Spoilt rotten

Spoilt rotten

What is spoiling and can you set limits without sacrificing your child’s genuine need for love and attention? Read on and all will be explained.


Granted, your little one looks like an angel and your natural inclination is to yield to every need and whim they have, whenever. But that will only lead to heartache later on in their life. It’s a huge leap from nurtured and protected toddler to the demands of life in the modern world. The age-old dilemma of how much emotional, physical, material and mental loving you give as a parent, is defined by boundaries.

Like it or not, we live in a world that demands them and so we need to teach our children, gently, that those boundaries exist and when to adhere to them.

What is spoiling?

The word “spoil” means to ruin something and when applied to a child, implies that the child’s natural expectations of what the world and society will do to please her are raised to the point of antisocial selfishness and egocentricity.

Spoiling is a matter of context, from parents who overprotect, buy too many toys or do everything for a child, to those who throw their weight around in order to get special treatment for their child. What parents deem acceptable is what a child learns is acceptable.

Not spoiling is about teaching your child concern for others and awareness that actions have consequences and boundaries. The best antidote to spoiling is to encourage a sense of gratitude and appreciation in your child.

A spoiled child is self-centred and demanding, inconsiderate of others, and unpleasant to be around. The classic spoiled child sees themselves and their needs as more important than anything else and do everything they can to get what they wants But it’s important to differentiate between age-appropriate behaviour and simply yielding to every tantrum. Experts say true selfishness starts when children are between the ages of 4 and 6. Before then, your baby is simply striving to get her emotional and physical needs met.

What not to do? 

Material spoiling
As children start to socialise they grow aware of material things other children have. And if you give into comparative demands, you’re creating a child who will have totally unrealistic expectations of you and the world. Their requests will get bigger and more expensive as they become aware of all the goodies out there. The world just isn’t like that and your child may be in for a rude awakening when they grow up.

Too little attention
Children never outgrow the need for their parents’ positive attention. Be generous with your time and encouragement. Such attention makes your child feel accepted as a person. Your warmth and affection will also encourage them to respond more positively to your guidance. Children who don’t get enough positive attention may try to get it in negative ways such as tantrums, whining, and clinging. To a young child, even the attention of an angry parent is preferable to not being noticed at all. Try to focus on the positive things your child does when they are happy and occupied. For example, “You look like you’re really enjoying that toy.” Regularly saying something kind removes the need for your child to demand attention in less acceptable ways.

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Doing too much
Sometimes children act spoiled when parents do too much. Don’t continue to do things for your child that they can physically do for themselves. For example, most preschool-age children can dress themselves, brush their hair, and put their own toys away. Encourage your child to do as much as their age and abilities allow. Do this in a step-by-step manner, starting out with suggestions that you complete a task together. As they learn what is expected of them, you can remove your help little by little, teaching them to gradually become more self-reliant.

Not setting limits
Children easily discover rules that can be broken and parents allow this to happen for different reasons. Some just want to avoid the hassle of conflict. Others struggle to refuse their children anything, because they don’t want them to be unhappy.

The fact is that children want to know that their parents are in charge; they need structure and limits. If you set rules but don’t enforce them, your child may think that rules don’t apply to them. Firmly ensuring they follow rules that are made clear ahead of time encourages responsibility and teaches children not to behave disrespectfully to others.

Remember that it’s harder for your child to follow rules when they’re sick, tired, hungry, or in an unfamiliar or exciting, new environment. In these situations you need to be proactive to help them do what’s expected.

Important limits

Without firm parameters, children will “act out”, desperately looking for a reference point from which to grow and develop. They aren’t miniature adults, and mustn’t be expected to grow up before their time. They need to be able to enjoy childhood, while relaxing in the knowledge that grownups are running the show.

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