How to Fix a Spoiled Attitude in Four Steps

Posted By:

by Dr. Michele Borba

Nobody wins when our kids have spoiled attitudes. Research shows our children are born with the marvelous gift to care and be concerned about others. But unless we nurture those virtues they will lie dormant. So let’s roll up our sleeves to squelch this obnoxious bad attitude, and make sure our kids have the virtues of selflessness, generosity and consideration.

Censor Selfishness

A major step in squelching kids’ selfish attitudes is simply not tolerating it. You’re right: it won’t be easy. But if you really are serious about changing this attitude, you must stand firm and be consistent. Start by clearly laying down your new attitude expectations: “In this house you are always to be considerate of others.” Then loudly state your disapproval each and every time your child acts selfishly. Be sure to state why their behavior was wrong, and if the selfish attitude continues, consider applying consequences.

“That was a selfish thing to do: I expect you to treat your friends the same way you’d want to be treated.”

“I’m very concerned when I see you hiding that ball, and not sharing with your friends. You may not treat people selfishly.”

Nurture Empathy to Decrease Selfishness

Empathetic kids can understand where other people are coming from because they put themselves in their shoes and feel how they feel. This way, they are more generous, unselfish and caring. So nurture your child’s empathy to help him see beyond himself, and into the views of others. Here are three ways to do so.

Point out other’s emotions. Pointing out the facial expressions, posture and mannerisms of people in different emotional states, as well as their predicaments helps kids tune into other people’s feelings. As occasions arise, explain your concern and what clues helped you make your feeling assessment: “Did you notice Kelly’s face when you were playing today?  I was concerned because she seemed worried about something. Maybe you should talk to her to see if she’s okay.”

Imagine someone’s feelings. Help your kid imagine how the other person feels about a special situation. “Imagine you’re a new student and you’re walking into a brand new school and don’t know anyone. How might you feel?” Look for daily situations that could nurture empathy. Then pose questions using that situation to help guide your child to consider how the person feels. Asking often, “How would you feel?” (not when you’re disciplining – just day to day slices of life you observe) helps kids understand the feelings and needs of other people.

Set Limits

One reason kids become selfish is because they’re used to getting their way. So don’t: Set clear limits and then stick to them like glue. Don’t give in to whining, pouting, tantrums and guilt-laced admonishments of “You’re the worst parent in the world!” This might be hard if you think your main role is to be your kid’s best friend. Reset your thinking. See yourself as the adult, and recognize that hundreds of child development studies conclude that kids whose parents set clear behavior expectations turned out less selfish kids.

You may have to have a serious talk with other caregivers in your kids’ life who are guilty of overindulging. Let such individuals know in no uncertain terms you are serious about turning your kid’s selfish attitude around and must have their cooperation to do so.

Reinforce Selfless Acts

Of course, one of the fastest way to increase selflessness is by “catching” your kid doing considerate and unselfish acts. Always remember to describe the deed so she clearly understands the virtue and point out the impact it had on the recipient.  Doing so will also help her be more likely to repeat the same generous deed another time.

“Did you see Kelly’s smile when you shared your toys? That made her happy.”

“Thanks for taking time to ask me how my day went.”

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out episodes of our “Ruby’s Studio”  along with our beautiful children’s booksmusic, and more.


This article was originally published July 11, 2013

Posted in: Behavioral Issues, Discipline, Expert Advice, Modern Parenting

Comments (5)

  1. Wk

    “’In this house you are always to be considerate of others.’ Then loudly state your disapproval each and every time your child acts selfishly. Be sure to state why their behavior was wrong, and if the selfish attitude continues, consider applying consequences.”
    This sounds a bit harsh for me. First, I wouldn’t single out the child. I would remind them of our house rule which everyone follows, not just a rule that she or the kids follow. Second, what is meant by “loudly”? honestly, that sounds rude and shaming. I certainly wouldn’t listen if someone was loudly disapproving whatever I was doing. I would roll my eyes and be resentful. I certainly wouldn’t take a look at what I was doing. Third, what kind of consequences are you speaking of? Lastly, the word “spoiled” is a trigger word for many of us who were shamed when we were kids with it. Isn’t it a normal phase and childhood attribute when they are very ego centered and figuring out cause and effect of everyone/everything around them? I am not saying to excuse the behavior, but I don’t know if this is a solution. I do believe that nurturing empathy and reinforcing selfless acts are good things to remember when raising kids. This article makes me question some of the DVDs I was thinking of purchasing.

  2. Rachel

    I think The general premise of encouraging children to notice the feelings of others, and to be considerate and how they interact with others is of utmost importance. However this article seems to miss the mark. I don’t see how charging a child with self business will help lead them to be more empathic to others. I think that helping them to notice how their behavior affects others in a gentle and loving way, modeling gentle loving behavior at the same time, will help them to learn how to act that way towards others. If they are indicted for being selfish when they want to “Hide a ball” from another child, I think that will lead them to other things that are less desirable (lots of research to support this). They will feel criticized and become more sneaky — how can anyone feel compassion for a friend who wants the same ball if they feel thier own feelings and needs are being disregarded?

  3. Choosing To Homeschool

    […] indicate that homeschooled children have better social skills and fewer behavior problems than their demographically matched schooled […]

  4. Shelley Wiliams

    An excellent way to reinforce old fashioned morals & values…sadly lacking today. It is plain common sense to make kids feel good about themselves and how they behave with others.

  5. rebecca at thisfineday

    Wonderful reminders. Thanks for the post. I think I need to work on the first one just a bit more 🙂