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How to end spoilt brat syndrome

The Times, London, UK, By Alexandra Frean October 24, 2005

Far from being kind, overindulgent parents can be a danger to their children – but help is at hand to avoid the pitfalls, says the author of The Pampered Child Syndrome

SHE has had her first sexual encounter and made her first suicide attempt; she takes drugs and stays away from home for days at a time. She is 13 years old.

You might think this teenager is the product of an abusive family background and a turbulent upbringing, but she is in fact a much-loved child of well-educated and considerate parents who have always given her everything. And that is her problem. She is suffering from pampered child syndrome.

But help is at hand. In The Pampered Child Syndrome published on Thursday, Maggie Mamen, a clinical psychologist from Canada, argues that well-intentioned, permissive philosophies have produced a generation of children who believe they are entitled to the same rights as adults but who are not ready to accept grown-up responsibilities.

Rather than blame the parents, however, Dr Mamen has devised a ten-point plan aimed at helping them to regain control. Her starting point and inspiration is not the psychiatrist' s couch but the boardroom table. “Parents need to think of themselves as the management team. They are the managers and the children are not.

“The children are not the ones sitting around the boardroom table and that needs to be made clear. Children will learn to be managers one day, but for now they are the trainees,” Dr Mamen told The Times. Once this has been established, parents need to set out their policies. “You might start out with something like, ‘In this family, education is important and we have to respect each other' . Children like to know where they stand and setting out your policy makes it clear,” she said.

Dr Mamen uses the language of the management consultant not because she want to strip all emotion out of family life, but because the business analogy helps to inject some logic and neutrality into what are usually highly charged situations. “When you are working in an emotional situation it helps to use pragmatic words. I find that parents really like the use of the words ‘control' and ‘manage' , especially the dads.”

Dr Mamen also draws inspiration from the world of politics, encouraging parents to adopt the “Trudeau approach”. When asked in 1970 just how far he would be willing to go in eroding civil liberties with his anti-terror policies, the Canadian Prime Minister replied, “Just watch me!”

“Even though we know that we cannot make anybody do anything they really don' t want to do, we should never under-estimate our own abilities, or at least our children' s belief in our own abilities,” Dr Mamen said. The trick is not to blink first.

A major theme underlying Dr Mamen' s book is that parents need to believe that they have the right to act without their children' s consent. “Children need parents to be willing to act unilaterally so that they feel safe and secure under their protection,” she said.

If parents do not do this, she said, the consequence could be far Read More ..rious than the odd spoilt-brat temper tantrum but could lead to the kind of behaviour described at the opening of this piece. Or worse.

“If we fail to recognise the behaviours of overly pampered children and to identify the contributing factors, this may sometimes lead to over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders and the prescription of inappropriate and potentially dangerous treatments,” she said.

As to whether children suffering from really serious pampering can ever fully “recover”, Dr Mamet, was cautious. “You can get rid of spoilt brat behaviour most of the time. But sometimes the effects still show in adulthood. You see these people in the workplace; they feel put out to have to show up and do things that they might not really want to do,” she said.

WHAT PARENTS SAY
 WHAT SPOILT CHILDREN HEAR

We want our children to be happy and comfortable

I should always be happy and comfortable. When I experience loss or failure, or feel sad, upset, frustrated or disappointed, someone should make me feel better

We want our children to be stimulated and enriched

I should only be asked to do things that are stimulating and enriching, not things that are tedious and boring. In fact, if it' s not interesting, I won' t do it

We want our children to make their own choices

No one should tell me what to do. I should be allowed to make up my own mind

We want our children to be treated equally and fairly

I should be treated the same as adults. If they can do it, I should be able to do it too

We want our children to be included in family decisions

Adults should not make any decisions without consulting me first. I should be part of the management team

STRATEGIES TO COPE WITH A PAMPERED CHILD

Say what you mean, state the obvious
 “Bedtime is nine o' clock,” or “I will not stand here and be spoken to like that”

Non-verbal behaviour management
 Silently removing a child' s plate at the end of a reasonable time for a meal speaks Read More ..lumes than nagging her to hurry up

Clarify the difference between advice and command
 “I' m telling you, not asking you,” may sound harsh, but it shoots straight

Decide what you want to teach
 Rather than teach children not to do things, teach them what to do. Concentrate on a few behaviours, such as doing homework without having to be reminded

The “Trudeau” approach
 When challenged with the phrase “You can' t make me,” quote the former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, “Just watch me!” Don' t blink first

The Godfather approach
 Make an offer they can' t refuse. “Switch the TV off when I tell you and you may be allowed to switch it on the next time — or I will switch it off, in which case it will stay off for a week”

Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.