“Are You Raising a Brat? How to start saying no”
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by Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
How do you know a spoiled child when you meet one–or, worse, live with one?
Generally, a spoiled child is undisciplined, manipulative and unpleasant to be with.
He exhibits many of the following specific behaviors:
•He doesn’t follow rules or cooperate with suggestions.
•He doesn’t follow rules or cooperate with suggestions.
•She doesn’t respond to “no,” “stop” or other commands.
•He protests everything.
•She doesn’t know the difference between her needs and her wants.
•He insists on having his own way.
•She makes unfair or excessive demands of others.
•He doesn’t respect other people’s rights.
•She tries to control other people.
•He has a low frustration tolerance.
•She frequently whines or throws tantrums.
•He constantly complains about being bored.
Why Children Become Spoiled?
Spoiled children aren’t born that way. They get that way because a lenient, permissive parent doesn’t set limits and gives in to tantrums and whining. If parents give their child too much power, the child will become self-centered.
Such parents also prevent the child from experiencing normal frustrations. Without intervention, spoiled children run into trouble by school age. Other children do not like them because they are too bossy and selfish.
Adults do not like them because they are rude and make excessive demands.
Eventually they become hard for even the parent to like because of their behavior. As a result of not getting along well with other children and adults, spoiled children eventually become unhappy.
They may show reduced motivation and reduced perseverance in schoolwork.
There is also an association with risk-taking behaviors, such as drug abuse.
Overall, spoiling a child prepares him poorly for life in the real world. The reason some parents are overly lenient is that they confuse the child’s needs (for demand feeding, for instance) with the child’s wants or whims (for demand play).
They do not want to hurt their child’s feelings or cause any crying. In the process, they may take the short-term solution of doing whatever prevents crying, which, in the long run, causes more crying.
The child’s ability to cry and fuss deliberately to get something usually doesn’t begin before five or six months of age. There may be a small epidemic of spoiling in our country because some working parents come home feeling guilty about not having enough time for their children.
As a result, they spend their free time together trying to avoid any friction or limit setting.
Confusion exists about the differences between giving attention to children and spoiling children. In general, attention is good for children. Attention can become harmful if it is excessive, given at the wrong time or always given immediately.
Attention from you is excessive if it interferes with your child’s learning to play by himself or with other children. An example of giving attention at the wrong time is when you are busy and your child is demanding attention.
Another wrong time is when a child has just misbehaved and needs to be ignored. If attention is always given immediately, your child won’t learn to wait. Holding is a form of attention that some parents worry about unnecessarily. Holding babies is equivalent to loving them.
Parents in most cultures hold their babies much more than we do. Lots of holding by the mother and father does not cause a spoiled infant or child.
Start-Now Steps to Avoid Spoiling
PROVIDE AGE-APPROPRIATE LIMITS OR RULES FOR YOUR CHILD
Parents have the right and the responsibility to take charge and make rules. Adults must keep their child’s environment safe. Age-appropriate discipline must begin by the age of crawling.
Saying “no” occasionally is good for children. Children need external controls until they develop self-control and self-discipline. Your child will still love you after you say no to him.
REQUIRE COOPERATION WITH YOUR IMPORTANT RULES
It is important that your child be in the habit of responding properly to your demands long before he enters school. Important rules include staying in the car seat, not hitting other children, being ready to leave on time in the morning, going to bed and so forth.
These adult decisions are not open to negotiation. Do not give your child a choice when there is none. But do let your child exert some control in such decisions as which cereal to eat, which book to read, which toys to take into the tub, which clothes to wear, etc.
Make sure your child understands the difference between areas in which he has choices (control) and your rules (demands). Try to keep your important rules to no more than 10 or 20 items, and be willing to go to the mat when these rules are challenged. Also, be sure that all adult caretakers consistently enforce these rules.
EXPECT YOUR CHILD TO CRY
Distinguish between needs and wants. Needs include crying from pain, hunger or fear. In these cases, respond immediately. Other crying is harmless. Crying usually relates to your child’s wants or whims, and is a normal response to change or frustration.
When the crying is part of a tantrum, ignore it. Don’t punish your child for crying, don’t tell him he’s a crybaby, and don’t tell him he shouldn’t cry. While not denying him his feelings, don’t be moved by his crying.
To compensate for the extra crying your child does during a time when you are tightening up on the rules, provide extra cuddling and enjoyable activities when he is not crying or having a tantrum.
There are times when it is necessary to withhold overt affection temporarily to help your child learn something important.
DO NOT ALLOW TANTRUMS TO WORK
Children throw temper tantrums to get your attention, to wear you down, to change your mind and to get their way. The crying is to change your “no” vote to a “yes” vote.
Tantrums may include whining, complaining, crying, breath holding, pounding the floor, shouting or slamming a door. As long as your child stays in one place and is not too disruptive, you can leave him alone at these times. By all means, don’t give in to tantrums.
DON’T OVERLOOK DISCIPLINE DURING QUALITY TIME
If you are working parents, you will want to spend part of each evening with your child. This special time needs to be enjoyable but also reality based.
Don’t ease up on the rules. If your child misbehaves, remind him of the existing limits. Even during fun activities, you occasionally need to be the parent.
DON’T START DEMOCRATIC CHILD-REARING UNTIL YOUR CHILD CAN PARTICIPATE AS AN ADULT
In other words, don’t give away your power as a parent. Be careful not to talk too much with your two-year-old about rules. Toddlers don’t play by the rules.
By the time your child is four or five years old, you can begin to reason with him about discipline issues, but he still lacks the judgment necessary to make the rules. Adolescents can be negotiated with.
At that time, you can ask for your teen’s input about what rules or consequences would be fair. The more democratic the parents are during the early years, the more demanding the children tend to become. Generally, young children do not know what to do with power.
Left to their own devices, they usually spoil themselves. If you have given away your power, take it back. You don’t have to explain the reason for every rule. Sometimes it is just because “I said so.”
TEACH YOUR CHILD TO GET HIMSELF UNBORED
Your job is to provide toys, books and art supplies. Your child’s job is to play with them. Assuming you talk and play with your child several hours a day, you do not need to become his constant playmate. Nor do you need to provide him with an outside friend constantly. When you’re busy, expect your child to amuse himself.
Even one-year-olds can keep themselves occupied for 15-minute blocks of time. By three years of age, most children can entertain themselves half the time. Sending your child outside to “find something to do” is doing him a favor. Much positive and creative play, thinking and daydreaming comes out of solving boredom. If you can’t seem to resign as social director, enroll your child in a play school.
TEACH YOUR CHILD TO WAIT
Waiting helps children better deal with frustration. All jobs in the adult world carry some degree of frustration. Delaying immediate gratification is a trait your child must gradually learn, and it takes practice.
Don’t feel guilty if you have to make your child wait a few minutes now and then (for example, don’t allow your child to interrupt your conversations with others in person or on the telephone). Waiting will not hurt your child, as long as he doesn’t become overwhelmed or unglued by waiting. Instead, his perseverance and emotional fitness will be enhanced.
DON’T RESCUE YOUR CHILD FROM NORMAL LIFE CHALLENGES
Changes such as moving and starting school are normal life stressors. These are opportunities for learning and problem solving. Always be available and supportive, but don’t help your child if he can handle it himself.
Overall, make your child’s life as realistic as he can tolerate for his age, rather than going out of your way to make it as pleasant as possible. His coping skills and self-confidence will benefit from this practice.
DON’T OVERPRAISE YOUR CHILD
Children need praise, but it can be overdone. Praise your child for good behavior and for following the rules.
Encourage him to try new things and to work on difficult tasks. But teach him to do things for his own reasons, too. Self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment come from doing and completing things your child is proud of.
Praising him while he is in the process of doing something may make him stop at each step and want more praise. Giving your child constant attention can make him “praise dependent” and demanding.
Avoid the tendency (so common with the firstborn) to over-praise your child’s normal development.
TEACH YOUR CHILD TO RESPECT PARENTS’ RIGHTS AND TIME TOGETHER
Your child’s need for love, food, clothing, safety and security obviously comes first. However, your needs should come next. Your children’s wants (for play, for example) and whims (for an extra bedtime story) should come after your needs are met and as time is available on that day.
This is especially important for working parents, who may have limited family time. It is both the quality and quantity of time that you spend with your children that is important. Quality time is time that is enjoyable, interactive and focused on your child.
Children need some quality time with their parents every day. Spending every free moment of every evening and weekend with your child is not good for your child or for your marriage.
You need a balance to preserve your mental health. Scheduled nights out with your mate will not only nurture your marriage but also help you to return to parenting with more to give.
Your child needs to learn to trust other adults and that he can survive separations from you. If your child isn’t taught to respect your rights, he may not respect the rights of other adults.
Barton D. Schmitt, M.D., F.A.A.P., is professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and director of both General Consultative Services and the Pediatric Call Center at the Children’s Hospital of Denver.
The author of two books, Dr. Schmitt lives with his wife and four children in Littleton, Colorado.
Excerpted from YOUR CHILD’S HEALTH; THE PARENTS’ GUIDE TO SYMPTOMS, EMERGENCIES, COMMON ILLNESSES, BEHAVIOR, AND SCHOOL PROBLEMS. by Barton D. Schmitt, M.D..
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