Child Development Stages: Is it the Terrible Twos or the Demands of a Spoiled Brat?

“I want more juice!” demands Eric, Ashley’s four-year-old son, from the dinner table. Ashley politely replies, “Please don’t talk to me like that. Say ‘please.’”

Then Eric starts to whine, “But Mom, I’m thirsty! I want more juice!” Ashley tries to be patient and says, “Honey, I know, just say ‘please.’”

Now Eric’s whining becomes an ear-piercing scream. He throws his fork, shoves the table and stomp his feet. Frightened by Eric’s outburst, Ashley quickly gets him a glass of juice and says “Okay, okay. Calm down. Next time please ask nicely.”

This incident is only one of hundreds Ashley has endured. Eric is constantly pushing Ashley to her limit by being demanding and acting like a “spoiled brat.” Ashley has tried everything. There have even been times she’s spanked and used time-outs, but Eric just gets more demanding.

Ashley is ready to give up. She wonders if her son is becoming a spoiled brat or will ever learn to behave. She’s out of options for how can she control his behavior.

Do You Wonder If Your Child Is A Spoiled Brat?

Dealing with a demanding child can be frustrating, embarrassing, and discouraging. You may feel like you’ve tried everything, maybe even physical punishment. The crying and whining quickly wears you down, though, so you have just given in.

Well don’t give up yet! There is hope and a solution; it just takes time and a few minor adjustments to what you are doing.

What Causes a Child to Become a Spoiled Brat?

While the causes of your child’s demanding behavior may vary, based on the child development stages , whether children become a “spoiled brat ” is usually determined more by your response to the demanding behavior.

When you look at the child development stages, you’ll see that most children under the age of three still have tantrums or outbursts.

At two-years-old, your children may just be frustrated they can’t verbally communicate. You can use distractions and help your children verbalize their feelings at this age.

When your children are three-years-old, they use demanding behavior to test their limits. It is during these formative early years that children learn whether their demanding behavior will “pay off” or not.

After age two- or three-years-old, demanding behavior, tantrums, whining, may be signs that your child is becoming “a spoiled brat.”  (Take a Spoiled Brat Screening Quiz to see what your situation might be.)

How to Avoid Creating a “Spoiled Brat ”:

There are some parenting practices that reward demanding behavior and almost certainly contribute to creating a spoiled brat. Interestingly, they come from both extremes of the parenting style spectrum — mostly being too permissive, but sometime also being too controlling. (Want to know what your parenting style is? Take the Parents Toolshop® Parenting Style Quiz.)

Avoid These Over-Controlling Parenting Practices

  • The “because I said so’ approach. Children need a logical reason and they see this as you controlling them, which in return, may escalate a power struggle.
  • Using physical force. This shows your children that it is important to be in control and they may use this approach towards you or their peers in the future.

Avoid These Permissive Parenting Practices

  • Putting your child’s needs first and tolerating rudeness. If you don’t treat yourself with respect or allow others to treat you disrespectfully, children believe the world revolves around them and their wants (not their needs). They will not only be more demanding, but will go about getting what they want in disrespectful, rude ways.
  • Rescuing, preventing children from feeling unhappy or disappointed, or making excuses for their behavior. Children need to know how to handle disappointment and situations that don’t go their way; that’s what prepares them for real life. And when children’s behavior is excused away, they aren’t held accountable and think they can get away with anything.
  • Reflecting your children’s feelings during a tantrum. While reflecting feelings at other times is very skillful and helpful, to do it during a tantrum gives attention to negative behavior, which and can actually reward the tantrum. Next time, they may escalate their behavior until you have to pay attention again. Keep your children safe during a tantrum, but otherwise communicate with them when they calm down.
  • Using bribes, incentives or rewards, especially to stop tantrums or whining. Bargaining for your child’s good behavior makes you look weak and gives them even more power. Plus, they’ll expect to be “paid” for every good behavior, instead of doing something because it is the right thing to do.
  • Giving in to whining or the “gimmees.” This teaches your children that if they continue their bad behavior long enough, they will get what they want. Stand firm and be consistent.
  • Setting limits or revealing consequences, but not following through. This teaches children you don’t mean what you say and that they won’t be held accountable.
  • Reasoning too long or seeking agreement. This can lead to you going on and on and does not address the real issue of their original defiant behavior. State your explanation once or twice, and then follow through.

What TO Do To Stop Demanding Behavior Problems in Children:

Although it may seem hopeless, there are solutions to get through these tough child development stages and help you prevent “spoiled brats” behavior. All of them are in the Balanced parenting style, not the extremes.

  • Always model respect and expect respect. Be firm and kind. Acknowledge your children when they say or do something respectful, without “rewarding” them.
  • Reflect on your children’s feelings before setting limits. Say, “I understand you feel…” and then state your expectation by saying, “… and I expect you to tell me in a calm, polite way.”
  • Avoid or stop power struggles by giving choices with limits, such as, “We are only getting gifts for your cousin Johnny today. You can help pick out his gift or stay close by and calm while I shop.” The choices are acceptable to both of you; in other words, it’s not “you can choose to do what I want or be punished.” That’s a threat that happens to use the language of choice. Children will see through that and know they are still being controlled. If you need to discipline, see the next point.
  • Let your children experience the consequences of their choices. Their behavior is a choice. Teach them acceptable behavior and the value it has. Reveal consequences for inappropriate behavior. When they choose poor behavior, either allow natural consequences to occur (they’ll happen if you do nothing) or follow through with respectful, effective discipline in a matter-of-fact, non-punitive way. Say, “If you choose to (the misbehavior), I’ll know you’ve chosen to (the discipline.) If a privilege is being removed, say, “I’ll know you’ve decided to give it up” instead of “I’ll take it away.”)
  • Disengage and remove yourself from the situation, if you need to. This is not giving up or giving in. Your attention and power is what feeds their demanding behavior. Remove it (your attention) or you and the child can’t manipulate you. If your children have been destructive in the past, plan ahead by having a safe place for your children to go. Discuss with your children appropriate ways for them to release their anger away from others.
  • Respond immediately with choices, consequences, and follow through. Remember your children are testing your limits, so don’t beg and plead before setting firmer limits. If this is a new approach, your children’s behavior may not change right away or may escalate before improving. You’ve given in, in the past, so they may try to see how far they have to go get you to give in now. Stick with the game plan. Your children will eventually adjust and it will be for the better.
  • Keep everyone on the same page. Inform grandparents, daycare workers, teachers, babysitters and everyone who is involved in your children’s life of the “game plan” and ask them to be consistent. This consistency will help your children transition into the new limits and they can begin to transform their behavior in all situations.

Remember that children actually like consistency, structure, routine and rules (despite their protests at times.) They show you care and help children feel secure. So while they may balk at first, loving, consistent, yet firm follow-through is essential.

It may seem hard at first or that it will take a long time to see change. If you make a commitment to yourself and your child’s best interest, in time (less than you’d expect) you will see the change in you, then a change in your children. No one likes a “spoiled brat,” so you and your child will be glad you took the time and effort to help them become better people.

For more tips and solutions to help you cope with demanding behavior during your children’s developmental stages and more information about The Parent’s Toolshop® and its unique Universal Blueprint® problem-solving system, get the 7 Keys to Parenting Success ebook. You will be less frustrated, respond more calmly and feel more confident in any parenting situation. The best part is the ebook is free!  So what are you waiting for?  Sign up now!


Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop and president of Parent’s Toolshop Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30 years’ experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. She has interviewed many parenting experts on her Parents Tool Talk radio show and is a parenting expert columnist for Chic Mom magazine. She has produced almost 100 multimedia resources, which are available at her award-winning website, 

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