“You don’t need that.” “You already have one of those.” “Stop asking for things.” Young children can easily seem as if they’re “spoiled.”
But it’s important to remember that children don’t understand what things cost, they can’t value things the way you wish them to, and they don’t look at what they already have and decide, “I have enough.” Children under the ages of four and five are really too young to think in this way. More commonly, children ask for things (“I want a scooter”) and expect more (“I want that. I saw it on TV.”).
All young children occasionally act in selfish, spoiled ways. Children under five or six years old are developmentally self centered and focused on their own desires, possessions, and activities. They often make demands without consideration for people or circumstances. “Why can’t I have Barbie with the beach clothes now?” “I don’t want to help.” Their interests also shift. “I don’t want to play with that anymore.”
However, if your child constantly gets her way, she’ll gradually learn to feel entitled to do as she wishes. This can happen if you don’t set limits on her behavior or if you fail to follow through when she acts in unacceptable ways.
Many children are overindulged with material objects. Yet, owning many toys does not necessarily make a child spoiled; children with lots of possessions can be loving and considerate. However, if you constantly give without reinforcing positive values, you may unconsciously encourage your child to behave in socially unacceptable ways.
Some parents have a hard time controlling their buying. They may enjoy giving to their child or feel that buying presents is a great way to make their child happy. Some parents give out of guilt, they may not offer their child the time and attention she needs, so they buy gifts instead. Even when parents know they’re overindulging their child, they may rationalize their actions. “She’s only a kid for a short time.” “Why not? We can afford it.”
The danger in continually overindulging your child is that she might come to expect it. She may grow up unable to handle disappointment or tolerate situations that don’t go her way. Since you want your child to become a caring, strong person, capable of taking care of herself, you need to set limits on her negative behavior, act as a positive role model, and show her by example how to graciously accept and offer kindness, and how to deal with disappointment.
In the meantime, expect your child to say, “I want” over and over again and to frequently ask, “Can I get this?” Be patient with this stage, and give positive attention to what she’s interested in: “Look at all those colors.” “It moves fast.” Just because you show interest in something doesn’t mean you have to buy it. If she grows up with limits and these basic values, she won’t act spoiled, no matter how many possessions she has.