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Princess Syndrome (aka Spoilt Brat)

Step by step guide for how to create an entitled brat...or maybe to avoid creating one. Your choice

Young girl dressed as a princess


Wonderful, happy, caring, loving, giggling bundles of joy. They amaze us with their learning, their stories, their view of the world and the way they love us unconditionally. Yes they tantrum, cry and whinge too but that's all part of growing up. Guiding and teaching them the ways of the world, how to manage their emotions and understand the social aspects of life is part of parenting.

But sometimes children don't always turn out the way we want or expect, perhaps displaying some negative behaviours, such as being violent or aggressive to others, socially isolating themselves or refusing to listen and follow instructions. Sometimes they can turn out to be a child who feels entitled, always expecting to get what they want, when they want, manipulate others or come across as downright rude or nasty.

Welcome to 'Princess Syndrome' or rather 'Spoilt Brat Disease'. Is this nature or nurture? Can children be born with these traits or do they learn them? As with most things it's probably a bit of both. Some children are possibly a little more predisposed to becoming spoilt brats than others and without guidance could flourish in this respect. Predisposition or not, parenting plays the major role in deciding whether your child will become a spoilt brat or not. It has often been suggested that 'only children' or those without siblings might demonstrate 'brattish' behaviours more because of their increased attention from parents and lack of other kids in the household to play and negotiate with. A recent study, however, debunks this as a myth. Click here if you'd like to know more.

So it's fair to say that these are learned behaviours and whilst it might appear to be part of their innate personality that naturally comes out as they grow from toddlers into children, it's often more likely something that has been allowed to happen. They're traits that have in some cases been taught, nurtured and encouraged by parents, usually without intention. But then it could also be argued that some mums and dads model such behaviour themselves and don't see it as an issue. The problem is, if left to fester it can be extremely difficult to undo with many parents at a loss of how to fix it.

So what is this 'condition' I speak of? What are the signs and symptoms? Well quite simply, it's the sense of entitlement. Basically they are children who strut around assuming the whole world is there for their benefit. When they ask for something, they get it and they get it when they want it. Be it a toy or a treat, the music they want to listen to, the tv show they want to watch. They'll expect to jump the queue, be first, get certificates and be told how amazing and wonderful they are all of the time. They'll interrupt others when talking and speak to peers (even adults) with contempt. They'll be rude and believe they are always right and if none this happens the way they expect, there'll be tantrums, tears and screaming.

Parents Breeding Spoilt Brats

Some adults have unpleasant traits similar to those mentioned and display such behaviours, including demonstrating an air of superiority in their general demeanour, which will naturally 'rub off' on their spawn. Since they already have these behaviours themselves, they're probably less likely to notice it in their own children or (even worse) they might see it as a good thing. I wonder if Donald Trump's kids have any of these behaviours?

Another category of parenting that might also create children with these unpleasant traits are those parents who probably shouldn't have children to begin with. You know the ones I mean. Those who seem to take their children to supermarkets specifically to yell at them and smack them in public. 'Oi, Beyonsay, shut the 'f-up or you won't get any McDonalds for a month.' You may well have heard similar 'conversations' between parents and their kids on your travels. Children raised in this environment aren't likely to have positive behaviours modelled for them and consequently will develop some of the unpleasant behaviours mentioned above. Not necessarily the entitled or getting what they want behaviours, but certainly some other unpleasant behaviours stemming from a lack of guidance.

Then there are the rest of us. Those who without realising through daily routines, actions and expectations suddenly find themselves with a child having 'Princess Syndrome' or 'Spoilt Brat Disease'.

Defiant Child

And you may ask yourself, well how did I get here?

Funnily enough, it's usually by us wanting the best for our children that can lead to them becoming spoilt brats. The generation of 'children should be seen and not heard' disappeared way before most of us were born. We now live in an age where children are front and centre stage from the moment they are conceived.

In recent years many people have a much greater disposable income than their own parents did when they themselves were children. This coupled with a change in the cultural dynamic and the way an average lifestyle is viewed, makes for a very different upbringing for today's kids. There is also a much greater availability and access to a range of things, which can mean our kids are having more 'nice things' than we ourselves experienced. Things like eating out and takeaway options, lollies and sweets, computers, video games, toys and all the other things children covet seem to have become commonplace rather than rare treats.

Is it because in recent years we have seen an increase in families with dual income? Probably a major contributing factor. I remember when I was around 10 years old my mum went back to work. After that, treats, rewards and all those great things became more frequent as opposed to every now and then.

What it means to be a parent and how we parent also seems very different these days. The constant need to make sure our children have the best of everything and never want for anything can mean we give them things just because they want them, rather than there being reasons such as birthdays or rewards for something specific. In this case our kids are getting their desires for wants easily fulfilled that it becomes an expectation. An expectation that when it doesn't happen can lead to tantrums and tears. The vicious cycle often continues because of fear that our child might yell out 'I hate you' out of frustration, which you as a parent couldn't bear to hear. If not for that reason, than for the reason that in a public place the embarrassment you feel from your child having a tantrum makes you want to nip it in the bud as soon as you can by giving in for an 'easy' life.

It's not just the giving in to the 'I wants' and buying things for them that creates spoilt brats. Other contributing factors can include things such as expecting your child to be happy all the time. Some parents seem afraid of letting their children experience emotions other than happiness, so they constantly try to control every situation, which is both unreasonable and completely impossible.

There's More to Life then Happiness

There are going to be many things that cause your children to be angry, sad, jealous, guilty, frustrated and all the other emotions that humans experience. In our love for our children we want them only to be happy and joyous, so if we are unable to prevent situations that cause these other 'negative' emotions to occur, we jump straight in to turn them around. It's natural to want to do so, but it's also important to realise that children need to experience all emotions and know how to deal with them themselves. Guiding them through these emotions whilst they are youngsters will give them the skillset to manage them in adulthood. Trying to constantly ensure they are happy will mean that when they do experience negative emotions and no-one is there to bail them out, they will be less likely to cope with them in an appropriate manner.

Children need boundaries. It gives them a sense of security and comfort knowing what is and what is not acceptable. They might not always agree and will often test these boundaries, but if you haven't established any to begin with, it'll be much harder to try and implement them.

Grumpy Toddler

So How Do I Prevent Princess Syndrome?

To be fair, it's a parenting style and one that should start from birth. Being aware of the sort of child you want to raise, what person you want them to become is the starting point. The decisions you will have to make, the rules and expectations you put down and have to model will at times be tough and difficult maintain. It's here where many parents fall down. When the going gets tough, it's often easier to just give in for an easier life. If this happens occasionally then I think this is ok, it's only when you crumble every time your children know exactly what buttons to push to get you wrapped around their fingers. I feel it's also important not to swing too far the other way and turn your household into a 'boot camp'. Balancing your parenting so you are not too strict and not too lenient takes time and will vary from situation to situation. For more information see my article on Dadocracy vs Dadtatorship.

Here are some examples of strategies to put into place. Whilst specific, once you get the general idea, you'll find it much easier to alter and apply them to different scenarios based on your own situation:

If you're thinking of taking your toddler out to the park for play, think of something they might need to do first such as putting some toys away. Take the time to help them tidy up, try to make it fun by making it a race or talk about how exciting it'll be to get to the park. They'll start to look forward to the treat of going out and see the chore of tidying up as a build up to that reward. This needs to become a regular part of going out or receiving a reward. It'll become routine and it'll be an expectation. Just sporadically getting angry at a mess and viewing it as a punishment will not set these good practices up for the future.

Similar expectations should continue through their childhood, so that even as teenagers if they ask to play X-box or watch a movie you simply have to say 'Of course you can as soon as your room is tidy.' If your expectations have been routine over the years, this is much less likely to be met with resistance and confrontation. Children raised this way will be less likely to feel entitled to getting what they want without giving something in return. Play the long game (yes I know I say that a lot!).

If your child asks you to buy a new toy for them and you're in a position to buy it for them doesn't mean you should. Perhaps it's not that expensive (relative to your disposable income), so you may be tempted to get it for them then and there. This is ok from time to time. Treats are nice to give, but a treat ceases to be a treat if it's expected every time. If your child is at a point where they expect it, there'll be tantrum when it doesn't happen. So doing something nice because you can will create a spoilt brat if you don't learn to manage it accordingly.

Instead, tell them to wait until their birthday, Christmas, end of the school term, next weekend or other time in the future that means they have to wait a period of time. It removes instant gratification and they'll start to develop a more healthy attitude to getting things not as soon as they decide they want it.

Getting them to use their own money is also a great way to do this. Giving them pocket money (even though it still comes from you) means they'll not simply be getting something from you every time they ask. They might not have enough money at that time and will have to save up a bit longer to be able to get it themselves.

When it comes general behaviour and how they interact with people it's simple to start with one rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Remind them of this anytime they speak rudely, snatch a toy from another child or get physically or verbally abusive. This is best done after the situation has been diffused or calmed down or as part of a conversation after some kind of 'time out or reflection'.

I don't think treating others as you wish to be treated is the only way we should view this kind of respect though. This notion in some ways is selfish since it can mean that one would only treat others nicely it doesn't affect them negatively. Empathy should also be a goal here. Having children reflect on how the other person felt and how they would feel themselves is an important thing to ask them regularly on the road to developing their empathy.

There are many other situations you should manage with similar ways to have children reflect and question their behaviour and its impact on others. Not pushing in front of others, telling them to wait if you are having a conversation and they try to interrupt, being thankful for gifts even if they already have the same thing, or they don't like or want it, looking for opportunities to help others are just a few examples. It is possible to teach respect.

Where possible parents should be consistent across both households. Not much point in dad setting boundaries and rules if at mum's house the opposite is happening. Work together with each other if possible and definitely don't start trying to 'point score' against your ex by giving your children more and letting them have less boundaries as a way of being a nicer parent in the eyes of your kids.

In Summary

Be mindful of these things:

  • It's ok to make them wait for things even if you can afford to give it to them straight away

  • In order for treats and activities to happen, there should be some kind of contribution they should make first

  • Giving is just as important as receiving

  • Be respectful and wait turns

  • Treat others as they wish to be treated themselves

  • Help them develop empathy

Actively set up scenarios for these things to happen if they don't occur naturally often enough.

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As with any of my articles and posts, feel free to contact me with feedback or other ideas about things you'd like to see on my site.

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