for the child, as they are preparing them for  the real world and guiding them to become a well-adjusted, in control and well-liked adults!


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