IN THE BEGINNING
Starting with that baby. You are providing for their every need – food, warmth, security, comfort; giving attention to meet their physical and emotional needs as well as their need to learn –the basic stuff of living. They are totally dependent on their parents/carers. There are those who claim that by cuddling or responding to your baby’s need you are spoiling them – they should be left to cry. This was the case when I had my sons, but as closing the door on a howling, blatantly unhappy child went against everything I felt, I chose to ignore the oft-given ‘advice’. However, these days, those involved with child development and current research assure us that you cannot spoil a baby in the way that we use the word in common parlance. You can however spoil it by not meeting those needs – as in spoiling their ability to develop emotionally in a healthy way with a healthy attachment to the adults around.
Spoiled child can be spun in two different ways. Over my years in teaching and working particularly with children who had difficulties, I have worked with those for whom home fitted either spin. It is probably also one reason why there is no accepted scientific definition of the phrase, it simply being used by most of us to indicate a child exhibiting problems in their patterns of behaviour – usually due to overindulgence by parents. Another reason for that lack of scientific definition is probably that it is seen as a derogatory label, especially if the word ‘child’ is replaced by the word ‘brat’! The child is given the label, though maybe, the parents and their parenting style are the ones deserving of one?
I have to add as an important aside about those melt-down moments which usually lead to eyebrows being raised by passers-by as they presume that they are witness to a spoiled child throwing a tantrum. There can actually be a different reason for this. Here, I am thinking specifically of a child who is on the autistic spectrum. Having worked in this field, I am well aware, especially as autistic children look no different to their peers, that one of their melt-downs when they find their world has suddenly become a confusing place for them, can appear to be a spoiled-child strop. So, maybe we shouldn’t always rush to judge.
I guess we have all heard parents-to-be, or new parents stating their intention of giving their child what they never had. This can either be the beginning of the road to a positive, balanced, healthy, nurturing relationship with that child, or the opposite. It depends on what it was that they never had. I have worked with adults whose upbringing was, to put it very mildly, devoid of any love, signs of caring and nurturing. I admit to weeping at some of the tales of early childhood described. However, some of these individuals went on to have families themselves with the sworn intent that their children would be loved, nurtured, shown that they were cared for and so very much wanted. They ensured that their child grew into an emotionally, mentally and physically well balanced individual. It becomes a different matter if that replacement of what wasn’t had is by way of ‘things’. Maybe they felt that they didn’t have as many toys as their friends had. However, an over-abundance of toys does not make up for a lack of emotionally available time.
WHAT CAN CAUSE SPOILING OF CHILDREN?
As I have said, over-compensation through provision of material things, along with lots of treats, no matter whether the child has been behaving appropriately or not springs to mind. Wikipaedia also suggests –
Lack of parental setting and enforcing of age-appropriate limits. I recall being present when parents set limits for their childrens’ behaviour which was spoiling things for everyone in the room. Yes, the limits were set, but within a couple of minutes, they were broken by the children, without reinforcement and a reminder that there was an expectation that they were to be adhered to. Presumably, no such expectation existed on the part of either parents or children.
Parental shielding of children from day-day frustrations. This is something which I covered in a previous blog on resilience https://www.deechadwick.co.uk/blog/resilience-earlier-years
Poor role modeling by parents.
I would add as a part of this – a lack of parental encouragement for acceptance of responsibility – for task sharing within the family, with spending and budgeting by the child.
HOW DO WE WANT OUR CHILDREN TO BE?
I guess that for many parents successful, happy, would be top of their lists though the measure of success is a very variable feast. For some, it is a good career with regular promotion. For others, a lovely home, car, lots of holidays. For others again – for their children to be caring, compassionate people who consider others besides themselves, others who may not be ‘as fortunate’ as they themselves are. For most, it is likely to be a pick and mix of all of the above, dependent on parental core values.
I am presuming that few would include being spoiled on to their list. I wonder if that is because they do not recognise a spoiled child, or in recognising it, choose to give it a seemingly more socially acceptable (to them) label. A label such as precocious, spirited, maybe even venturing down the willful route? Anything other than spoiled, over indulged. It can also be difficult to recognise that your child is becoming/ has become spoiled, though extended family and friends may find this easier. I wonder if that is through observing the parent-child interactions rather than simply seeing the child?
SIGNS OF A SPOILED CHILD?
A December 2018 ‘bestlife’ online article recognises ‘twenty seven signs that your children are terribly spoiled’. Taken in isolation, these obviously do not necessarily indicate a spoiled child and could well be a part of their genetic make-up, be age appropriate, be indicative of a problem such as being on the autistic spectrum.
Several of the signs included are –
They drive peers away, and don’t play well with other children - or maybe it is the parents of other children who step in with not wanting the child as a playmate for theirs. Dr. Gail Saltz, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine reports - “Spoiled children are only aware of their own feelings, not others. This often presents as meanness to others, inability to share with others, rudeness, even bullying behavior.”
They aren’t helpful – obviously with age appropriate tasks and bearing in mind that, especially in the teenage years, there is often a reluctance to help.
Age inappropriate tantrums, usually seeking to get what they want or get them out of doing what they don’t want to do.
They don’t recognise the boundaries between adult and child – I have to say that this works both ways with children being named as a parent’s best friend at an early age. Add in that they often continue through with a lack of verbal filter long after the cuteness of children blurting out gory details has passed. That brought to mind my young son at around the age of four reporting to a Sunday Lunch table, which included my Dad and an elderly aunt, the comments made by his father when they had happened upon a nudist beach on a recent holiday in France. No detail spared. No diversionary tactic accepted. I will not forget the sight of my wonderfully easily embarrassed Dad giving every ounce of his attention to that plate of food. Having said that, I also remember my aunty giggling. Said giggles seemed to be for both the tale and also for my attempts at diversion. Such a lack of filter when continued beyond these early years is often compounded by a demand to be heard. To be heard there and then, no matter what was happening or being said.
WHAT DO CHILDREN NEED?
Firstly, they need parents, carers who give them time during which they are emotionally available for them. Time during which they are not glued to a phone or have the majority of their attention focused elsewhere.
I recall watching little ones pour out of school clutching a picture, or eager to tell of their day. For those children, those few immediate moments are precious and they need to know that they and their achievements are valued. I spent quite some time, as part of a project, observing the end of school child-adult interactions. It seemed that all that was required was a listening, hearing ear focusing on that picture, or that story. It wasn’t asking a lot, and the child was homeward-bound content, no doubt with feelings of security. Then there was the group for whom their parent found it impossible to cut off their adult chat, end their phone conversation, for any longer than a couple of seconds – time to ask for the child to wait a moment. Sadly, that moment was already gone for the child leaving them with the feeling that what they had to say was irrelevant.
Children need guidelines of which they are reminded, in a caring way. OK, there are parents who do not believe in ever saying ‘no’ to their children. I guess it is each to their own, though I do wonder how this form of learning carries forward in life to a world in which ‘no’ certainly plays a major role.
I do not claim to have got things right in my role as a parent. We can all only ever do our best. I recall my sons who would have been about 7 and 9 at the time, having done something, though I honestly can’t remember what, that made me very angry. I can see myself having a conversation with them in which I told them to do whatever they wanted. They asked if they had to go to their rooms – they were told yes, if they wanted. The list went on – were they allowed to watch television, to play out, again they received the same response to each of my usual ‘punishments’. They left me to it. Apparently, they got their heads together and decided that I no longer loved them, I didn’t care what they did, so presumably didn’t care about them – full stop. Their need for those boundaries to be set and maintained only came to light many years later when, as an adult, one of my sons asked what I thought was the worst punishment I had ever given them, then cited this happening. They had lost their boundaries.
LOOKING FORWARDS AND SIDEWAYS
The vast, vast majority of us want the best for our children.
No baby arrives in this world clutching its own personalised manual for healthy growth and development across all fronts. Just as in all other aspects of that healthy transformation through early childhood all the way through to adulthood, we need to consider the individual child when it comes to spoiling Some children will toe any line with a request from any adult, whilst others seem to be born to resist most, if not all, authority. Our children will test us – our patience as a parent, grandparent, carer; our position as the adult within the relationship; our ability to be a soft touch or be played against any other adults involved; our ability to resist winging and whining! Nobody said that being a parent is easy ….. guess it’s all a part of life’s rich pattern repeating yet changing generation after generation.
The issues of spoiled children becoming spoiled adults, and the way that parenting styles can lead to spoiled children are covered in up-coming blogs.
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