When a young child is inconsiderate, demanding, self-centered and defiant, the parents may fear their child is spoiled. In truth, such behavior is often normal and is to be expected in different child development stages.
Babies are never spoiled
Infants under age one are never considered spoiled, says Diane Ryals, University of Illinois Extension educator, family life, because in this developmental stage, they must cry to communicate that they need something. The notion that comforting a crying baby will cause him to become spoiled is a myth.
“Newborns and infants have a basic need to be loved, held and talked to,” she says. “Babies cannot think about how their behavior affects their parents. If they are promptly comforted when they cry, they become more trusting, and will likely cry less often, not more.”
Parents can unintentionally train a child to cry by picking them up only when they cry. A child will learn he has to cry to get attention. To avoid this, parents must pay attention to and pick their child up at times when they are not crying. Children become more trusting when they learn they don’t have to cry to be held.
Temper tantrums during the “terrible twos” are another example of bad behavior that can be construed as evidence of spoiling. Children who throw tantrums may be frustrated, tired or hungry, not spoiled, Ryals says. They want something and are unable to verbally express their feelings, so they become frustrated. With time and nurturing parents, toddlers learn to develop some patience and other ways of dealing with their feelings.
“Tantrums become a problem when parents give in to the child too soon or too often, teaching the child that a tantrum is an effective way to get what they want,” Ryals says. “One way to handle a tantrum is to let the child have their fit, then when it is over, acknowledge the child’s feelings, reassure them that they are loved, and explain that they can’t have everything they want. Also, think ahead about times when the child tends to have tantrums and avoid those situations, if possible.”
Can children get too much attention from their parents? Not if the attention is directed from the parents, Ryals says. Too little attention can cause children to use negative behavior, such as whining and clinging — behaviors that may be perceived as being spoiled.
Devoting too much time to children is not usually a problem, but trying to do too much for a child can be. Children need to develop their independence gradually. When parents do things that children could do themselves, such as getting dressed, the children begin to expect such service.
Although parents do make mistakes, children will grow to be self-reliant and considerate when parents are consistent and use good parenting skills, Ryals says.