Tuesday, February 8, 2011


My daughters have had friends tell them that they are spoiled.  These comments have lead to conversations at our house about what it means to be spoiled and what would cause someone to say that about someone else.  Why would other kids say that my girls are spoiled? We live in a house with sub-flooring in the living room (we pulled up the nasty old carpet but haven't had funds for flooring), with one car that is uncomfortably small for our family and we consider sharing foot long sandwiches at Subway eating out. The children who have called my girls spoiled come from families with more material possession such as larger TV's, gaming systems, and more new clothes. Their families have multiple cars and have gone on really cool vacations. These are nice families who do activities together and these kids have "good parents." Why on earth would they think my children are spoiled?

One of my girls suggested that when one kid calls another spoiled it is usually because they are jealous or they want something the other kid has. We discussed what the girls might have that the other kids didn't and an immediate answers was, "We have our needs met." I think there are probably many aspects of our family's life that could bring up feelings of envy in other children, for example: not having to go to school, not being required to do chores, being able to decide what and when to eat, being able to choose if and when they play indoors or out, sleeping when they are tired and getting up when they are rested, having the freedom to choose if they want to join in a family activity or not, and being accepted for who they are. When children look at our family and call my girls spoiled it is not about material possession and money, it's about connection, respect, and the fact that in our family children know that their needs are important. That's how we live at our house.

When adults talk about children being spoiled it means something different. Adults are often suggesting that indulgent parents are creating "spoiled brats." Adults aren't really concerned that the children are being given too much, adults are concerned that the children's behavior will become a problem (to the adults) because the children get what they want. When I talk about meeting my children's needs, and saying yes to the things that they want as often as humanly possible, I know that there are adults out there thinking that I'm spoiling my children. These people think my children will turn out to be ungrateful, disrespectful, spoiled brats who are unable to delay gratification. They think that children need to be taught how to deal with not getting what they want, that children need these lessons for their own good. These adults think that doing for children that they could do for themselves will create me-centered monsters who only think about themselves and disregard the needs of others. These parents are sure that their children have to be made to do chores or they will never learn how to be helpful. These parents will tell you that's just how life is.

For these adults it will probably come as a surprise that children who have their needs met do not grow up to be spoiled brats with "problem behaviors". Children who grow up to be stereo-typical spoiled brats, throwing fits to get what they want, being demanding and disrespectful of their parents, are not children who have had their needs met. These are usually children whose parents buy them stuff, but deny them unconditional love and connection. Parents who fail to meet their children's emotional needs. Parents who try to make their children happy with presents but who deny them their actual presence. When children regularly do not have their needs met they get desperate, this desperation can take the form of behaviors that people think come from being spoiled. If you see a child and you find your self thinking, "What a spoiled brat!" take a moment to see how the parent is treating the child. Is the parent creating Conflict or Connection? Is the parent focused on the needs of the child? Is the child hungry, tired, or over stimulated? Is it possible the child has a history of  having needs that have not been met?

Children who regularly have their needs met, who trust the adults in their lives to be respectful of their needs and to support them in getting their needs met, do not have to rely on extreme behaviors to draw attention to their needs.

"The baseline fear is that if we give our children what they want, they will always want more. However, this theory is rarely tested because we seldom keep giving until they are satisfied. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy because they don’t get enough opportunities to learn what “enough” feels like."