Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How can you tell if your kid's a spoiled brat?

There are two ways of looking at the photos below: a selection of shots I took yesterday at the closing day of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in downtown Toronto.

If you just glance at the photos you will likely take in a scene that looks very similar to scenes I often present here, in pictures and in words: scenes of a carefree and charmed childhood enjoyed by a boy with two parents who, whatever their struggles, endeavor to create happy memories that will one day act as a bulwark against the complications and difficulties that adulthood inevitably brings.

Looks like a great day, right?


Yesterday was a terrible day.

Yesterday was a terrible day not because the CNE was hot and crowded and ludicrously expensive, though it was all of those things, but because it caused both Rob and I (though really mostly me) to question whether all the effort we put into creating memories with Graham is actually having the desired effect.

Let me be blunt: Graham wasn't just poorly behaved yesterday, he was insolent and just plain bratty.

Look a little closer at the photos.

Can you see the frustration and the exhaustion on our faces now?

We were exhausted - by almost constant, enduring temper tantrums that erupted over the most insignificant things the instant Graham's gratification was denied or delayed. We all know that keeping a three-and-a-half-year-old in line anywhere there are crowds and candy and rides and noise is bound to involve some major headaches, but normally the fleeting moments of joy and fun make it all worthwhile in the end.

Not yesterday.

I have never spent so much time correcting behaviour: talking, discussing, sternly warning and yes, yelling. I have never felt tears of frustration sting my eyes so many times in such a short time frame. The pain involved in yesterday's outing so far outweighed the pleasure that even a full 24 hours later, I still wish I had not bothered to go at all.

I still feel unsettled.

Graham's Labour Day weekend was a whirlwind. He celebrated his uncle's birthday with a big family dinner that went late on Thursday. On Friday we headed for the lake and spent Saturday and Sunday at Grandpa and Grandma's where Graham collected clams and played in the water with his cousins. He had a campfire and a sing-a-long and boat rides and barbecues. We came back to the city Sunday night for the express purpose of taking him to the CNE on Monday, our seventh wedding anniversary.

Was Graham overstimulated?

Maybe. Rob thinks so. He also thinks he was way overtired (true) and nervous about his first day of school on Thursday (possibly). He doesn't really think that Graham's behaviour, however awful, is completely out of the norm or that it indicates a problem with discipline or entitlement. He thinks I was right to be so hard on him, but that I should stop being so hard on myself.

But I'm not so sure.

Because I can't shake this nagging fear that my well-meaning attempts to make my son's childhood special have unwittingly contributed to the creation of a spoiled, entitled little monster.

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feefifoto said...

My dad and I took my nephew to Disneyland (from San Diego) when he was your son's age. My nephew was horrible to my father in every way he could come up with, and after less than an hour at the park my father, the most even-tempered man ever born, announced that we were leaving, and we did.

Hope you are feeling better and that things have smoothed out.

flutter said...

Oh, man. I am sorry.

Karen L said...

delurking to say, OMG, me too!

We took our 2 year old to Wonderland on Sunday. In the first 2 hours, he whined and cried more that all the other children in the park combined. There are several reasonable excuses for Sunday in particular but he has certainly been becoming more and more stubborn, uncooperative, and unpleasant since turning two. Please, God, let this be a short-lived phase.

The stubbornness will probably stay. He gets it from me. Oops.

@feefifoto: Yay Granddad!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I tend to think your husband is right, but just in case you're the one that's right you're catching it really early.

One thing I have noticed is that my friend's who have well-adjusted only children (or children spaced several years apart) routinely throw up roadblocks for their child. It is so easy when there is no real reason to deny a child what he desires to give him/her everything he/she asks for.

Your heart is in the right place. You'll figure it out.

melissa said...

hugs honey.
your husband is probably right.
but i'm sorry you had such a lousy day!!

Anonymous said...

I've been struggling lately with my younger son's behaviour. He's been screaming and throwing tantrums and telling us he hates us at the drop of a hat. I've been wondering the same things you have...

He's been back in school for a week now and he's settled down a lot. I think he needs a lot of structure. I'm not a structured person - I tend to run things fairly loose and fancy free (although I do try to keep meal times and bedtimes fairly consistent). We moved in June, too. So there's been a new house, a new neighbourhood and a new room to get used to. Family visited, the arrived and then went away again. A lot change. Summer was just a bit too long for him, I guess. Yikes, though. For a few weeks there I was miserable every night after what felt like an endless string of really hard days. I kept asking myself 'what am I doing wrong?' 'how did I cause this?'.

All I can say is that it doesn't sound to me, from what I've read on your blog, that you're spoiling Graham. I think you are probably being a bit hard on yourself, though, like your husband said... It was one hard day. How often is he that difficult? Kids go through difficult phases and he's dealing with a lot of changes in his little world. It takes time to adjust, especially for little ones who can't always articulate how they're feeling (maybe he should start a blog to write out his feelings ) :) I'm sure it's a phase and he'll grow past it. The structure of school might help. HUGS. You're a sweet mom for wanting all the best for him.

PS: sorry about the endless comment!

Anonymous said...

Oh and PS:

(because I haven't talked ENOUGH yet)

He's a cute little guy. And I noticed in these pictures that he has your smile. So sweet!

Autumn said...

Oh man have I been in your shoes. My one and only child has been a huge pain in the ass when I was trying to do something special for him. I have gotten down on one knee, looked him in the eye and said " Even though you may think so, you are NOT the center of the universe!" I am to the point now that I realize something. Like you, I realize that raising a completely selfish, spoiled brat is possible. That if I don't do something about it now when he is small it could turn out bad... really bad.
Just the fact that we acknowledge that means that we are on the right track. Honestly we are. My son at six and three quarters is so much better than he was at three and a half. It was a bumpy painful road but it does get better.
Your husband is right. Don't be hard on yourself. You are doing the right things. ((Hugs))

Anonymous said...

I have these fears, too. 3 years old was particularly bad for us, and at around 3 1/2 things started to get much better. Most of that was age related. And a small part of it was me not doing so much for my kid.

We had a lot of meltdowns because she wanted something, exactly her way, right away. I put the placemat 2 inches to the left of where it should be on the table, for example. So I stopped doing her placemat for her, because she could do it herself. It made me feel better, anyways, to get out of the unending loop of doing things wrong.

But, like I said, mostly she outgrew it. And so will Graham. You haven't screwed up, he's just a kid and they're sometimes totally unliveable. Rob is right, you should go easy on yourself, it's not your fault he's acting his age.

Aunt Becky said...

I remember 3 being particularly brutal for Ben. It lasted for awhile and for that while I was alternately wracked with guilt because I was so mad at my son, or mad at my son for misbehaving.


Parenthood is really, really hard sometimes.

It's not your fault and you're only human. xoxo

Beth Cotell said...

I tend to agree with your husband. However, I have the same feelings about my kids some days - that they are spoiled, unappreciative brats. And I worry that if they are those things that it's my fault.

We recently stated sponsoring two children in Honduras and we talk about them and pray for them. I think in a small way it makes my kids realize how lucky they are and how much they have and hopefully will be less bratty and spoiled acting.

I think as long as you can see the behavior you don't like and it upsets you, then you are on the right track to change it.

Graham is a sweet heart. Don't be too hard on him or yourself!

Melisa Wells said...

I bet Rob is right: Graham was probably just tired, and...perhaps you two were tired too! Sounds like your weekend was really super busy! Every outing, unfortunately, can't be a gem (no matter how hard you try). Don't worry! :)


Vic said...

I too would say that the weekend sounded like just that little bit too much for him. It's amazing how even the sweetest of kids can turn into little monsters with just a little overstimulation and overtiredness.
You're doing well with him though, so don't beat yourself up about this one weekend.

Tania said...

3 is akin to hell on earth. I think it's great that you're trying to create fond memories, and you certainly shouldn't stop. My week at the cottage with my brood was crappy on so many levels, but it did keep us together as a family, and bonding did occur between tantrums. I perceive spoiling to be more associated with letting the kids have and get away with everything. It doesn't sound like that's what you're doing.

Shauna said...

I think you're being too hard on yourself but what the hell do I know.

I worry all the time that Chicka is going to be one of "those kids". But it's impossible to reason with a 2 year old. Does it get any easier to do when they're 3?

Anyway, I think you're doing a fabulous job. Creating special memories isn't spoiling. However, I probably would have left the CNE and aborted the "fun" day.

Chantal said...

that is so hard. 3 is such a hard age. You are doing the right thing and his behaviour will more closely resemble what you expect as he gets older.

mep said...

It sounds like it was just a tough day after a big weekend.

Why do we moms so often judge ourselves as moms by the bad days and not the good ones?

Even great kids and great parents have tough days. Hang in there!

Pregnantly Plump said...

I'm sorry you had such a rough day! It always seems that Little Elvis is on his absolute worst behavior when we're doing something explicitly for him. I know I've made the comment several times that I am certainly not doing XYZ for my pleasure. It sounds like it was much more of an isolated incident to me. Hope the first day of school went well!

tracey.becker1@gmail.com said...

First, he is NOT a monster. He's not. He's loved.

Rob sounds pretty spot-on. He was tired, overstimulated and, well, a preschooler. These years may be the most fun but they're also the most exhausting (no matter how tired you were with a collicky, sleepless baby; a toddler or preschooler is a thousand times harder). Sometimes fun outings aren't fun. Sometimes we have to cut them short or simply not go. Either way, this was a learning experience for you AND for him. He learned that he'll still be expected to behave, no matter what the circumstances are.

Shoot, my 10 year old still acts entitled and bratty, even though I give him NOTHING and take him NOWHERE. (joking)

Jess said...

Of course they're bratty and entitled - they've had nothing else but!

SO talking about my four and three-quarters girl, too. (You're not alone!)

But think of it. It took us all YEARS to learn social mores and that we had it pretty good - much better than the starving children in ______, right?

I read somewhere that the first four years are all self-centered. It's really only when they start school that they start to become more aware of others around them and get a really good handle on empathy.

If it helps, my almost-eight year old boy is disgusted sometimes by my daughters attitude. 'Mom! She's such a BABY!'

He'll grow out of this. He will. Probably sooner than you think, too. But wouldn't it be SO MUCH BETTER if they came with a handy tattoo or at least a handbook?

Flea said...

Weariness and fear manifest themselves in the ugliest ways. I'm guessing you were both tired, too. You and your husband are probably both right and just need to meet in the middle somewhere.

Heather said...

He probably WAS just tired, etc. I worry about the same things though, that I'm creating spoiled brats...so I do make sure to say no to things regularly too. Not to be mean to the kids, but to tell them we really don't need that thing so we're not buying it today.

I also try to make them see me donating food, etc to help others. They will almost always ask me why I'm doing it and it opens a conversation about being lucky to have all that we do.

April said...

I agree with both your husband and you. Kids aren't perfect, and fatigue will definitely make them more challenging, but I think we have to keep our antennas up to make sure that we don't allow it to get out of hand. And, while I hesitate to tell another mom what to do, since you asked I will offer that maybe you should've called it a day earlier. For your sake as much as his.

MissKris said...

I feel your pain, even as a Grandma but I take care of my two toddler grandsons full time. I've written about the same subject recently, if you'd like to take a look:



And here is a great link that got me started on this subject:


They're not brats, Kelly. Just human.

Corey~living and loving said...

Not only is he human, but so are you. Sometimes in situations like that it is just better so throw in the towel on the day, and go home. "Mommy can't do this today!" That's okay.

Expat mum said...

My mother always used to say that it was a bit of a waste of time trying to create those memories for kids under about 5 as they rarely remembered them. (She could be right.)
One of mine used to behave like this from time to time and it was usually in large, noisy places which were completely too much for him. We cold also set our watches by his stomach as his behaviour always went down the toilet when he was hungry.

CaraBee said...

If the comments here are any indication, and I count myself among them, we ALL have exactly the same worry. Personally, I think toddlers by their nature are entitled and bratty, I don't think they make them any other way.

mamatulip said...

FWIW, I completely agree with Rob.

(I feel your pain. The last two days w/ Oliver have been, for the most part, good, but they've been peppered with meltdowns of epic proportions. It's exhausting.)

Mandy said...

I imagine that Rob's comments would be my own.

But, if you are really worried, you can always ask a friend who you know will be honest in his/her response.

That being said, all of our kids have similar days/times. Sorry to hear your trip the the CNE was somewhat tempered.

Michelle said...

I'm with Rob on this one. Graham's at an age where he wants to do EVERYTHING with no limits. He has no clue how to let you know he's tired or that he needs to go home because he's willing to overlook it all for the FUN. That's just the nature of being a preschooler.
As for what YOU have done? Well, you've raised one of the sweetest, most caring little boys I know. Peanut's not an angel to be around all the time either. What you're doing is giving him the tools to cope with life's ups and downs (and I think we ALL need to work on how to cope with the ups... we forget about that one). There are plenty of opportunities to help him with dealing with life's challenges and down times... we never have to create those, they just happen. But by making these wonderful, special memories happen (and maybe helping him to deal with being overtired/overstimulated), you're not only teaching him valuable lessons about self-control and delayed gratification, but you're also teaching him that life can be wonderful too... and isn't that an important lesson to learn?

Janice @ Mom On The Run said...

My Rob says our job as parents is just to keep our kids alive - while I think it's much more than that. His point is really that we need to not sweat the small, or big stuff.

I doubt that Graham will remember the yelling and cajoling in the future - though you will. Think of it as a lesson learned - a weekend of fun may just need to be followed by a relaxing day at hme.

BTW - I HATE the CNE - I prefer small town fairs with smaller crowds, & less expensive rides, but that maynbe because this City Mouse has slowly transormed into a Country Mouse living out where the streetlights on the 401 end :)

Carissa(GoodnCrazy) said...

Wow, I think we all feel that way.

My example is about restaurants. The SECOND my 3 kids are fighting about WHERE we are giong to eat, is the second we STOP eating out for a while since clearly it's not a treat simply to GO OUT... you know?

and second. remember simple is often better for kids. I read a NYTimes article once where this dad had made a giant list of great awesome fun things to do with dad. And he then put it in front of his son. And asked him to pick like 3 things he MOST wanted to do.

Guess what he picked? The park. Throwing a ball with dad.

I think about that alot... quality time doesn't always mean QUANTITY of money :)...

Wow I didn't mean to go off. but I so so so relate on this one!!

Cheers girl.. how are ya??

Unknown said...

Oh Golly Molly, I posted about my boys on Monday and can totally relate. They'd also had a crazy busy weekend and A LOT of time in the car. I think both of our kids just had a little too much. And we all have our 'off' days. Hope things are better today...

Karen MEG said...

No he's not a little monster, and you need to cut yourself a whole lotta slack.

That was a crazy busy weekend, and I'll be honest, we hee-ed and haw-ed about whether to go to the Ex this year ourselves, for precisely that reason ... we thought the kids might be grumpy, hot, out of sorts in the crowded venue. Or maybe just cuz we're old and can't handle the stress any more!

I hope things are settling down now...it is a very busy time, and a lot of changes for a little boy. And for Mama. Take a nice hot bath!

rachel - a southern fairytale said...

I don't think he's a brat at all, Kelly. I think you've done a wonderful job. I think he sounds like a little boy who had too much stimulation, and not enough normal routine. That's hard at that age :-)

HUGS lady.

Jaina said...

I think overstimulated is probably the right explanation. ::hugs:: You're a fantastic mom.

Anonymous said...

Every time I schedule a super! amazing! fantabulous! extra-double-fun!! series of outings for multiple days in a row with my kids, the elder one (aged 5 now) is totally heinous - HEINOUS - by the second day. Your weekend sounded like waaaaay too much of a good thing - like four or five weekends' worth of fun all in one. You're right in that he needed a talking to, but you're also right to think that maybe it was too much.

Claremont First Ward said...

I often wonder the same thing. Do my kids have some sense of entitlement that I've contributed to?

Since most other adults tell me my children are well behaved (they save the acting out for me), I have to think they save their naughty behavior for me....

AND, I would guess that Graham was absolutely over stimulated and tired.

Sass said...

I've got a busy week lined up and realise I might end up pushing Peaches in to a similar sort of behaviour.

I think I'll learn from your experience and to take the buggy so that she has somewhere to rest. It's also some where I can tell her to sit if she is naughty.

I've started sending her to her room when she's stroppy (starts throwing or snatching). And if she whines, I tell her whining doesn't work and to go outside/to another room/away from me until she's ready to speak in her fabulous voice.

Sending her to her room until she's ready to behave properly works really well - I've only done it a couple of times. Because she's little I don't put a time on it - I just tell her she can come back when she's ready to behave differently.

Of course - none of this works if she's really tired. But it gives me a simple way to respond and stops me losing my rag.

InTheFastLane said...

Sometimes i feel this same way. And sometimes, I realize that i have set up the conditions for him to act that way and he is only four. and sometimes, I have to remember that it is not necessarily the BIG things that we do together as it is, being together. And our memories are sometimes of the simple things, that make our family special.

Teena in Toronto said...

Alas, I didn't get to the Ex this year :(

Audrey at Barking Mad! said...

I have some of these same fears with Gaby. I'm so glad you articulated them because I've been afraid to. She's Gareth's first child and my 5th, so he thinks I'm being too hard on myself, but alas, we go out of our way to create memories and try and make up for the hell that the last two years of living with a near-suicidal mother has been for her. But I think there's a very fine line between providing opportunities to create special moments and memories and creating a spoiled rotten monster.

Whilst Gaby isn't totally there, we are having more and more "moments" where her behaviour is less than stellar and downright horrid. Her bossiness and attitude are overwhelming at times.

In the end, I think it's all about balance. Hopefully soon...both your family and ours will find that balance.

Beautiful post, as always.

Aurelia said...

Ummm, ok, please take this the right way.

Why are you doing this to yourself and to him?

And to the commenters above who have taken their kids who are under 5 to crazy places and expected anything good?


The CNE sucks donkey balls until you are older than 8 or 9. Same for Wonderland and Disneyland and the rest. Ok, maybe Centre Island for the 2 to 5 set, but only for about 3 hours at a time. We have season passes to all the attractions we like and even now we only go for a few hours at a time, because even 9 and 13 year olds get tired and cranky.

When my first was 5 we tried to make him last all day and go great places and we spent loads of money, and he had tantrums from morning until night. And it sucked.

With the next one, we tried again, and it sucked.

This time? The baby stays home with a sitter and rolls on the grass. The older kids and I go on coasters and have fun. I've learned to be rude to relatives who stay too long or are too loud during his naps and expect me to drive all over God's green acre just to satisfy them. I just won't.

Your kid is absolutely NOT spoiled. He just can't do it all. No one can.

dogwooddiarist said...

Rest assured, you are not alone. I ask myself the same questions about spoilage on a practically daily basis. It never occurred to me to see my role as creating good childhood memories that might act as a "bulwark" for my children against the travails of adulthood (you put it so eloquently). Rather, in light of my own childhood, I see it as my duty to do what I can to reduce emotional conflicts and power struggles between myself and my son -- in doing so, I have worried that I cave and cater to him far too much, and that I have created expectations and feelings of entitlement that are way out of proportion to the way life really works.

The thing is: you have a stubborn, willful son. And, apparently, he is given to temper tantrums. This is a horrid combination, I know. I did not know how extreme such behaviors could be until I had my boy. And you may not actually know just how challenging Graham is until and unless you have another child, who is more in the center of the spectrum as concerns certain personality traits, such as stubbornness, sensitivity, and passion.

I have a daughter whose behavior strikes my whole family as outlandishly difficult at times, and I just laugh because she IS SO easy and normal and manageable compared to what my boy was. She throws tantrums and acts like a prima donna all the time, but that "spoiled behavior" is pretty easy to nip in the bud. She actually responds to threats and punishment, whereas my son never did. He wanted what he wanted, thought what he thought, and felt what he felt and not a thing in the world could change that. At 3 1/2 he was a nightmare. But don't worry, it gets better.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the other posters, you are not helping your son by not teaching him that there are consequences for bad behavior (the definition of spoiling). Why did you stay at the park long after you (and apparently your son) had become exhausted? You should have left after the first tantrum. This would have allowed you and your husband and son to get some much needed rest, and would have the added benefit of helping your son learn that if he throws a tantrum, there will be consequences.