This expression is used to describe spoiled children who are allowed to do and get anything and everything they want, when they want it.
A child is born a little emperor
First of all, it’s important to know that all children are born as little emperors. In other words, they are convinced that they are at the center of the universe. Your child’s upbringing will either keep him a little emperor… or not!
Babies cry and yell to let you know that they want their needs to be fulfilled immediately. As parents, you understand this behaviour. However, growing up, your child should understand that he cannot have everything he wants. But to understand it, your child needs adults to establish clear boundaries and limits.
From 2 to 4 years old, children go through an intense period of impulsivity that most parents find hard to deal with. From a little baby asking for hugs and needs his parents, he becomes a child who asserts himself, yells, pushes, hits and stomps his feet whenever he isn’t happy. Many parents are discouraged by this sudden change of personality and wish they could go back to a smooth and peaceful living. The tricky part is when parents start wanting to buy their child’s peace! In the long haul, the child will remain a little emperor and keep thinking that he is at the center of the universe if the parents don’t set boundaries.
Gilbert Richer, a well-known psychologist who has written on this subject, has chosen some examples of situations that can either amplify or influence the little emperor phenomenon:
Work/family balance: Parents try to compensate their lack of time spent with their children by giving them everything they want. Many parents also don’t want to spend what little time they have with their children doing some discipline.
Fall in the birth rate and only-child: Because families have fewer children, and many only have one child, this child becomes the parents’ only interest. Only-children have a sense of sharing and tolerance to frustration that is less developed than children with siblings.
Late childbearing: Whether it’s because parents planned on having kids later in their lives or whether an unexpected pregnancy occurred years after having other children, late childbearing is an element that influences the attention and overprotection levels towards a child.
Teenage pregnancy: Some mothers go through motherhood in their teenage years, after having gone through a difficult and unstable childhood themselves. Most of them tend to give their child everything they weren’t given growing up.
Single parenting and stepfamilies: Children who live with one parent at a time, in shared custody, see their negotiation opportunities multiply. Many of them turn to the other parent when they have been told “no” by the first one. As for single parents, they usually feel overwhelmed by having to look after the kids and provide for them alone. These parents often go easy on discipline and family rules, and in doing so, stop meeting their children’s needs for boundaries.
To prevent…and heal!
If your child is in his crucial 2 to 4 years old period, now is the time to establish a family discipline. It doesn’t necessarily mean being overbearing, but finding a balance between firmness and flexibility. Establish clear rules and boundaries that your child needs to respect, but let him experience feeling independent and free to discover without having you refuse everything systematically. Here are some examples:
Zachary loves looking in closets and drawers. His parents have forbidden him to do this in certain rooms of the house, but have reserved a special drawer in the kitchen (filled with plastic containers) and a closet in his bedroom (filled with stuffed animals) just for him so he can empty them out and fill them back up as he pleases!
Sarah refuses to put on the clothes her mother has chosen for her, and it results in tantrums every morning. Her mother has started choosing the clothes with her the night before. Her mother lets her choose between two outfits. Sarah chooses the one she prefers and has to wear it the next day. Her mother has the difficult task of not budging and reminding her daughter that she chose the outfit.
Victor has tantrums in public when he wants knick-knacks. Now, his parents inform him before running errands that they will say no to knick-knacks, but that he will be able to choose the cereal box at the grocery store. With time, Victor will understand that what his parents decide is final, and the tantrums will slowly diminish.
What if he is already a little emperor?
If for one of the reasons mentioned above, your child has become a little emperor, know that not everything is lost! However, your child will have to go through a difficult aggressive and impulsive stage because he has never gone through it since all of his demands were instantly fulfilled by his parents. You will have to deal with a child who will throw tantrums and strongly oppose himself to the limits you are trying to install. By being convinced by the reasons that motivated you to change, your child will understand that you are doing this for his well-being and out of love of him.
Many community organizations offer workshops for parents who want to talk to specialists and other parents about subjects related to daily family life, discipline and child behaviours. Get more information by contacting your region’s CLSC.
Education-coup-de-fil can also be a great help for parents who are overwhelmed by their child’s behaviour. It is a free and anonymous service that provides professional counselling by telephone. In addition to online services, this organization offers workshops, conferences and coffee meetings on subjects related to parents’ concerns.
- The 1-2-3 Magic Workbook for Christian Parents: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas W. Phelan PhD and Chris Webb MS MA (Jan 2011)
- The Well-Behaved Child: Discipline that Really Works! by John Rosemond (Oct 2009)
- Positive Discipline for Preschoolers: For Their Early Years--Raising Children Who are Responsible, Respectful, and Resourceful by Jane Nelsen Ed.D., Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy (Mar 2007)