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Parent to Parent: Tips to unspoil your kids

Are your kids acting like spoiled brats this summer?

Most parents think their children are at least somewhat spoiled, surveys suggest.

One way to tell whether you have overindulged your child: When you buy treats, you get whining and demands for more. No amount is ever enough. The ante is always upped.

If you tend to buy impulsively or give in at the last minute to your child’s begging and pleading on a shopping trip, your child gains the upper hand. Spoiling sets in, little by little.

For 30 years as a psychologist working with children and families, Richard Bromfield, Ph.D., author of “How to Unspoil Your Child Fast” (SourceBooks, 2010), has seen and heard the “stress, misery, annoyance and inconvenience” of spoiled children. But there are ways out of that rotten behavior.

Bromfield writes that a child learns gratitude by not getting everything she wants. A child learns patience by waiting; generosity by sharing and giving; self-control by sheer practice. And she learns contentment by not being trained to always need more.

Tips from Bromfield to straighten out overindulgent parenting include:

• Maintain your position and stay calm.

• Stick to what you say again and again, so that eventually there is no doubt.

• Practice telling your child your expectations in statements that declare rather than ask.

• Distinguish between wants and needs. Children don’t need toys and candy, but they do need love and limits.

• Avoid negotiations.

• Reward the effort, not the outcome.

• Build on successes during errands. Start with short trips.

• Model the gratitude you want your children to show.

One grandmother in College Park, Md., models an attitude of gratitude for her grandchildren with such small steps as giving the postal worker a cold beverage when he delivers their mail. She also makes a point of smiling and saying hello to anyone she passes.

The concept of “paying it forward” is another way to help children think of others and get out of the spoiled rut. Ideas from parents include: Set up lemonade stands and donate the money to a charity; work in a soup kitchen; bake cookies for local firefighters; donate pet food to an animal shelter.

Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and preschool teacher. If you have tips or questions, please email her at or call Parent to Parent at (704) 236-9510.