Too often these days parents are doing the begging and children are doing the ruling. Picture: iStock
Too often these days parents are doing the begging and children are doing the ruling. Picture: iStock

How to tell if you have a spoiled brat

A few years ago, a couple told me about their difficult teenager who had made the family's life very challenging.

"He's so demanding and complaining about what he doesn't have," they said. "He completely ruined our Christmas trip to Switzerland."

Sorry, what? Your child got to be a pain in the neck last year and he got rewarded with a trip to Switzerland? He still thought his life was hard done by?

I'd like to say that this story is unusual, but increasingly I hear parents complain about their child's lack of gratitude.

The ironic thing is that often these children appear to have everything going for them and the sorts of childhoods that many would only dream of. In some ways, it is the fact that they get everything that makes them even more demanding.

I call these kids "the 99ers" because 99 per cent of their life is going well, but often they are livid about the 1 per cent that is not exactly to their demands. Any minor inconvenience they experience appears to make them angrier than the children who have far less.

It’s often the children who are given the most opportunities that are the least grateful. Picture: iStock
It’s often the children who are given the most opportunities that are the least grateful. Picture: iStock

Research backs up this idea. It seems that the more parents try to make their child happy all of the time, the more entitled their children are likely to become.

Unfortunately, this entitlement is associated with a range of problems such as reduced life satisfaction, less sympathy for others, fewer prosocial skills and in some instances, increased aggression.

In some ways I don't totally blame children for their extreme expectations of a constantly charmed life. The more a parent gives their child, the more they teach them to always expect things.

If they typically receive everything they ask for, why wouldn't they ask for more?

Why wouldn't they be furious if they suddenly heard "no" after a daily diet of "yes"?

A really easy way to check your child's gratitude is to think about how they ask you for things like a lift to their sport training or some money for the movie they're seeing with their friends. Do they tell you that they have practice and just assume that you will drive them there? Or, worse still say: "You need to give me some money"?

What about when you drop them off? When you hand them the $20 do they genuinely thank you or is it bordering on empty words? Or do they throw in a bit of an argument for good measure in the car ride?

For as long as you’re the parent, you should be in charge. Even on holidays to Switzerland. Picture: iStock
For as long as you’re the parent, you should be in charge. Even on holidays to Switzerland. Picture: iStock

If you seem to have acquired a bit of a Veruca Salt or Cartman-type character in your household, you can turn it around.

The easiest way to do that is to take them off salary and put them on commission. We can't underestimate the positive effect of a child being proud of something they feel their efforts have earned them. If they've worked hard to do extra chores to earn their spending money at a theme park or their lolly purchasing power at the movies, then they're likely to spend the money more wisely.

They are also going to be more appreciative of the moment than the child who has been handed the money via request or demand only.

Think about the thing that you are proudest of. It's typically not something that came easily to you, but something that you worked hard for: the car you saved for, the business you put in hours to build, the long-term relationship you put your best into every day.

Next time your child asks, give them three for the price of one: an opportunity to earn the item, the pride and satisfaction that come with their achievement, and at least a teensy bit of gratitude for their relatively fortunate life.

Turning around a child’s bad behaviour is not as hard as you might think. Picture: iStock
Turning around a child’s bad behaviour is not as hard as you might think. Picture: iStock

Start giving your child the chance to earn the good things in their life: doing chores to get screen time, taking in the washing to get your help with their science homework. This will go a long way to making them more grateful for all you do for them and their many blessings in life.

When they complain about what they don't have, listen, but be a little nonchalant about their expectations, and don't apologise. If you gave them everything they wanted in life then they wouldn't have any ambition or work ethic. There's a reason why so many of the billionaires don't hand their children the bulk of their fortune.

Gratitude can have challenges both ways. Try not to do so much for them that you expect extreme appreciation from them. Any relationship involving excessive sacrifice can easily

become unhealthy. Your choices are your choices.

Having gratitude for the good things in your life is a cornerstone of satisfaction and wellbeing. But, in the age of excess, how do parents ensure their child is broadly appreciative of their pretty good life?

Dr Locke did her PhD at Queensland University of Technology on the changes in parenting and is now a visiting Fellow at QUT doing ongoing research on modern parenting, child and parent wellbeing and school environments.

Send your parenting questions to: mail@confidentandcapable.com


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