If you’ve ever watched MTV’s reality television series “Sweet 16,” in which every episode features a different teenager’s elaborate party preparations for his or her 16th birthday party, or the more well-known “Nanny 911” on Fox, you’ve probably gotten an eerie look into the lives of America’s most obnoxiously spoiled children. Are they the exception to the rule or is your child in danger of growing into a moody adolescent who demands you buy them a $100,000 car for their Sweet 16?

The sad truth is that it is a lot easier to spoil your children than to not spoil them. But what is a spoiled child exactly? And how does a precious newborn turn into one over the period of just a few years? How does a child learn to manipulate his or her own parents and avoid disciplinary action left and right?

First off, is your child spoiled? Ask yourself the following questions about your little one:

Does he follow rules?

  • Does he stop when you say “stop”?
  • Does he seem to fight about almost anything? Is it difficult to keep him happy?
  • Does he beg for an unnecessary toy as though it is as necessary as food?
  • Does he disregard other family member’s wants and needs?
  • Does he throw uncontrollable tantrums on a regular basis?

If you answered a hard yes to more than a few of these questions, you might have some work ahead of you.

Obviously, no child behaves perfectly and some will naturally be more stubborn than others. But there is a line a child can cross and fortunately, you can prevent them from crossing that line (if you know where it is, of course)! It’s better to learn about good parenting early on, ideally before your child is even born, but it’s better late than never to take back control. In order to learn about good parenting, however, it’s important to understand what bad parenting is.

Spoiled children usually come from households where the parents are very lenient. What does lenient mean? If you give into your child’s temper tantrum, rather than punish him for it, or if you refuse to limit your child to rules or guidelines, then you are probably being too permissive. Once you’ve done this, you’ve given your child power over you and that strengthens his ego and influences him to be selfish in various situations. Before a child is even a year old, he will tune into his mother and/or father’s parenting techniques and learn how to manipulate a lenient parent.

Parents tend to spoil their children if they are simply put, uneducated about parenting. Many parents mix up needs and wants and perceive a crying child as a child that is being poorly parented. But this is not the case – all children need to feel unhappiness and frustration; if they are not let alone during these struggles, they will get too accustomed to attention and affection. Your child does not need that toy soldier; you should not feel bad if he cries for it, but instead you should explain to him that he does not need the toy soldier and he will be put in time out if he continues to ask for it. It is speculated that because both mothers and fathers are more commonly in the full-time workforce than ever before, they feel guilty about hiring babysitters or nannies for their children and thus won’t discipline their children. Whatever the case, it seems that spoiled children are on the rise.

In the end, everybody is hurt when a child is spoiled – his family and himself. A spoiled child is not prepared for the real world and will butt heads with peers and adults for the rest of his life. So, here are some tips for parents who want to properly discipline their child:

  • Have a unified front – It can be a real struggle to properly discipline your child, whether they’re 2-years-old or 12-years-old, so it’s important that both parents have each other’s back. Whether you’re a single parent or a step-parent, it’s crucial that everybody agrees upon the rules in the household. Step parents should be wary, however, that they don’t enforce too much authority early on, as that is threatening to children and can make matters worse.
  • Remember that crying is okay – Just as a newborn’s first cry is such a miracle, when that newborn gets older, he will indeed cry. It’s normal and it’s okay. Do not try to instantly quiet him with a chocolate bar or toy. If your child learns that crying and tantrums mean he will get more attention or affection, or some sort of goody, he will continue to whine. Children are practical, just like grown adults. They will do what works! So make sure that when he throws a tantrum, he does not get what he wants
  • Don’t bargain – If you’re trying to parent a teenager, it’s sometimes appropriate to negotiate rules and punishments. However, especially for the tiniest tots, do not discuss the rules – simply enforce them. Again, by bargaining with your child, you simply hand him power and encourage him to be self-centered. Do not think about your child as you would a salesperson.
  • Let your child struggle – If your toddler or adolescent is going through a tough time, it may not be necessary that you swoop to the rescue. It’s vital that he learns at a young age how to cope with stressful situations. After all, if he doesn’t, how will he enter life as an adult? He’ll be utterly unprepared. You also don’t want to overpraise your child and give him an inflated ego that doesn’t mesh well with the real world. You always want to be positive and supportive, but you don’t want to raise a delusional child either. If your child believes that the normal tasks he’s accomplishing are extraordinary, he’s going to be in for a real shock when he discovers they were really quite regular.

If your child seems to be past the point of no return, it might be a good idea to enlist some extra help from a child care professional.

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