Spoiling a child leads to a very unhappy adult

It can commence as a slight irritation. And then a sudden outburst. The head shakes uncontrollably, followed by scratching of skin, the feet can spasm in violent jerks, the mouth-frothing in anger. Slowly it builds, until you are nervous to go into polite society for fear people will see. For fear people will know, you have a spoilt child, writes Richard Hogan.

Often parents come to see me because they feel their child is out of control. They are puzzled as to how their once lovely garrulous child could have transformed into such an unpleasant and uncontrollable little monster.

While parents often turn up to a session expecting the conversation to be mainly focused on their child’s behaviour, for the most part the early sessions are focused on the parents parenting styles. Not that they are being blamed for the behaviour, but that these behaviours do not exist in a vacuum.

In the modern world, parenting healthy, well-adjusted children is more challenging than ever. Couples are marrying later and therefore, are having children at a later stage in their life. Coupled with this is the reality that both mothers and fathers, generally, have to work in order to be able to pay the bills.

These new features of the modern family have, in some cases, impacted on how parents manage their children. Often what I find, working with parents in the therapeutic space, is that there is an awful amount of guilt motivating particular approaches to parenting. This leads to a permissive parenting style, which can potentially cause problems for the child later in adulthood.

Parents, because they are working long hours, can feel guilty about the amount of time they see their child during the weekdays. This can impact on how they deal with their child when they want something.

Recently, I had a mother come to me because her child was causing so much trouble in the house. It had reached a critical point for the parents after he had been brought home by the gardaí for throwing stones at cars from a flyover.

The mother was really struggling with what to do to help her child. She started explaining to me that she felt she had always treated him differently than the other two siblings. He was the youngest in the family of two other boys. She was emotional as she described how she was forced to re-enter the workforce after years of rearing her other two children. There was a real sense of shame over the way she had parented him.

It was strikingly different than the other two boys because she felt guilty about the lack of time she spent with him during the weekdays.

And she felt this had caused some of the issues her son was now experiencing.

Through her tears she said: “I spoiled him, I guess — I give into him too much.” There is something significant in these words that I have thought about a lot since I heard this mother painfully utter them.

If we parent from a position of guilt and if we are motivated by a desire not to upset our child, we are doing them a disservice. And more importantly we are creating a situation that makes being happy and content in their adult life, almost impossible. Children crave boundaries and children also need to hear ‘no.’

Signs that your child is spoilt:

            -- Your child has issues with immediacy. Everything has to be done the minute your child wants it done.

            -- A spoilt child will try to control you. They will demand all of your time and have an issue with you sharing that time with other children.

            -- They have awkward interpersonal relationships. They are rude to people.

            -- They have tantrums the moment they hear the word ‘no’.

              -- They refuse to share any of their toys.

Often spoilt children will not share toys that they don’t even want.

While we all want to protect our children from the harsh realities of the world, it is important that we do not cultivate preciousness.

This is something that has struck me over the years working in schools. When a child develops a sense of entitlement, it can seriously damage that child’s ability to enjoy even the most remedial of tasks because they have unrealistic expectations about how the task should suit them. This sense of preciousness and entitlement will severely straightjacket them as they navigate the adult world. As we know, we do not always get what we want as adults and quite often we have to compromise, even when we don’t want to. When a child receives a message in childhood that they should always get what they want, it creates in that child an inability to handle everyday human experiences such as rejection, disappointment, loss, or conflict to mention a few. And these are common experiences in an adult’s world.

In our desperate bid to protect our children, we often create a far worse outcome in the process. Children need boundaries in childhood and they need to develop resilience and skills to deal with life.

If we give into their every whim in childhood we are setting them up for a very unhappy adulthood.

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