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Adorable Child Syndrome

Several years ago I got this email from worried parents. “My 6-year-old son is an exceptionally bright, attractive, witty, friendly, absolutely adorable child. But he is ‘full of himself’ and getting quite conceited. He also acts bossy and even mean to his friends who come over to play so they go home. I am beginning to think all the positive attention he got from us, relatives, and teachers has had a bad effect.”

This week I got two very similar emails, one about a 9-year-old boy; the other, a 5-year-old girl. We are having an epidemic of the Adorable Child Syndrome!

These kids are so irresistible that all grownups are attracted to them. They are so verbal and witty that every cute saying is repeated over and over again until these children think everything they say is golden and that they can say nothing wrong.

Whoa! Wait until such a child tells a peer something like, “I’m the smartest kid in the world! You have to listen to me and do what I say!” A quick morph from Adorable Kid into Obnoxious Kid Nobody Wants to Play With!

Yes, parents, we can overdo the praise. We can inadvertently give our offspring the sense that they are absolutely wonderful, so great in fact that they don’t have to worry about how they behave toward others. Studies have shown that adults give more positive attention to cute kids and tend to ignore unattractive ones so the Adorable Child gets more attention from everybody: teachers, waitresses, checkers at the market.

I have long cautioned parents about overdoing praise especially global, continuous praise like, “You are so smart!” or “You are so adorable!”

Praise should be meaningful and specific and deserved. It should be used to provide the child with feedback about praiseworthy behaviors to encourage them in the future. Praise should not lead to a swollen ego.

It’s easy to see how the over-such a child praised Adorable Child comes to think he or she is the most important person in the world and that all the other kids should do this kid’s bidding and put up with the blatant egotism.

What do you do if your offspring is suffering from The Adorable Child Syndrome?

Actually there’s not much the parents can do until the child realizes what it means when peers don’t want you around. Adorable children have a good deal of learning to do about how we get along in the world and their peers will be their teachers. When all the kids go home or refuse to play with them, hopefully their bright little brains will eventually connect the way peers treat them with their own behavior.

The parent’s role is to 1) Cut back on the praise. 2) Act as an interpreter of how the world works when your child asks, “Why won’t they play with me?” But don’t say too much. Better the child figures out as much as he or she can. You might answer, “Kids don’t like to be bossed around or told you are the smartest.” Then stop talking.

A child might say, “But I AM smart! Everybody says so!” The best response is, “Yes, but I know you want to have friends so you will learn to stop talking about how smart you are.”

When my boy twin grandson was 5, he answered a word problem in math correctly and quickly. I said, “Right answer! You are pretty good at math concepts!” He stretched his arms way out and proclaimed excitedly, “I’m this smart and Hannah (his twin) is only this smart!” moving his hands together. I had to choose my words carefully so that my praise for his accomplishment would still have meaning but he would realize that you don’t have to put somebody down to feel up. “You and Hannah are exactly the same smart. People are good at different things. Hannah is good at drawing and you are good at word problems.” I restrained myself from saying that if he bragged the other kids wouldn’t like him. Some, if not most, lessons are better learned by experience than from preaching.

The child acts mean and the kids all go home? Quietly explain that nobody wants to play with mean kids. The child cries piteously because all the kids avoid him or her? Ask why the child thinks this is happening? Make your comments and observations short, matter-of-fact, and impersonal–don’t get emotionally involved. Say things only once and wait for the wheels to turn so the child will ask another question or realize that he or she has some behavior-changing to do.

Don’t feel guilty because your child is adorable or you fell under his or her spell–it’s very hard to resist the charms of an adorable kid!