How to Raise An Unspoiled Kid

by | Jan 4, 2014 | Character and Moral Intelligence, Empathy and Kindness, Selfish and Spoiled

Parenting advice to help us raise strong, caring, unspoiled kids and reduce that “Big Brat Factor” element that seems to be a growing problem with kids these days.

Our most important role is raising our kids to become capable, well-adjusted human beings. And in this consumer-driven, plugged-in, hyper-competitive me first, materialistic-pushing world, it’s not always so easy. The fact is we seem to have a lot of “gimme” Me-Me-Me kids these days.

Bad attitudes are far more deadly than mere behaviors because they are more entrenched and are kids’ operating beliefs for life.

And there lies the danger: bad attitudes such as disrespect, bullying, arrogance, cheating are becoming “acceptable” to all too many kids.

   Warning Signs that the Big Brat Factor Is Booming

Here are a few troubling signs—despite a recession– that are our kids are in trouble when it comes to attitude and character:

Nearly two out of three parents surveyed feel their kids are spoiled and say their kids measure self-worth more by possessions than their parents did at the same age Time/CNN

3/4 of Minnesota kids agreed that today’s kids are materially spoiled and generally irresponsible MindWorks

80% of people think kids today are more spoiled than kids 10 or 15 years ago. Time/CNN

The average kid nags 9 times to get a product his parents refuse to purchase; about half the parents finally give in. Center for a New American Dream.

Only 12% of adults polled feel that kids commonly treat others with respect; most described them as “rude,” “irresponsible,” and  “lacking in discipline” AOL

For shame for shame!  The truth is folks there is no gene for “spoiled.”  We have only ourselves to blame. 

But let’s not go surrendering by waving the white flag and thinking we can’t do anything about all of this. Turning this epidemic around is doable. Remember, attitudes and behaviors are learned so they can be unlearned. Research shows that when it comes to our kids’ character, parents are the key influence. So read this next point carefully:

“Parents who raise kids with good character, don’t do so by accident.”

Research also finds that parents who raise kids who turn out to be caring, respectful and unselfish took time to think through how they wanted their kids to turn out. Then they turned their goal into their core parenting operating principle.

It’s what I call “Character-Building Parenting” and it’s the best antidote to curbing The Big Brat Factorwhich from the sound of those stats seems to be a growing and troubling childhood epidemic. Character-Building Parenting involves using those simple everyday moments to tune up our children’s character.

Several years ago my girlfriend noticed that her mother-in-law was overindulging her kids in material gifts. Though Jane appreciated her mother-in-law’s generosity, she was also concerned that her kids’ “appreciation factor” was dipping a bit. Too many presents and too much emphasis on materialism also countered her parenting goal of raising her children to be appreciative, caring and unselfish. What to do?

Jane finally asked her mother-in-law to please reduce the number of presents. Would she mind giving them instead the kind of gifts that would boost their relationship with their grandmother — like going on a trip or outing together? Or would she put the money into their college fund? And because Jane explained her values and the kids’ behavior that concerned her, the mother-in-law not only agreed but also appreciated the chat.

The key was that Jane took time to determine how she wanted her kids to turn out (In her case: “I want my children to be appreciative and caring”). Jane then consciously raised her kids with those objectives. She made sure nothing stood in the way of her key objective. Her choices and daily parenting over the years supported those values.

I’ve watched her raise her two children over the years to become respectful, appreciative responsible, and unselfish young adults. Jane succeeded (yay Jane!!!) and so can we! 

7 Tips to Raise Unselfish, Caring Kids

Here are more parenting solutions to  help our kids turn out to be generous, caring, and responsible human beings. You can use these tips only after you do what Jane did: Take a moment to figure out how you want your kids to turn out. What are the key traits you hope years from now you see in your child? (Hint on this one – I’ve never heard a parent yet say: “I hope he is spoiled and selfish.”

So what matters most to you? Make those traits become your Parenting for Character Goals. Now you can use these seven tips.

1. Use the right parenting formula

The research-proven formula for raising unspoiled, well-adjusted kids has two equal parts: Nurture and Limits. Is your parenting style evenly balanced between the two parts? Or are you emphasizing one element more than the other?

Realign your parenting so it is a combination of love and limits; acceptance and structure; warmth and saying no. Every so often push the pause button on your parenting and consider your everyday responses to your children. Reconsider your values. Then ask yourself one daily question: “If my kids had only my parenting responses to watch today what would they have caught?” Are my responses matching my parenting goals?

2. Stop rescuing!

Good parenting is not about making sure your child is happy. A big part is about helping kids learn to deal confidently with setbacks and adversities that are an inevitable part of life. Constantly rescuing kids from frustrations does not help them learn critical coping skills. Nor does it help them learn that they can stand up on their own two feet and learn to depend on themselves. Unselfish and unspoiled kids learn to rely on themselves and not depend on others. Halt the rescuing! Help your child learn to slowly deal with life solo. 

3. Nurture empathy

Unspoiled kids have learned to not always put themselves first, but instead to consider the needs of others. Empathy is that glorious capacity that helps a child think and feel from another view. Empathy is also the foundation to respect, caring tolerance, kindness, gratitude, and unselfishness.

The key point here is that our children are hard-wired for empathy, but unless we nurture it, empathy will lie dormant.

Materialism, lack of face-to-face interaction (plugging in too much), selfishness and a heavy diet of cruel media images are just a few factors that reduce our children’s chances to feel for others. Are you emphasizing the virtues of empathy and kindness with your child? Are you curbing those factors that could reduce your child’s ability to feel for others? Do it! 

4. Boost financial responsibility

Seriously ask yourself, “Am I raising my child to be self-reliant and fiscally capable?”

One of our biggest jobs is to help our kids learn to live successfully on their own. Doing so means they will need to learn how to manage their own money and not expect handouts from us.

If you’re feeling like your kids’ ATM machine then the simple solution is to put away your wallet. Unspoiled means the child can handle the words “No!” and “Not now!”  How’s your kid doing? (I’ll be posting more on this one!)

5. Say “no”—without guilt

Always giving kids what they want does not help kids learn that you don’t always get what you want in life. And research says you’re actually doing your child a favor if you do say NO!

A longitudinal study by the University of California at Davis with over 1760 kids wanted to determine what parents who raised children who were respectful, caring, and confident did to achieve those results. Two things came up over and over: The home was respectful and the parents were less permissive. Translation: The parents weren’t afraid to say NO!

Add “no” to your vocabulary and don’t feel guilty about using it with your kids.

6. Practice giving not just receiving

Help your child recognize that it really is better to give than to receive. Research shows that children who practice an attitude of gratitude aren’t only more appreciative and less selfish but also happier and less likely to suffer from depression. One of the best ways to stretch a child from selfish to selfless is through volunteering. Offer your child the opportunity to give to others. Let your child see first hand that she can make a difference in someone else’s life through giving.

7. Stretch “Me” to “We”

Young kids are egocentric. They do think the world revolves around them. And they are concerned more about their own needs than others. But our goal is to stretch them gently away from ME-ME-ME so they start thinking WE-WE-WE. Look for those everyday moments to do so:

“Let’s ask Alice what she would like to do.” “Remember, we share!” “How do you think Daddy feels?” “Ask your friend what he would like to play.” “It’s your brother’s turn now.” “Let’s go volunteer at the soup kitchen.” Don’t let your child get locked into “ME!

Emphasize WE!

Parenting is not a popularity contest! There are many times that you will have to make choices that aren’t always the choices your child will like. Once you make them, stick by them. You are in charge and your child needs to learn to respect authority (a.k.a. you!) And your child needs you there to raise him or her to be kind, caring, respectful, responsible and consider others.


Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. Portions of this blog were adapted from my book, Don’t Give Me That Attitude!

You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news and research about child development.

Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba