Ahhhh parenting – is there anything more fulfilling? Ushering new life into the world brings a flood of emotions and other wonderful things such as dirty diapers, sporadic floods of endorphins, sleepless nights and the inspiration to be the best you can be as a parent and an individual. But when it comes to the topic of spoiled children, it is much easier to point the finger than give ourselves a critical assessment. Spotting a bully or brat on the playground is a cinch, and for many parents it’s much more difficult to identify it in our own home. With that in mind, how can you tell if you’ve been too soft or hard on your child and what are the tell-tale signs your child has been spoiled rotten?
The Cold-Hard Truth – Raising a Spoiled Child
Raising my child in SE Asia with other cultures and parenting practices was very surreal and different from what I was used to. My parents were quite strict with me and my sisters, and rightly so – they didn’t have time for our s**t! Spankings, time outs and losing our toys to our parents were quite commonplace. I even remember one incident where my sister and I were fighting over a toy in the car and my father took it from us and chucked it out the window. My parents couldn’t be bothered with our nonsense.
Flash forward a few years to my being a mother in Malaysia, I frequently bumped heads with my ex on the topic of raising a perfectly well-rounded child. When she was with him, she received whatever her little heart desired: if she didn’t want to go to school, she didn’t have to. If she wanted to stay up until 2am, no problem! If she wanted ice cream before lunch, and didn’t have an appetite after, so be it! I found myself cringing on a daily basis as I witnessed the making of a spoiled child.
I was the polar opposite of her father, and was stern to a fault. I was strict, stuck to a rigid schedule, and had no issues disciplining her regardless as to whether we were in public or at home. I was shameless. It got to a point where I would hear horror stories from friends of how she was acting in public when she was with him, and people commented on how reserved she was when she was with me.
Eventually, she started displaying several behaviors of a spoiled child: she used emotional blackmail with me frequently, she would ignore my instructions and was completely rude to other adults. She even decided one day that she loved daddy more than me– and that was when I had it. I had to change my draconian approach. Lucky for me, I knew my child’s learning style and began applying it.
How I Unspoiled My Child
1) I stopped making my ex wrong for how he raised her.
After all, how do I know his methods weren’t the best possible thing for her? She had a bossy mommy and a laid-back dad – maybe the dream of her being a well-rounded individual isn’t so far-fetched! I can’t actually prove that how he raised her was wrong. Did she act differently around us? Of course! But if you think about it, this is a very important business skill to have – you have to learn how to be with other people in order to get what you want. My daughter mastered knowing exactly how to be with daddy and exactly how to be with mommy. Currently, she is learning how to get my mom and my little sister to give her what she wants, and it is quite funny to see how she figures them out (and funny to see them struggle).
2) I communicated openly with her.
I would tell her blatantly that throwing tantrums to get what she wanted with daddy and Ah-Ma (her grandma) may work on them, but it would never work on me. I also told her if she was going to throw a tantrum or feel her feelings, she had to go to time-out. After reminding her of this for a few days, she got into the habit of putting herself in time-out without me needing to remind her to go to her room – something she still does to this day. Keep in mind that time-out is not a punishment: it is a place to go and feel your feelings. I would often join her in time out so she knew that I still loved her, and I was there for her even when she displayed ill-manners.
3) No means no.
There are many ways you can tell your child no without saying no, but in the case of my daughter, being nice wasn’t going to cut it. I would tell her if she acted up I would either not take her to the playground or the pool – something we did daily – and if she continued behaving inappropriately, I would hold true to my promise. If she continued acting up, I would cut out pool and play time with friends within our complex.
4) Open-ended questions for the win!
Asking her questions such as, “Is that being nice or is that being mean?” I would then ask, “are you a nice girl or a mean girl?” I know this sounds brutal, but it did the trick! Asking questions prompted her to think for herself. There was once or twice where she darted into the street without looking and, in a knee-jerk reaction, I would yell for her to move and scold her for not looking. Occasionally she would cry and I would ask, “Why do you think mommy yelled at you?” At first, she would answer, “Because you are mean.” She wasn’t wrong – I am not above being mean if it means my child’s well-being is kept intact. So I would ask her, “Do you think mommy yelled because she was scared? Why do you think mommy was scared?” Asking open-ended questions is one of the best things I ever started doing with her – it has opened her mind while simultaneously lending me to understand how she thinks and processes situations.
Keep in mind that children learn to behave in certain ways to get what they want. Telling your child “no” and then giving them what they want after they have a meltdown isn’t reinforcing the kind of behavior that sets y’all (practicing my Missouri) up for success.
In short, I am a strong believer that results don’t lie. If a child is exhibiting unwanted behavior, it may be time to change your parenting approach – and while it is really helpful to have both parents on the same page, it isn’t necessary. To this day my ex still gives her what she wants when she wants, while I have different values and beliefs. The good news is where there is a will there is a way, even if the odds are stacked against you!