It’s Official, My Kid Is Spoiled. Now How On Earth Do I Fix It?

spoiled kidLast week, my daughter was throwing a bit of a temper tantrum. It wasn’t a huge meltdown. We were at the store and she really, really, really wanted a toy that a bunch of her friends had. I told her that her birthday was coming up and she was going to have to wait to see if she got it. She didn’t start yelling in the store or anything. (Because she’s smart enough to know that will not end well.) But she was moody and rude as we finished our shopping and headed home.

Maybe we were tired or maybe the universe was aligned against me, but the argument seemed to escalate. She would not stop pouting about her lack of La La Oopsie doll to play with. Finally, I told my daughter that she was ruining her chance of getting the doll for her birthday, that I wouldn’t be buying her a new toy anytime soon if she couldn’t be patient and respectful and understanding that she can’t get everything she wants.

My beautiful, intelligent four-year-old little girl looked me in the face and said, “Fine Mom. Daddy father will get it for me. Or Mimi. Or Nana. Or Aunt Dian. Someone will get it for me whether you do or not.” Then she went to her bed, pulled out her tablet, and called her 7-year-old cousin on Skype to tell her just how upset she was.

It’s a scene that will give me nightmares for years to come. It’s a moment when I stood still and realized, “Shit. My kid is completely spoiled.”

I take plenty of responsibility for my daughter’s entitled attitude, though I have a feeling that this is an issue any parent of a young child might have to deal with. The fact is, I don’t like denying my daughter. I enjoy seeing her face light up when we do something special or take a mommy-daughter day. I completely buy into positive reinforcement and rewarding her for being responsible and well-behaved.

At the same time, my daughter has a whole lot of adults who are always willing to give a gift or organize a special event. My husband and I both have large families that live close by and we see frequently. My daughter’s biological father and his family dote on her. I have a lot of childless friends who lavish gifts and attention on my little girl. She is completely comfortable when an adult’s attention and she’s come to understand exactly how to get what she wants.

What I’m trying to say is that… I have a spoiled kid. There are lots of reasons and complexities and things to make me feel less guilty about this fact. But it doesn’t change. My precious little girl has the dangerous and unsettling possibility of turning into a brat. And now I have to figure out how to keep the Veruca Salt at bay.

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    • Eileen

      Does Brenna have an allowance yet? I think I was about her age or maybe just a little older when I started getting one (half your age plus fifty cents a week was the formula in our family), and from then on my parents didn’t buy me anything but clothes (when they deemed it appropriate). And we knew the deal and didn’t even ask.

      • LindsayCross

        We don’t have an allowance yet, though it’s something I’ve been considering. She does have chores, she just doesn’t get paid for them at the moment.

      • Eileen

        I think it’s not a bad start – especially if you also open a custodial savings account for her, so it’s easy for her to keep track of how much she’s saving. I know it doesn’t help with the immediacy of her being a bit spoiled, but I really do credit both of those things with making me more intelligent about money, where it comes from, and how to make good decisions about what to do with it. And those can all help teach a kid not to say, “I want that now.” (You could also maybe ask your relatives if they’d be into, say, giving her savings bonds as gifts instead, or all donating to a fund for one really awesome thing or trip that she wants to save for, instead of buying lots of inexpensive things that she wants right away)

    • copycait

      All of those steps are good ones. I agree that the best thing you can do is make sure that nobody else gives her that doll. The only way she can get it is through you, by earning it. If someone else gives her that doll now and reinforces her belief that she can be disrespectful and it won’t matter in the long run, then your other ideas won’t be as effective.

    • http://www.facebook.com/RetiredSceneQueen Emmali Lucia

      She’s four and she has her own tablet?! Jeez, I don’t even have a tablet and I’m in college. Lucky kid.

      I think the best way to un-spoil a child is to hold a huge family meeting. I think (But then again, I don’t know your family) that once they know that it’s becoming a problem, they will cut back and even come up with really good ways to help.

      Good Luck! And who knows, she may just grow out of it on her own.

      • LindsayCross

        The tablet was a gift from my parents for Christmas. And yes, I was a little shocked at the idea of my pre-schooler having a tablet. But it’s not a terribly expensive one. And I’ll admit, it’s nice that she can call her cousin who just moved away or read e-books whenever she wants. Plus, ya know, play that Ant Smasher thing.

      • Sara

        Well, I think this is another thing……call me overly controlling, but I think the parents of a young child should be consulted before someone else gives them a large, extravagant gift that may or may not be age-appropriate. Something like buying a four-year-old a tablet, or an eight-year-old a cell phone, is a parenting decision that involves whether or not the child is mature enough to handle it and how much technology (web access, etc.) the parents feel is appropriate and safe. That’s really not a choice that your parents should be making for you without consulting you first. Also, many parents just don’t believe that young children should have expensive things right away–the idea is that tablets, cell phones, etc. are things that should be earned once you’re old enough and not just given. Again, that’s a parenting decision that should be made by the parents.

      • bumbler

        I agree, but it still happens all the time. For us the best approach is “putting it on the shelf until you’re old enough” kind of thing. As a parent, I have ultimate veto-power, even if the gift has already landed in my kid’s gleeful hands. Sure, it sucks to snatch away a fun gift, but sometimes it’s just gotta happen. If you’re not brave enough to stand up to your kid like that, there’s always the option of having that present “go missing” one night.

      • http://fairlyodd.net Frances Bean

        I don’t see the harm in a tablet as long as you limit the amount of time your child can play with it. It doesn’t have to have an all or nothing proposition. I would definitely make sure my daughter couldn’t use Skype with out my permission as well.

      • http://fairlyodd.net Frances Bean

        I am not against kids being able to play with something like a tablet but I think just because someone bought her the gift doesn’t mean she should have unfettered access to it. Especially when she just gave you lip! My 9 year old has a tablet (not an iPad, a much cheaper one) but she only gets to mess around with it on the weekends for an hour or so at a time and definitely not when she is in trouble. I understand the urge to make your child happy, I guess it’s a balancing act. It’s cool that you recognize the signs early and you’re willing to work on it.

    • elizalemon

      i’m curious what her cousin told her about her disappointment. my sisters called me all the time complaining about how unfair mom was. they usually didn’t get much sympathy because they were spoiled. but i would give them tips on how to deal or manipulate.

    • Diana

      The answer is simple: Remember you are the boss, stop spoiling her, and put up with the weeks of tantrums that ensue. She’ll thank you later.

    • Chelsea

      Why the hell does a 4 year old have her own tablet and unfettered access to skype? Time for the grandparents to get approval before buying gifts. And the idea of allowance at 4 is ridiculous. Treat the 4 year old like a 4 year old, not a teenager. Stop feeding into the materialistic lifestyle that commercial promote.

      • Sara

        I generally agree, but I think allowances (even for young children) teach a valuable lesson about money management and budgeting. Even if it’s just a dollar a week, it’s never too early for kids to start learning that things cost money, and if you blow it all on something silly it might mean not having anything left to buy something you really want. (As long as the parents don’t cave and end up buying the coveted item for the child–that ruins the whole point of the lesson.) I don’t think four is too young for a (small) allowance.

      • Zettai

        Agreed. And considering this is the same mom who Mommyjacked MLK Day, I am not surprised by any of this. I think it’s time for Miss Cross to take a long hard look in the mirror. The apple does not fall far from the tree.

      • Imalia

        This is what I was about to say myself. Ms Cross has repeatedly shown herself to be self absorbed, impolite and insensitive to the needs and feelings of others, it’s only natural that her daughter will follow her example and be the same. Of course pointing this out will do no good, because Ms Cross ignores any comment that doesn’t fit with her “I am awesome, and also, far more important than you” world view.

      • TheLily

        My childhood best friend had an allowance starting when she was born. for the first year they put away her days in age in pennies into a jar and then starting from there it was a weekly allowance of her age in years in dollars. When she was four, they took the jar to the bank and put it away. They told her it was her money and that she could spend it, but she could also save it. As far as I know she still has most it (she did go through a phase at 16 where she bought headbands. Lots of headbands she never wore, but probably burned through $400!). It depends on what you teach the kid with it.

        I personally don’t want to do allowances until the kid can do chores, but that’s just me.

      • thevek

        @Chelsea, I had the same reaction as you! Once I read that sentence, I stopped reading. That sentence explained so much. A 4-year-old has her own tablet and can SKYPE on her own? What? She is FOUR. And a kid that age does not need an allowance. It’s a good time to start teaching them about money, but they have no concept of saving and thinking ahead to their goals. The expectation must also be set with extended family that they don’t need to cater to her every whim. I think it’s great for grandparents to buy things, but not in a situation like this where “mommy said no, let me see who else will buy it for me.” That kind of behavior needs to be nixed right now, or it will blow up as she gets older!

      • Once upon a time

        Right? The complete lack of self awareness made me lol. “As my daughter pulled out her tablet and Skyped her cousin I wondered, How did she get so spoiled? Seriously, how?”

      • staci

        yep. she will be a full grown teenage monster not beyond the word NO. I MIGHT GET NIGHTMARES JUST THINKIN ABOUT IT. lol

    • CrazyFor Kate

      I don’t know how to solve your problem, but whatever you do, don’t let her near any trained squirrels.

    • K.

      Darling Lindsay Cross, I am by no means momma-of-the-year but I don’t see this quite as sturm-und-drang as you, so hopefully this will give you a little hope!

      First of all, I think that your plan sounds great and you’re doing a great jog addressing this.

      Second, in my view and contrary to popular belief, indulged kids do not necessarily all become spoiled–ie, disrespectful, empathy-lacking, rude, demanding–kids (it’s one of those one-way streets–pretty much all spoiled kids are overindulged in some way, but not all indulged kids are spoiled). I’ve taught many kids who have never lacked for anything (seriously, some of my students are driving around in BMWs!) and they are still sensitive, polite, respectful, kind and hardworking. I think that this is because strangely, having everything, while living under good parental guidance of course, has helped them concentrate on the real value of having pride in one’s work and in self-respect from one’s own character OUTSIDE of material things. As a teacher, I don’t support the whole “I’ll give you X if you get an A” because I think that kids gain a much more secure sense of self and realize the true value of their efforts when they work to make themselves proud, rather than to secure a material thing. It is, to me, an immature version of the truth about jobs: most people would much rather work a job that satisfies their passion and they love doing for less money than a job that pays them more but they don’t care about and hate doing.

      I’m not against kids working to earn privileges or toys or whatnot at all, and I’m not against you making your daughter earn her doll. But just to offer another suggestion, why not just expose your daughter to the soup kitchen and other volunteer horizons without the promise of a reward? Helping people should, one hopes, be its own reward. Then, when her birthday comes, give her the doll (or whatever she really wants by that time since it’ll change by then!) and tell her, “We wanted you to have this because we were SO PROUD of all the great work you did at the soup kitchen!” I’d also wait until her birthday and present her with the allowance itself as one of her birthday presents (my allowance at age 5 was I think a quarter. Oh how times have changed) under the adage, “You’re so grown-up and responsible now that we think you’re ready for an allowance!”

      It’s good to be on top of these things, but you’re right: take a deep breath.

    • Lisa

      Aren’t you the same author who wrote an article about her daughter picking on a child with a disability, and your stance was that she shouldn’t be pulled up on it because she didn’t understand (yet she understood enough to mock the girl)?

      Just putting it out there, you mix things like not being accountable for one’s behaviour and a materialistic upbringing, and you would be kidding yourself to think that your child won’t act in that manner

    • http://twitter.com/julianathelady Shae Rosa

      I did like your post-store explanation to her about how gifts work, even though your daughter clearly did not. My husband and I are running into this issue with my stepson – his mother will not want to buy him something, but will tell him to ask his dad. In turn, he has come to expect presents when he comes to our house. I think I’ll suggest to my husband this response next time, to see if we get a better reaction!

    • chickadee

      I tend to agree regarding the issue of your control over what your daughter is given. It was automatic in my family to consult the parent of the child in question before purchasing a gift to make sure that it didn’t violate family rules regarding age-appropriateness or parental preference.

      You shouldn’t have to worry that your daughter can or might do an end-run around your rules to get what she wants from another family member, Her pique over not getting a certain toy when she wanted is not at all unusual for a four-year-old. The fact that you aren’t consulted before gifts are given is, at least to me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/christophermast Christopher Mast

      “Then she went to her bed, pulled out her tablet, and called her 7-year-old cousin on Skype to tell her just how upset she was.”

      WHAT?!?!

    • http://www.facebook.com/christophermast Christopher Mast

      “My precious little girl has the dangerous and unsettling possibility of turning into a brat.”

      Possibility?

    • Angela

      To curb overindulgence perhaps you could encourage relatives to scale back on toys and opt instead for experiences they could share. Tickets to plays or Disney on ice, memberships to a local children’s museum or zoo, etc. But I actually don’t see this as being about stuff at all and more about your daughter feeling frustrated and powerless at not being able to get what she wants (which is normal).

      It’s normal for a child her age to want immediate gratification and what adults perceive as a short wait often seems interminable to a child. The idea that kids throw tantrums as an attempt to get their way is a myth. I imagine you don’t routinely respond to Brenna’s tantrums by giving in so it’s doubtful she actually believed her outburst would get her the toy then and there. Rather she KNEW she was powerless to get her way and it frustrated her immensely. Meltdowns are simply a sign that a child is overwhelmed by their emotions, not spoiled. When you suggested that you wouldn’t give her the toy at all it compounded her feeling of powerlessness and she countered by bringing up the idea of getting relatives to help her out. The fact is that kids rankle at being overpowered by adults regardless of how much stuff they have.

      I’ve actually found some hugely techniques in handling similar situations with my own kids through empathetic listening and positive parenting. It’s too lengthy to get into here and I don’t want to force unwanted advice on anyone but if you are interested I can recommend several good books and resources that have been immensely helpful to me and have a huge amount of empirical evidence to back them up.

    • Justme

      And for the record….it’s La La Loopsy.

      • LindsayCross

        There are actually new ones called La La Oopsies! It’s a new doll that just came out. Believe me, I’m well versed in the La La Loopsy universe.

      • Justme

        Oh sweet Jesus……….thank goodness my daughter is still in the puzzles, trains and “babiesh” stage.

    • Lauren

      I think an allowance is a good idea. Some people debate on giving it for chores, or that chores are expected, the allowance is to learn the importance of money. Just to add an option, when I was growing up, it was our age in dollars- so $10 for 10 years, 10% for church (or perhaps charity if you’re not religious), 45% for savings, 45% for spending. I didn’t dip into my savings (an account at the bank) until I was married. As for everything else- good luck!

      • Shea

        I think what my parents did with me was a good approach to the whole allowance issue. I had chores growing up (set the dinner table, dust, feed the chickens, collect eggs, etc.), but I wasn’t paid for them. They were my contribution as a member of the family. They did, however, pay me for extra jobs. My mom would offer me $5 to wash the car, or $8 fill the woodbox, or whatever job needed doing. It taught me that money doesn’t come free, it has to be earned. I think that’s a good way to make sure kids have spending money, but also ensure that they don’t get used to money just being handed to them.

    • EKS

      boarding school – the most outdoorsy one you can find, as soon as she’s old enough. i say that tongue in cheek. or do i? maybe both of you should go ;)

      but seriously, you already have the answers to your questions, if you look at what you’ve been doing. a toddler with a tablet? has she picked out the car she wants for her sweet 16 yet?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Goldie-Treasure/100001545308532 Goldie Treasure

      You wrote an article about how MLK Jr. day inconveniences you and you wonder how you ended up with a spoiled child?

    • staci

      she’s got you wrapped around her finger and you created that.

    • Ryan Porter

      I’m a Researcher working for The Steve Harvey Show on NBC. We’re looking to book a segment on bratty daughters in the upcoming weeks. If you would be interested in talking please email me at ryan.porter@steveharveytv.com

      Thank you so much and I look forward to hearing from you!

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