Parents and nannies alike have probably heard these words said at one time or another: “You’d better be careful, or that child will grow up spoiled!” Often these words are said about the youngest children in the family, as it’s a popular belief that the youngest is most prone to becoming spoiled.
Before we discuss strategies for ensuring that the youngest child in your care isn’t spoiled, let’s reflect on what we mean by “spoiled,” and whether or not it’s a special concern when raising your youngest child.
According to WebMD, experts in the field of childhood development aren’t thrilled with the use of the term “spoiled,” and see it as a throwback to an earlier era. Still, most of us understand what old child-rearing manuals, and even well-meaning friends, mean by it. While today’s experts tend to use words like “overprotected” instead, the way to avoid this label is the same: parents and caregivers need to make sure they are setting healthy boundaries for their children.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t respond to your child’s needs appropriately. Worry over spoiling a child should not make you unresponsive to age-appropriate appeals for help. However, overindulgence might be indicated if you find yourself going out of your way to placate children, especially in an effort to avoid tantrums. While tantrums are age-appropriate for toddlers, in older children they should be rare. Giving into children’s desires in an effort to keep the peace is never wise, so start giving consistent and appropriate consequences for outbursts while the children are young.
Youngest children are the ones parents and caregivers tend to worry about most when it comes to overindulgence. This may occur for several reasons. While the jury is out when it comes to knowing how much birth order may help determine a child’s personality, it seems to be a fact that typical family dynamics can encourage certain kinds of behaviors in the youngest children.
The mere fact that a child is the youngest, coming after one or more other children, may mean that they don’t perceive themselves as getting enough attention. Given actual limits to parental time and energy, there might be some truth to that perception. How many times have you heard parents ruefully confess that they don’t have as many pictures of their youngest as they do of their older kids? At any rate, children who are the youngest may go out of their way to get attention. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that a number of successful performers and comedians are the youngest children in their families. But what can turn into positive behavior in adults may start out as negative, attention-seeking behavior in young children.
The fact that older children are available to do things for their younger siblings is another potentially challenging family dynamic. If the youngest children get too dependent, they will have a hard time learning to do things for themselves. Sometimes older siblings go out of their way to do things for a younger child out of kindness, or simply because it’s hard for them to perceive that their kid brother or sister has grown up enough to handle doing things independently.
It’s important to help your youngest child step up to the plate, so childhood experts encourage families to make sure the youngest child has chores and tasks that contribute to the family well-being, just like their older siblings. It will help the youngest learn, and help the older kids realize that the younger ones are ready to take more on.
Lastly, don’t be so worried that you’re spoiling your child that you don’t provide proper attention. Many of the negative behaviors in the youngest children stem from their need to feel that their role in the family, though they came last and may be the smallest, is important. Though your energy may not be what it was when you were caring for your firstborn, think back to the ways you acknowledged that child’s important milestones and achievements, and try to do the same for your youngest. It will go a long way toward helping foster the kind of security that every child needs, no matter when they joined the family.