My 9-year-old stepson has terrible tantrums. I was abused as a child and used to act out as a result. Teachers and other adults were very hostile to me and failed to recognize my cries for help. So when I was first getting to know this boy, I was under the assumption that children act out because they are misunderstood and in pain and need help. So whenever he had a tantrum, I would bring him a blanket and some warm milk and stroke his hair and do anything I could to comfort him.

His father says he is just spoiled and I thought he was being insensitive, but the more I get to know my stepson, the more I realize my husband is right. My stepson spends a lot of time with his grandparents, partly because that's my husband's culture and partly due to our jobs. It is comical how much they spoil him. He gets a new toy, worth $30-80 every single weekend. They go to extreme levels to meet his every command. The other day, his grandmother brought him juice and he remarked that the glass was cold, so she held it for him while he drank from it.

This is hurting him! He has terrible self-esteem, is convinced he can't do anything himself, and throws a tantrum if I very gently try to encourage him. He is helpless to the extreme. He screams out when he wants something. The other day, he wanted something he couldn't reach, so he screamed for me to come and get it for him. When I suggested that he get a chair to stand on (which was a foot away from him), he burst into tears and insisted it was "impossible" for him to get it himself. Gentle encouragement like "I know you can do it, just give it a shot!" just seems to make him more upset.

My husband and I are trying our best to not spoil him in order to "undo" all the spoiling, but it's clearly not enough. My husband has tried everything he could for the past nine years to get his parents to stop spoiling him - he has explained the problem to them, begged them and fought with them. They are extremely stubborn and insist they are doing nothing wrong.

Since we can't seem to stop my stepson from getting spoiled, is it at all possible to stop him from being spoiled?

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    Dictionary definition of spoil: "harm the character of (a child) by being too lenient or indulgent."
    – SeanR
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 13:03
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    I have an idea. You're legal guardians, you say "You want to see your grandson, you treat him the way my husband and I have chosen to parent him." and that's the end of the story. And stand your ground, if you need to hire a baby sitter and day care, manage your budget and do it, until your mother and father in law understand that you're serious about improving your son's behavior. Get over the whole polite "family" thing. They're two individuals who are damaging your parenting, until that changes you should pull the plug on visitation. Good grandparents will respect your parenting decisions.
    – J.Todd
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 4:52
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    Life has a way of smoothing out these harsh edges. The child may be spoiled, but the adult almost certainly won't be... eventually. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:37
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    I agree with Viziionary. Raising your child well is your and your husband's responsibility, and even if it means respectfully excluding the grandparents from his life for a while, so be it. The grandparents know what they need to do in order to fix the problem, and they refuse to do it. Excluding them hurts everybody, but spoiling the child does more lasting damage.
    – LarsH
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 3:12
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    Others who think "it's no big deal" have much in common with the grandparents who are the root cause of the problem that you perceive. If you accept their viewpoint, you might as well simply accept that you have no problem. Is that your preference? Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 8:33

10 Answers 10


I see a lot of things that you can do just in the question, though I'm not sure there's a true answer to your question.

First of all, one of the hardest things for children to deal with is inconsistency. Having Grandma treat him one way and (Step)Mom/Dad treat him another way is very confusing. This is not to say that you should not treat him differently: it's to say that this is to be expected to be confusing.

You can and should talk to him about this difference. Nine is old enough to be very self-aware, and he is very much capable of understanding why you do the things you do. Not all at once, of course - but breaking it down into small doses, he will be able to understand.

Have these conversations at non-stressful times, on their own, not connected to any particular behavioral issue. Tell him why you treat him differently, and how it will impact his life. Think of all of this from his point of view: things like "We don't want to spoil you" aren't going to make sense, and aren't going to be helpful. Rather, things like:

You're nine years old now, a growing boy, and we would like to help you develop independence. We'd like to help you get to the point that you can go play by yourself, go over to a friend's house without us accompanying you.


As you get older, you're going to need to learn how to take care of yourself - since we won't always be there. Things like doing the dishes and setting the table are ways you can help out now, and learn how to do things for yourself. And, when you do learn some of these things, you get more control - not just over who gets what plate, but eventually you can help make dinner and decide what we eat. Just as long as it's not macaroni and cheese every night...

Second, learning responsibility starts with small steps. One small task to start with - set the table before dinner, say. Have a small, appropriate reward tied to it. One example I use for my younger child: if he wants dessert, he has to either unload the dishes from the dishwasher (if clean) or load the dinner dishes in the dishwasher. He gets to choose whether he does that or not; if he doesn't, he doesn't get dessert that night, though. Most nights I get to sit on the couch while the dishes are done, of course.

This sense of responsibility is important, because it will help him feel that he is a capable child. The issue here is likely not that he is simply unwilling to do these things - he is likely of the opinion that he is unable to take care of himself.

Third, when faced with him doing something that he feels he cannot (like getting a glass), keep two things in mind. One, don't assume he can, from his point of view. Ask him why he cannot, and address those concerns. Perhaps he's worried he'll drop it - maybe Grandma doesn't let him get glasses down for that reason, and has instilled in him a sense of fear about glasses; or perhaps he as dropped a few, and is scared for that reason.

And two, combine love with firmness. If you've decided he can get the glass for himself, then don't get the glass for him, no matter what; but keep up the loving, caring feedback. Even if he gets more upset, keep being loving and caring. You can help him help himself get through this - but it will take a lot of caring and loving for him to feel supported enough. Maybe this time he ends up giving up on the glass - but next time, perhaps, he's thirsty enough to get it. Do consider other circumstances as to whether this is the right time to have a firm stance - is it 8:00pm and he's very tired? Maybe not then. But, if he's otherwise in a normal mood, that's the time to push.

Finally, I think there's still likely work that can be done with Grandma. This follows the same path as with your son: baby steps. Find one small thing that can be phrased as an entirely reasonable request, and can be explained as something you're working with him on, and ask her to help you - don't phrase it as asking her to change her habits because they're wrong.

Hi Dot - We're working with Simon on setting the table right now. Is there any way you could help out, by getting him to help set the table at your place sometimes? We're trying to help teach him how to set it properly, and I know you're really knowledgeable about place-setting, so you could be a real help here.

Don't focus on the bigger things, at least for now. Giving him toys isn't a big deal. You can work with your son over time to find solutions for this - like giving his toys to the needy. The big deal is personal responsibility and independence, and you can work with Grandma in baby steps to get to where that is possible.

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    I'm not sure I agree that it's confusing to have one set of people treat a child one way and another set differently. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but do you have a source for that idea? It seems to me that since there are always different sets of rules for how to act when you're in different places already it's not so different to have a set of rules for how you act with parents and a different set of rules with grandparents, or teachers, or doctors, or friends sharing candy, or strangers offering to share candy, or. . . Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 14:27
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    This seems like the best answer. Christmas and birthdays (or your local equivalent) don't spoil kids because there are lots of obvious clues that this is a special day where different norms apply. So you can limit the harm of "Grandma day" by making it explicitly clear that the norm is to be a Big Responsible growing fella at all times, except at Grandma's which is a special place where different norms apply. Kids can figure such things out through context but it's more stressful and confusing if it's not clear. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 0:37
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    I very much disagree that inconsistency between 'Mom' and 'Grandma' is confusing. I've found it even to beneficial. Inconsistenct between 'Mom' and 'Dad', however, is trouble. Even so, still not particularly confusing. Children adapt easily to that, just not very beneficially. But inconsistency between 'Mom today' and 'Mom tomorrow', that's confusing. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 10:21
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    In the OP's specific situation, where the child spends so much time with his grandparents, inconsistency between 'Mom' and 'Grandma' can be just as significant as inconsistency between 'Mom' and 'Dad'. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 16:16
  • @user2338816 Exactly as Dan notes. There's a big difference between a child who sees Grandma one weekend a month, and a child who sees her for half of his day. Mom and Dad inconsistency can often be a source of significant trouble - something my wife and I have to pay attention to, as the kids pick up on it easily.
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 16:19

I don't believe you can spoil a child without having them act spoiled. You can't jump in a pool without getting wet, just like you can't spoil a child without having it affect them.

Spoiling a child robs the child of opportunities to learn and grow. Kids learn how to behave based on how they see their parents (and grandparents) act and how they treat the child. Teaching a child that they never have to deal with anything that requires more effort than breathing is setting that child up to live in a fantasy world. Life doesn't work that way. Life has its great moments, but we only get there after dealing with hard things. Dealing with hard things forces us to push ourselves, to build a strong character and to be resilient. Removing all hardship removes the ability to learn those things.

The only way to learn not to be spoiled is to deal with hard things. "Hard" can be relative, but hard things combat an entitled attitude by replacing it with one of "I can do it".

My recommendation here would be to start with a little "tough" love. Don't do for your child something he can reasonably do for himself. If all he needs to do is move a chair and climb up to reach something, let him. Explain to him that if he wants whatever it is, he can do it himself. Assure him you love him but that he needs to do it. This will probably result in lots of screaming and crying. Either he will learn to do it himself or that what he wanted wasn't that important. If he chooses to get it himself, great, he has learned that he doesn't need someone to do everything for him, that he can do it himself. If he decides it isn't important, then he learns that maybe he doesn't need every whim fulfilled instantly. Either way he comes out ahead.

Grandparents, for better or worse, have long since claimed that it is their right as grandparents to spoil their grandchildren. Getting your husbands parents to change seems like it will be hard. Getting them to stop entirely appears impossible. Given that, the approach may be to limit the amount of spoiling they can do. To continue the pool analogy, you will never get a child dry who never gets out of the pool. You can never unspoil a child that is constantly getting spoiled.

I hate the idea of issuing something tantamount to an ultimatum, but that may be your only option. You will have to take your stepson over to his grandparents less (or only under your supervision or stop all together or ...) if they can't stop spoiling him. You are the parent. It is your responsibility to protect your child from harm. Even if that harm is damage to his character and self-esteem wrapped up in a mountain of well-intentioned love.


Yes, it is possible. Both I and one of my good friends were raised with everything we could want but we did not turn out particularly spoiled. (We have our flaws, but so does everyone.) I think the natural temperament of the child is an important factor; only some children can be showered in gold without being spoiled.

The first thing to recognise is that you have a long road ahead. It will probably take years to help your stepson become confident and independent. There will be things he is not ready for right now, but one day you will find that he is. I have been trying to help my niece and nephews overcome emotional problems for almost 5 years and it has not been until the last year that major improvements have begun. Don't take every opportunity you can to try to correct a problem; for a whole host of reasons this is likely to make the child resist even more. Instead, let things slide sometimes, even for months at a time. "Learn to walk before you can run"—start with the smaller, more manageable problems rather than the big, obvious ones. I will give some suggestions for how to make some progress with him.

Do things together instead of encouraging him to do them on his own. It seems likely that he really feels like you are asking him to do the impossible. Did you ever have trouble giving a speech, or dealing with money in a shop, or returning an overdue item. or any other "basic" life skill? To him, moving a chair or dealing with mild pain may be just as hard, because he's had so little practice. Start by doing things together, so that he begins to see that he can play a role in getting what he wants. If he has particular trouble with physical actions like helping to lift a chair, try tasking him with other roles, like giving you directions on where to place the chair ("a little to the left" etc.), or watching a clock to tell you when to take the cake out of the oven.

Recognise that he may feel very unloved around you. His grandparents set an example for how he is treated by those who love him. While you should consider the "tough love" approach others have suggested, I think you should also consider actually spoiling him to show him he is loved and valued—especially if he is going to continue seeing his grandparents. If giving him what he wants turns him into a sweet little boy, my advice would be, do it! And then work on helping that sweet boy to grow and take on small challenges, and later larger ones.

Use a change of scenery. Go on a camping trip or a holiday. When everything is different, it is easier for a child (or even an adult) to accept that "the normal rules don't apply". Try really easy things that everyone can do together—collecting shells together at the beach (whether to decorate a sandcastle or to take home), picking berries or flowers, or collecting small sticks for a fire.

Find a new angle with the grandparents. See if you can talk them into doing activities with him that will help him become more confident and independent. It might be reading with him, cooking things together, building something with him, helping him with his schoolwork. Use your judgement on whether they would just "do it all for him" or whether they would actually take it seriously. If they take it seriously, this means he will spend less time getting anything he wants and more time learning to do something practical.

Help him develop a moral compass. This only makes sense if he respects you and is open to ideas from you. It is certainly a big part of the reason I turned out OK. Teach him to respect others and care about others, to respect possessions and money and the environment, not by preaching to him but by helping him discover the importance of these things for himself.

Embrace his identity. Of course you should try to help him become a healthy, functioning person. But don't see who he is as something that needs to be "fixed". He may always feel most comfortable when he can tell other people what to do and get things just the way he wants them, and this could make him a brilliant manager or leader one day.

  • No way for me to tell how you turned out, but your description of yourself doesn't indicate "spoiled". There doesn't seem to be any significant harm done to your character. Getting everything you could want doesn't qualify as spoiling in and of itself. The remainder of your answer helps explain that. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 10:33

If you cannot convince the grandparents to stop spoiling the the child (the real solution), and you cannot keep the child away from them (the backup solution), you've put yourself in a very difficult position. Accordingly, it should be unsurprising that the solution is equally difficult.

You are going to need to focus on that which cannot be spoiled. Spoiling provides "things," where the end goal is the entire value. You will need to provide your child the opposite end of the spectrum, where life is about the journey, not the destination. For example, instead of suggesting the child get the chair as a solution to their problem (of not being able to get something), suggest that getting the chair is a journey, and whether or not the task is finished, it will have value. For example, you may later use the chair wherever the child left it to accomplish something the child wants, and draw attention to it.

There are two aspects which make this very difficult. One is that you need to be able to cleverly choose what journeys you suggest such that their needs (and many of their wants) are satisfied, no matter how far down that journey they went. Ideally their needs are always met, and their wants are met if they do their best. This is not trivial -- people spend lifetimes learning to do this. The second aspect is that this creates a very bipolar environment for the child, one part where everything is about the destination, and one part where everything is about the journey. You will have to help the child bridge the gap between them. The right way to do this will be very dependent on both you and the child, so nobody can tell you the right way to do it.

However, if you want a child that doesn't behave spoiled when their family is, in fact, spoiling them, that's the path to take.

Its quite a journey! Make sure that, if you go down the path, you are happy with it even if the child ends up spoiled anyways. That is the destination, after all.


First, a quick commentary on the gifts:

Whether $30/week for enjoyment (a new toy, or whatever) is too much, or not, is not something I'm in a position to say. My parents considered themselves to be quite wealthy, and that was more than I received. However, I do imagine that a king likely provides a prince with things with a higher amount of financial value than what many other parents do. Does that mean that a prince is doomed to be an awful person? Well, maybe historical precedent suggests a high likelihood, but I believe that people can choose to be good people. Today, inflation makes $30 less than it was, stuff is cheaper, and most of society has more "stuff" than older generations. Case in point: I was horrified at a Christmas present of a cell phone, because as a 19 year old I knew of the dangers of high cell phone bills, and didn't want that responsibility. But last night I saw a teacher tell a new class that all cell phones should be placed on desks, and it looked like every one of the 15 year olds had a cell phone on their desk. Expecting current young society to do things that were only sensible in my era would be an unfair comparison.

I'm not feeling in a position to offer a blanket judgement that applies to all circumstances, and so I cannot advise you on what is actually right (since the asked question did not offer more specific details).

Of course, the question covers details beyond just the financial amount of a weekly present, so let's look at...

The plan

Talk to the grandparents.

Have a plan of what you would like to see happen from that conversation. After all, you're bringing up the topic/conversation, so make sure you can lead the conversation if needed.

However, don't come with a plan of which expectations of yours you want fulfilled.

Apparently they did a successful enough job with their son that you decided to marry him. It just might be that the grandparents may know a thing or two about parenting. They may also have some views that might not work as well with today's current younger society, or with you and your culture/background/beliefs in the household. If they are planning to just repeat their prior success in the exact same way that they did it before, that might not be the way to do it. However, don't just blindly plan to rule out all of their experienced opinions before discussing what it is that they think they are doing.

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    Hi, thank you for your answer. I was trying to be concise, but now it seems relevant to mention that my stepson has a younger sister who they do not spoil and she is doing fine. This is a repeat of how they raised my husband and his brother. My husband's brother was the "golden boy" and he is unbearable. I saw him yell at his parents (he is almost 40) because they bought him a DVD and it wasn't 3D. He never had a girlfriend and has no friends because people can't stand to be around him. He spends most of his time with his parents barking orders at them, but they still think he walks on water.
    – bewildered
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 20:48
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    That new information changes the situation so much that I think you should add it as an edit to your original question. This means it's not an issue of spoiling so much as an issue of favoritism. That's a whole different ballgame.
    – naomisl
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 20:56
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    My husband doesn't think it's favoritism, just a feedback loop. My husband and stepdaughter like doing things on their own, so they reject any doting and that makes them stop. Brother-in-law and stepson are responsive to being spoiled and so the parents-in-law keep escalating the spoiling and it's a vicious circle.
    – bewildered
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 21:08
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    I suppose they could have chosen which to dote on based on early personality, but this could just as easily go the other direction as well, with the non-golden child becoming more self-sufficient out of necessity. Either way, it's still blatant favoritism. And even though the sister seems fine, she is still learning that a huge differential in how people are treated is ok. It isn't. I don't know if spoiling is always worth a confrontation with grandparents, but I do think favoritism is.
    – naomisl
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 20:04

I just read an article (Helsingin Sanomat 2016-03-03) about "ten new commandments of raising a child". The article was based on the research by Carolyn Webster-Stratton of the University of Washington. I'll translate some of the most relevant parts, you might be able to get the rest using Google Translate (or you can just ask for clarification).


"Usually the starting point is that the child must change. Here we accept the fact that when a grown up changes their behavior, the child's behavior changes too."

The underlying idea is that a child uses bad behavior to get attention. If they do not get it, they eventually stop the bad behavior. According to Karjalainen, many of their quirks can be ignored, such as complaints and fooling around at the table.


"You don't ignore the child, you only ignore their bad behavior. (...)"


The 10 new commandments of raising a child:

1. Pay attention to good behavior

Do not nag about bad behavior at the table. Instead compliment them when they sit still for a while.

2. Play with the child every day - and do it right

When a child gets attention from a grown up with good behavior, they won't try to get it with bad behavior.

3. Praise them a lot and targetedly

The bigger the behavioral problems, the smaller things you should compliment them about, like kindly waiting for something. The rule is to focus on the good.

"Good girl" is a vague compliment. "It's great that you hang your coat" is a focused compliment.

4. Reward success

A sticker chart is a good tool. Good behavior yields a sticker, and enough stickers earns a reward. It could, for example, be an extra bed time story, movie night together, a selected box of cereals, a picnic or a visit to the swimming hall.

5. Give little orders but give them right

Give only one order at a time, allow time for completing it, and be specific with the orders.

6. Ignore the child

Childrens' most common motivation for bad behavior is to get attention from a grown up. Even negative attention is rewarding for the child.

A child must really be convinced that the grown up just does not notice the behavior.

Ignoring works best when applied to one or two bad behaviors at a time. Not all bad behavior can be ignored all the time. The child must be explained that from now on parents will ignore this or that bad behavior completely.

7. Point out that actions have consequences

Before a consequence you give the child a warning and a chance to choose good behavior.

Consequences may not produce shame or pain. They must be executed kindly.

8. Encourage problem solving

Teach the child that all problems have multiple solutions from which the best one should be chosen.

9. Teach the child friendship skills

10. Teach the child to control behavior, not feelings

All feelings are allowed, even if some feel nicer than others. Don't mitigate their feelings by saying "don't cry" or "don't be mad". Teach them how to behave when they are sad or angry.

Again, I did not come up with these "rules", but I read about them in this article and just translated some of the highlights here. The article makes sense to me and I feel you could apply its lessons in your situation.

  • Good rules as far as they go. I'd add a few critical ones, e.g., don't lie to the child, both parents must act consistently, and more. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 10:38


I'm not able to find a definitive definition for what a "spoiled child" is, but by common usage it's a child, who acts in specific manners, not consistent with his or her age. I.e., a teenager who throws a tantrum because his or her parents don't accede to his or her desire for the latest and greatest gadget. By analogy, a parent or grandparent who spoils a child is one who acts in such a way as to contribute to this behavior.

That being said, you can "give a child everything" without "spoiling them." The key is for the child to understand that he or she is not entitled to the toys/gadgets/whatever and to ensure that your child knows what behavior is expected of him, what the consequences are if it's not forthcoming, and to follow through on that. This is the way we've raised our children. My wife and I were discussing it last night, and we rarely say "no" to our children (now teens). However, when there is bratty behavior, we do enforce the consequences. As a case in point, several months ago we grounded our younger son, which included confiscating his phone while he was at home and severely restricting his contact with his then-girlfriend. We have not had to do this a second time.

What you and your husband need to do is discuss the issue with his parents and with a united front. You appear to already be one up on most situations of this type I've seen--your husband already sees your child's behavior as inappropriate. Frequently when one sees this behavior, it will be the parent who (at least initially) views the child's behavior as appropriate and the step-parent who views it as inappropriate.


Based on the OP's comment to this answer, it appears that the issue may be more favoritism than simply spoiling the child (as observed by another commenter with whom I happen to agree). This is even less acceptable.

We had this issue with our children. My wife has one sibling, and during their childhood my mother-in-law would play favorites in order to keep them at odds with each other (the favorite varied). She continues to do this today. She also began doing this with our two children--i.e., she would consistently send our older son gifts for his birthday (or even at random), but would never send them to our younger son. It got to the point where, at age 6 or 7, when another birthday rolled around without a gift from his grandmother (after his brother had received a nice gift a few months earlier), our younger son burst into tears, begging to know, "Why doesn't my grandma like me?" Our solution was to contact her and tell her to either send gifts to both of them or neither of them; she responded by sending one gift to our younger son, then stopped sending them altogether.

Whether your stepdaughter seems to or not, she notices that brother gets all the gifts and she gets nothing. And yes, at some level it almost certainly bothers her. You need to stop this behavior for your stepson's sake (look at your brother-in-law to see where it can end up). But you also need to stop it for your stepdaughter's sake.

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    Hi, Doug, and welcome to the site. :-) Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 19:05
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    Welcome to the site, Doug! Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 15:39

Since we can't seem to stop my stepson from getting spoiled, is it at all possible to stop him from being spoiled?

Yes, it's just harder. Consider focusing on gratitude as a response to receiving an unearned gift, and humility at recognizing that the gift is unearned. Teaching him to say thank you and provide gifts in return (just drawings or service might be enough at this stage) might be helpful. Performing service for others, particularly outside the friends/family circle, and perhaps with a focus on those who live without the great blessings this child has could provide significant perspective.

The other day, he wanted something he couldn't reach, so he screamed for me to come and get it for him. When I suggested that he get a chair to stand on (which was a foot away from him), he burst into tears and insisted it was "impossible" for him to get it himself. Gentle encouragement like "I know you can do it, just give it a shot!" just seems to make him more upset.

He's at an age where you should consider teaching him that he doesn't always get what he wants. While he cannot understand it now, how he responds to adversity will largely determine how he manages later failures in life.

As such, in this example I would suggest acknowledging his feelings first, and then providing guidance that leads him to determine how and whether to accomplish the task himself, but not direct assistance, nor even an immediate solution.

I'm sorry you can't reach that toy. That must be frustrating. I'm not going to get it for you, but I wonder if there's a way you might be able to reach it yourself?

Asking questions in a directed manner will hopefully lead him to understand that he can solve this problem himself. If he chooses not to do so, point out the consequence:

Ah, well if you can't move the chair and climb on it, I suppose you're not going to be able to play with that toy. I'm sorry you're disappointed about that. What are you going to do now?

The last question suggests that he take action, rather than simply shutting down. Further questions might give him suggestions on some other activity that doesn't require the toy.

Eventually, though, he will step outside his comfort zone, perform the action he previously required your assistance for, and you will need to specifically praise him and his actions if you want to encourage him.

Wow, you solved that problem yourself! Good job!

Then another time he's facing a challenge rather than simply telling him you think or know he can do it you can point to previous successes:

I know this seems difficult, but remember when you reached really high while standing on a chair to get that toy? You did it, and just like then, even though this is hard/scary you'll succeed.

This is harder than just doing the thing for him, but the long term consequences of his current emotional dependence are significant enough that it's worth the time.


When I think of 'being spoiled' I conjure to mind images of people expecting a quality of life that is out of sync with the normal ability to obtain.

I wouldn't describe your child as being spoiled. The disturbing issue here is his failure to perform simple tasks, which is unrelated to the cost of a weekly gift - the value and access to which would create the 'spoiled' attitude.

To answer the question, yes you can spoil a child (based on your means) and still have an environment in which the child does not behave as if he/she was spoiled. Spoiled children do not have GRATITUDE and have UNREASONABLE expectations. So, simply encourage the appropriate traits, and voila!

Far more disturbing is the grandparents' behavior. Perhaps family counseling among them and your husband would help. I'm guessing the issues here are deep, but unintentional.

  • When a child is so used to getting everything he demands that he throws a tantrum every time someone doesn't buy him something or do something he screamed for, I definitely call that both spoiled and ungrateful. I'm wary of the term myself because it sounds insensitive and I don't think it's his fault and I don't think it makes him happy, but I would definitely say that's the definition.
    – bewildered
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 17:12
  • "And Violá!" I really wish it were that easy! :-) Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 19:18

No, a spoiled child will act spoiled, of course.

Based purely on your description, this child seems to have been deprived of even basic life lessons on decision making and consequences. The examples of poor behavior you describe are much like what a toddler might do. This philosophy might be the one I would apply with this kid:

"If this child were two years old, how would I handle the situation?"

This would mean going over basics like making choices and accepting the positive and negative outcomes, going to bed when it's time, not getting your way when you are acting ugly, etc. Unfortunately, you'll be faced with a big difference in physical size and strength. When a two year old kicks and screams, gets defiant, even throws things, it's manageable. With a nine year old it will be much harder. If he can overpower you, you have a serious problem.

Also, it appears that you have no choice but to contain the developmental damage. Since you are certain that the grandparents' coddling, and not anything else, is the principal cause of this, and the grandparents are resolute in not changing their behavior, you as parents must protect your child from them.

If your description is the truth, I see little choice but to cut off all access to the grandparents.

Apparently this will be a departure from cultural norms and cause damage to one or both of your careers. This is less important than your child's ability to function as an adolescent and adult. And if you really are convinced that the grandparents are to blame, and that this is a threat to your child's development, you may even need to move away from them, so that time and distance separate them.

But I don't think all the blame can necessarily be placed at the grandparents' feet. Not sending your child to visit the grandparents so much would impact your jobs? This in itself is a serious problem. Maybe it's not the grandparents after all, or not entirely, and maybe you should seek professional counseling and find out what's really going on here.

  • Hi, thank you. We are working to extract ourselves from dependence on them, but it's a long term project unfortunately. So I'm trying to figure out what we can do in the meantime. Husband had kids when he and his ex were very young and hadn't even had their first jobs, so they did the best they could with their situation.
    – bewildered
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 7:06

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