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"In a poll commissioned by Time and CNN, two-thirds of American parents said they think that their children are spoiled." - Elizabeth Kolbert,  Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?

"A girl can't spoil herself, you know.” - Roald Dahl

I haven't been able to track down the CNN poll quoted by Kolbert, in which 2/3 of parents in the US reportedly said their child is spoiled.  I find it hard to believe, frankly.  If they really think that, why are they doing the spoiling?

Except that I do hear often from parents who worry about whether they're too permissive. How can they be sure their child isn't becoming spoiled?

So let's address this issue head-on.  Parenting is hard.  You want to be compassionate, but you also want your child to learn appropriate lessons and not to be "spoiled" -- meaning a person who cares only about himself, isn't resilient, doesn't pitch in, or is discontent, greedy and "entitled."  So you want a child who is resilient, self-disciplined, generous, happy, and willing to work hard to achieve.  Right? 

We actually know how to raise that child.  Here are your ten guidelines.

1. Raise a child who's self-disciplined -- by setting empathic limits. A child internalizes self-discipline by having the repeated experience of wanting to do something, but shifting gears internally because she wants, even more, to do what her parents want. 

So yes, kids need limits. Your three year old shouldn't run around the restaurant or go on playing in the sandbox when he's just smacked another kid with his shovel. Your eight year old shouldn't go to inappropriate movies. Your twelve year old shouldn't be at a party without adult supervision.

Setting limits is hard.  But it never needs to be mean.  In fact, the more empathic your limits are, the less your child resists them -- so the faster she develops self-discipline. 10 Secrets Every Parent Needs to Know about Saying No and The Secret of Raising a Self-Disciplined Child.

2. Raise a child who can solve his own problems by supporting your child in problem-solving instead of rushing in to rescue.   Foster independence with scaffolding, which means giving your child as much support and structure as necessary while he's learning.  Manage your own anxiety so you can help him brainstorm solutions, rather than stepping in to fix things.  9 Ways to Avoid Helicopter Parenting

3. Raise a child who's confident in her abilities, by having high expectations and giving her a ton of support so she can meet them. Make sure you're being reasonable, but don't compromise on core values.  The kids who do best are the kids whose parents have high expectations, and all the support they need to meet them.  10 Ways to Raise a Competent, Confident Child and Where's the sweet spot between permissive and strict?   

4. Raise a child who can soothe himself, by soothing him.  If you want your child to be able to self-regulate, he needs to be able to soothe himself when he gets anxious. Kids build the neural pathways to soothe themselves every time we soothe them, so responding with empathy to your little one's upsets is the way to raise a child who can self-soothe. (Leaving kids to cry does NOT teach kids to self soothe; it heightens their stress response.)

5. Raise a child who can regulate her own behavior by helping her learn to regulate her emotions. Empathizing with your child's emotions isn't permissive. It's the way your child learns to feel comfortable with her emotions, so she can manage them. And until she can manage her emotions, you can't expect her to manage her behavior.  

6. Raise a good citizen by expecting your child to help around the house.  Kids who take responsibility at home are more likely to notice when others need help and offer it. 5 Reasons Kids Don't Help Around the House -- and What You Can Do About It

7.  Raise your child to feel deserving, not entitled, by teaching values and evaluating your family's relationship with "stuff": 13 Ways to Raise Kids who Aren't Entitled  and How to give your child a rich life--without spoiling.

8. Raise a child who WANTS to cooperate by staying connected, even while you set limits.  Don't give your child the cold shoulder to "teach a lesson."  The only reason he behaves is because he feels connected to you.  Obedience: Why Do You Have To Tell Them Five Times?

9. Raise a child who's resilient by honoring her tears. Sometimes you just have to be the grown-up and say No.  Sometimes your child will be terribly disappointed by life.  If you can let your child cry -- and empathize with her disappointment -- she'll learn that disappointment can be weathered, and the sun comes out again.

10. Raise a child who treats others with respect --  by being respectful to her.  An AOL poll found that most adults find kids today "rude;" only 12% think kids treat others with respect. The good and bad news is that kids learn what they live. You're the role model.  Kids won't always do what we say, but they will always, eventually, do what we do.  So if you treat your child with respect, she'll treat you, and other people, with respect. (The opposite, unfortunately, is also true.) Sure, she'll forget herself now and then and raise her voice, but if you respond by lowering yours, acknowledging her upset, and seeking to reconnect, those incidents will be few and far between.

Reminder: Kids who are listened to with respect EXPECT to be listened to and respected.  That's not "spoiling." That's raising a child who has self-respect and doesn't let people victimize her.  At the same time, she respects others. Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world full of people like that?

Notice that some folks would call this kind of parenting "spoiling"?  But this isn't permissive parenting. It's compassionate parenting, with limits AND empathy.  Research shows that kids raised this way are more emotionally intelligent and resilient. They're certainly not spoiled. By contrast, kids raised by authoritarian parents are more likely to be rebellious and and kids raised permissively don't learn self-discipline.  That's what I call spoiling a perfectly good human!

This is the end of our series Are American Kids "Spoiled Rotten"?  written in response to Elizabeth Kolbert's article “Spoiled Rotten: Why Do Kids Rule the Roost?” in the New Yorker.  If you missed any of the other 8 posts, the links are below. In closing, I'd like to point out that despite the big fuss the media likes to make about kids being spoiled, there aren't any studies showing that kids today are more spoiled than kids in the past.  In fact, adults through the ages have probably always thought that the kids of their time were spoiled, when the kids were simply being kids.  Consider these quotes:

“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”- Plato, 5th Century BC

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint.” - Hesiod, 8th Century BC

“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.” - Peter the Hermit, 13th Century AD


This article is part of the series Are American Kids "Spoiled Rotten"?   written in response to Elizabeth Kolbert's article “Spoiled Rotten: Why Do Kids Rule the Roost?” in the New Yorker.

Did you miss?

5 Reasons Kids Don't Help Around the House -- and What You Can Do About It

10 Secrets Every Parent Needs to Know about Saying No

Do Your Kids Rule the Roost? 7 Strategies to Avoid Permissive Parenting

10 Ways to Raise a Competent, Confident Child

Obedience: Why Do You Have To Tell Them Five Times?

13 Ways to Raise Kids Who Don't Act "Entitled" in a Culture of Entitlement

How to Give Your Child a Rich Life -- Without Spoiling

Are American Kids Spoiled Rotten?

10 Guidelines to Raise a Child Who Isn't Spoiled


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