I often hear parents use terms like “spoiled” or “bratty” to describe their kids. What do they mean? I am not 100-percent sure, but I think they mean they see their kids acting with some mix of self-centeredness and entitlement. We’ve all been there. We get annoyed and frustrated and a little insulted as well. But what can we do to change a seemingly spoiled child?
It reminds of the times when I bought something for my child and he or she said: “You bought only one package of sidewalk chalk?!” “But this isn’t my favorite flavor ice cream!” “You were at the store? Why didn’t you get me the pencils I wanted?”
Behavior like this can put us parents on edge. To help us out, we need to know that this behavior is normal. Most kids have a hard time understanding another’s feelings, which often makes them look selfish. They also don’t have the easiest time regulating their own feelings, so when they are disappointed (by not getting their favorite ice cream, for example) they may just blurt out exactly what they are feeling.
So what can we do? Is this an unavoidable part of childhood, ingrained in kids’ characters, or can we turn this behavior around? I think the latter.
Even though kids are prone to thinking and acting in a certain way, we can enlighten them, so to speak. We’re not changing them; we’re showing them. We can train them to reprogram their knee-jerk reactions. Kids who speak disrespectfully need to be trained to act grateful instead of with a sense of entitlement. That is our job. We also need to teach them to express their disappointment and their needs in a polite way. We can point out how their behavior affects others.
To teach them to be grateful instead of entitled, you can gently say: “I expect that when I buy you a present, like sidewalk chalk, you say thank you.”
To teach them to express their disappointment and express their needs, you can empathize and then state your expectations: “You sound disappointed about the ice cream. However, when someone buys you something you need to say thank you. Next time this happens you can say, ‘Thanks Mom. Next time you go, can you get me chocolate?’”
To teach them to understand how their behavior affects others, you can talk about your feelings: “I feel frustrated when I am spoken to in this way. I wrote pencils down on my shopping list but it seems I forgot to pick them up. The next time I have time to go to store I will buy them.”
Kids are diamonds, but sometimes more like diamonds in the rough–they just need some polishing. That’s where we come in. So let’s avoid calling our kids names and focus on what we need to teach them.
Having trouble getting the message across? Parents: Talk Less to Say More.
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.