This article first appeared in the July 2005 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
Previously, if you asked anyone in the Zulueta household who was “boss,” they’d tell you it was Marlon*, then a 10-year-old spoiled brat. He used to demand things, eat whatever he pleased, watch television endlessly, face the computer more than his books. No one dared interfere with the boy’s sovereignty.
“He knew how to make his parents cater to his every whim,” recalls Corazon Esquivia, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice in Pasay City. “The distraught parents of this boy found themselves at their son’s mercy. They knew something was wrong but couldn’t control the situation,” she relates, adding that after family counseling, the problem had been resolved. Sadly, Esquivia says she has seen the same situation with her other clients.
A definition of terms According to Esquivia, overindulging children means giving them too much too soon. “One of its causes is parental guilt. A lot of parents who work long hours try to ‘buy’ the affection of their kids,” she explains. Cell phones and iPads do not equate to love, however. Material overindulgence is just one of the reasons well-adjusted kids turn into spoiled brats.
Permissiveness and over-nurturing are the other prongs of overindulgence, adds Esquivia. Permissiveness is allowing kids to do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want to. Over-nurturing is “doing for kids what they can do for themselves, not allowing them to face challenges or deal with consequences of their own actions.”
Sometimes, the problem is compounded by parents trying to get their own emotional needs met through their kids. Some are afraid their children won’t like them, much less love them, if they set limits. In reality, Esquivia says, the opposite is true. “Having rules gives kids a sense that they are loved and cared about.”
Through the tears Marita Veloso, a lawyer and a mom to two kids, knows what her children won’t be getting for Christmas. There won’t be a PlayStation or the latest fad toy under the Christmas tree. “I’ll make sure that we will be happy as a family, but not because of material things.”
“My husband and I used to spoil our kids. But when they started bossing us around, or crying just to get us to do what they wanted, we realized this madness had to stop. We had to stand up to our kids and let them know that there are limits,” relates Marita.
Many parents want to be their kids’ best friends. Though that is good, they shouldn’t forget that first and foremost, their role is to be parents. They’re not there to entertain their kids, keep them happy, solve all their problems, provide for all their wants. Esquivia stresses, “Kids need time and attention. But they need the right type, in the right doses, at the right stages in their development.”
Litmus test for spoiled rotten Esquivia gives these sure-fire signs to look out for: Protests everything • Doesn’t follow rules or cooperate with suggestions • Makes unfair or excessive demands • Doesn’t know the difference between needs and wants • Insists on having his way • Tries to control people • Doesn’t respect other people’s rights • Constantly complains of being bored • Feels entitled to everything • Easily gets frustrated • Is always impatient and demands instant gratification • Doesn’t know the value of sacrifice • Is disrespectful and irresponsible • Has an insatiable and constant need for more.
The consequences Kids who grew up learning that “no” morphs rather easily into “yes” end up not learning necessary life skills. Here’s what Esquivia says could happen to overindulged kids.
1. They will struggle to cope with life’s disappointments as adults. These kids have a “distorted sense of entitlement” that leads to failures in the workplace and in relationships, explains Esquivia. They become helpless and irresponsible.
2. They will feel less secure. Children need limits on their behavior because they feel better and more secure living within a certain structure.
3. They will become self-centered. Real happiness always involves service to others, but overindulged kids never learn that truth. “They’re set up to be narcissistic, spoiled, lazy, have poor social skills and impulse-control problems,” says Esquivia.
4. They will become unmotivated and disaffected. Children who have too much don’t appreciate anything. “If we give children everything they want at an early age, what is there for them to work for?” Esquivia says.
5. They will become less appreciative. “There’s almost a disconnection from the fact that the parent has spent the time and money to acquire a certain toy or gadget,” says Esquivia. An over-indulged child just takes this for granted. A child who has fewer toys is usually more grateful for them and appreciative of the giver.
Transforming señorito Acknowledging that your kid has become a royal pain is just half the battle. Here are tips from Esquivia on how to un-spoil a little brat.
1. Catch yourself when you’re starting to give in. Your skillful kid is bound to wheedle, cajole, nag, or manipulate you into giving more. Be firm in saying “no.”
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2. Once in a while, make children pay you back. For example, if you help them to do something they can do on their own, require them to take on an extra chore to compensate you for your time.
3. On children’s birthdays, let them choose a new privilege and a new responsibility. This way, they will learn that as they grow older, they will gain more control and freedom but only through self-discipline.
4. Hold children responsible for their actions, even accidental ones. Let children clean up their own mess, or if one hurts another, let the perpetrator get ice or a Band-Aid for the victim. “Otherwise, parents are teaching children that it doesn’t matter what they do —- they just have to say ‘sorry’ and they’re off the hook,” says Esquivia.
5. Don’t save your kids all the time. If your child leaves his assignment notebook in school, put the problem on him: “How are you going to get your assignments, then?” Esquivia advises. Maybe he needs to call a friend and write down the whole list by hand. “Don’t make forgetting easier than remembering,” she says.
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6. If tempted to over-nurture, adopt a pet or volunteer. Don’t shower all your love on your children. It will do you good to focus some of your energies elsewhere.
7. Let kids suffer the consequences. You insist your kids clean their rooms before going to a play date; they procrastinate. Don’t step in and pick up toys just because they’ll be disappointed not to go.
8. Don’t soften the blow. If parents impose conse-quences, kids are often unhappy. “That’s OK,” says Esquivia. Don’t make them feel better by letting them watch a favorite video or eat ice cream.
9. If kids back away from chores, discontinue certain parental services. Examples of such are giving rides to friends or packing favorite school snacks. Do this until they are willing to accept some responsibilities around the house.
10. If you’ve been overindulgent, don’t try to change everything all at once. You’ll get resistance from your child. Start with one step and enforce it consistently until it becomes habitual. Then move on to another challenge.
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11. Don’t be afraid to be unpopular. Kids will always push. It’s up to the parent to draw the line and not budge.
12. Help distinguish between needs and desires. Kids should want for things once in a while. “If every day is an exciting high, the highs get flat and will never be high enough,” says Esquivia.