The Spoiled-Kid Makeover

by | Nov 8, 2010 | Character and Moral Intelligence, Parenting, Selfish and Spoiled

Five steps to stopping the Big Brat Factor by curbing selfish and spoiled kid attitudes

If you think self-centered and selfish kids are on the rise, you’re right. National surveys show most parents feel they’re raising selfish kids. The truth is kids don’t arrive in this world with all the symptoms of the “Big Brat Factor.” Research show that our children are born with the marvelous gift to care and be concerned about others. But unless we nurture those virtues they will lie dormant.

Sure, younger tykes are more self-centered and egocentric, but most shift into the “other centered” phase with experience and guidance.  The problem is that unless we help stretch them into thinking about other’s thoughts and feelings, many get locked into self-centeredness. One thing is for sure: selfish kids are no joy to have around. These critters always wants things their way, put their needs and concerns ahead of others, and rarely stops to consider other people’s feelings. And that’s because they want you to believe that their feelings are “more important” than the feelings and needs of others.

So let’s roll up our sleeves to squelch this obnoxious bad attitude, and make sure our kids have the virtues of selflessness, generosity, and consideration.  In my last blog I gave you a four-word test to assess your child’s “Spoiled Quotient.” [“Is your child spoiled? A quick quiz to find out.”] Any good makeover starts with an honest appraisal. If you feel your child is falling into the dreaded “Spoiled Category” after reviewing that quiz, then here are five steps to turn this learned attitude around, and pronto!

A Five Step Makeover for Selfishness and Spoiled

Step 1. Censor Selfishness

A major step in squelching kids’ selfish attitudes is simply not tolerating it. You’re right: it won’t be easy. After all, especially if your kid is used to having his every whim catered for a long time. But if you really are serious about changing this attitude, you must stand firm and be consistent. Start by clearly laying down your new attitude expectations: “In this house you are always to be considerate of others.” Then loudly state your disapproval each and every time your child acts selfishly. Be sure to state why their behavior was wrong, and if the selfish attitude continues, consider applying consequences.

“That was selfish: I expect you to treat your friends the same way you’d want to be treated.”

“I’m very concerned when I see you monopolizing all the video games and not sharing them with your friend. You may not treat people selfishly.”

Step 2. Nurture Empathy to Decrease Selfishness

Kids who are empathic can understand where other people are coming from because they can put themselves in their shoes and feel how they feel. And because they can “feel with” someone else, they are more generous, unselfish, and caring. So nurture your child’s empathy to help him see beyond himself, and into the views of others, and here are three ways to do so.

Point out other’s emotions. Point out the facial expressions, posture and mannerisms of people in different emotional states as well as their predicaments helps kids tune into other people’s feelings. As occasions arise, explain your concern and what clues helped you make your feeling assessment: “Did you notice Kelly’s face when you were playing today?  I was concerned because she seemed worried about something. Maybe you should talk to her to see if she’s okay.”

Imagine someone’s feelings. Help your kid imagine how the other person feels about a special situation. “Imagine you’re a new student and you’re walking into a brand new school and don’t know anyone. How will you feel?” Asking often, “How would you feel?” helps kids understand the feelings and needs of other people.

Ask often, “How does the other person feel?” Look for daily situations that could nurture empathy. Then pose questions using that situation to help guide your child to consider how the person feels.

Step 3. Set Limits

One reason kids become selfish is because they are used to getting their way. So don’t: Set clear limits and then stick to them like glue. Don’t give in to whining, pouting, tantrums, and guilt-laced admonishments of “You’re the worst parent in the world!” This might be hard if you think your main role is to be your kid’s best friend. Reset your thinking. See yourself as the adult, and recognize that hundreds of child development studies conclude that kids whose parents set clear behavior expectations turned out less selfish kids. You may have to have a serious talk with other caregivers in your kids’ life who are guilty of overindulging. Let such individuals know in no uncertain terms you are serious about curbing your kid’s selfish attitude around and must have their cooperation to do so.

Step 4. Reinforce Selfless Acts

Of course, one of the fastest way to increase selflessness is by “catching” your kid doing considerate and unselfish acts. Always remember to describe the deed so she clearly understands the virtue and point out the impact it had on the recipient.  Doing so will also help her be more likely to repeat the same generous deed another time.

“Did you see Kelly’s smile when you shared your toys? You made her happy.”

“Thanks for taking time to ask me how my day went.”

“Thanks for giving your CDs with your brother. I know you don’t listen to rap anymore but he just loves it.”

Step 5. Become an Unspoiled Family

Commit yourself to a FSD (“Family Selfless Deeds”) project to help your kids recognize what a difference their unselfish acts can make. Here are some ideas for this project:

Give part of your allowance to charity. Start a new rule: a portion of weekly allowance must be set aside for charity.  Even young kids can put away a portion of their allowance or gift money to give to a good cause. Some families require kids to divide their earned allowance into three categories: money to spend, save, and donate to charity.

Do a family sacrifice. Give everyone in the family a big cardboard box and ask them to fill it with give-always including a few things they really care like favorite articles of clothing, toys, books, DVDs or CDs.  Then have your kids help you deliver the boxes–which can be colorfully decorated by younger kids—to your favorite charity.

Play the “Gift Of Time Game. Everyone in the family puts their name in a hat and then blindly pulls one out. For the next 21 days each family member commits to spending an age-appropriate amount of time devoted to the chosen name. For example: they can do their chore, help them complete some project, play a game or just hang out together. It’s the time spent that counts.

Of course, the highest level of selflessness is giving away material goods or your precious time without anyone knowing it was you who did it. There is no recognition or rewards involved. You do it because it’s right. This kind of attitude is the ultimate goal of parenting.

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

Adapted from the book, Don’t Give Me That Attitude!: 25 Selfish, Rude, Insensitive Things Kids Do and How to Stop Them! by Michele Borba. For more parenting solutions check out