Ask 5 different dictionaries and you’ll get 5 different answers. All of them agree that it means to somehow harm the character of a child, but then the opinions digress – some say it’s through being too indulgent, some by lacking parental direction, some say it’s through not correcting bad behavior. In all cases, though, folks seem pretty agreed that it’s an unwanted trait. But what causes it?
“People will permit you to take things away from them if you do it gracefully and don’t upset their willingness too much.
“The way you make a greedy or a selfish child is to make him, against his will, give up things to other children. You will eventually drive him into the “only-one” category—feeling he is the only person who really matters at all. Parents usually never consult the child’s willingness. They consult his havingness, his ability to own or possess, then handle it and they have a spoiled child.” – L. Ron Hubbard
The full article goes on to give a number of examples, which I heavily consider giving a study.
Spoiling vs. the Concept of Exchange
Commonly, when I’ve heard someone referred to as “spoiled”, that has only meant that they get anything they want. Well, I certainly wouldn’t consider that “spoiled”. Just uneducated. If a child thinks they can get anything they want, they just haven’t been clued in about how the world works. That there’s such a thing as the concept of “exchange”, and that mom & dad have to do helpful work in exchange for money, and if they want something, they can do helpful things in exchange for what they want, be it an allowance or an activity or a movie night or what have you.
So, the kid that has all the cool stuff is not, by default, spoiled. Perhaps he is, and his parents have just been trying to buy him off with toys, offering a new iPad in exchange for “getting out of our hair”.
But, if you have bought your child their own iPad, their own expensive train set, doll collection, etc – I wouldn’t say at all that they’re “spoiled” – especially if that child knows for themselves why it was they got those things, and have some idea that they were purchased in exchange for something, and not just to placate them.
Consulting a Child’s Willingness vs. their “Havingness”
My experience has been that children have the ability to be reasoned with at a very young age. Obviously, one’s ability to reason with an 18-month-old is somewhat limited, but unless they’re tired & hungry, it’s entirely possible to communicate even with tiny kiddos and get their agreement on something rather than having to use force, and the fact of your being bigger, stronger, louder & more scary.
Because, of course, using the bigger/stronger/louder tactic only works for a few years until the child realizes they can be pretty loud, can hit pretty hard, and can be do scary things too.
If yelling at kids is too coarse for you, it is of course possible to buy them off with presents and gifts. But then, one is still avoiding the whole topic of really going into communication with them, and thus never really consulting their own willingness or personal decision to do something. The last few paragraphs of the article I mentioned above are, I think, relevant:
“People think that persuasion works with children. It doesn’t. It’s communication that does the trick. You say, “Well, it’s time for you to go to bed now,” and he says, “No.” Don’t stay on the subject. Leave it alone and just talk about something else, “What did you do today?” “Where?” “How?” “Oh, did you? Is that a fact?” “Well, how about going to bed?” and the answer will be “Okay.”
“One doesn’t have to use force. Go into communication with the child, and control follows this as an inevitability. Omit control from the beginning when bringing up a child and he who looks to you for a lot of his direction and control is gypped. He thinks you don’t care about him. ” – L. Ron Hubbard