In a world where we’re en­cour­ag­ing our chil­dren to aim high, are we cre­at­ing a gen­er­a­tion who don’t care about oth­ers enough? Gail Short­land in­ves­ti­gates

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‘When chil­dren see adults be­hav­ing like di­vas, they in­ter­nalise it and be­gin to use it to achieve suc­cess’

As the pho­tog­ra­pher po­si­tioned his cam­era to start the fash­ion shoot, eight-year-old Jessica pouted and turned her back to the lens. Her mum, Sarah, rushed for­ward to see what the prob­lem was. Usu­ally when Jessica got the chance to model through Sarah’s PR work she en­joyed ev­ery mo­ment, pos­ing for the cam­era like a pro­fes­sional. But this time she was one of five chil­dren in a group shot and she wasn’t happy. “I don’t want my pic­ture taken with her,” she snapped, point­ing to the girl stand­ing be­side her. “She shouldn’t be here, she’s ugly.”

Mor­ti­fied, Sarah, 33, tried ev­ery­thing she could think of – flat­tery, bribery and then angry whis­pers – to per­suade her youngest daugh­ter to take part, but Jessica re­fused to be coaxed.

“Jessica acted like such a diva and I was so em­bar­rassed,” Sarah re­calls. “She was so jeal­ous that she wasn’t get­ting all the at­ten­tion. But then when the com­mo­tion was over, she stepped out for her solo shot and to­tally nailed it.

“Af­ter­wards, I re­alised I ac­tu­ally ad­mire her. She knows she’s beau­ti­ful and won’t com­pro­mise. Jessica might an­noy peo­ple and lose a few friends along the way, but it’s diva per­son­al­i­ties like hers that be­come su­per­stars so maybe it’s a good thing?”

Jessica is just one of many chil­dren who are tak­ing ad­van­tage of the plen­ti­ful op­por­tu­ni­ties the UAE has to of­fer. Fam­i­lies res­i­dent here have more money to spend on their chil­dren, they’re in pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion and sam­pling the finer things in life at a younger age.

While there are clear ad­van­tages, on the down­side it also means we’re giv­ing our kids higher ex­pec­ta­tions. They’re com­pet­ing with friends for the lat­est fash­ions, must-have toys and ex­trav­a­gant birth­day par­ties.

The re­sult is Mini Diva Syn­drome – high-main­te­nance chil­dren who de­mand to get what they want, when they want and throw almighty tantrums when they don’t.

Dr Rose Lo­gan is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at Dubai’s The Light­House Ara­bia clinic (www. light­house­ar­a­, and has wit­nessed the rise of mini di­vas. “You can see this type of be­hav­iour ev­ery­where you go and almost any­where in the world,” Dr Lo­gan says. “So­ci­ety, mod­ern parenting, and cul­ture can cre­ate a per­fect storm where young chil­dren are en­cour­aged to strive for and want ma­te­rial wealth and suc­cess, with very few checks on their be­hav­iour.”

Dr Lo­gan says that Dubai, like most big ci­ties, en­cour­ages us to crave more pos­ses­sions, bet­ter cars, a big­ger house, more hol­i­days – and chil­dren are grow­ing up with the same pres­sure to be bet­ter than ev­ery­one else.

“When chil­dren see adults with such as­pi­ra­tions be­hav­ing like di­vas, they in­ter­nalise it and be­gin to use it to achieve what they see to be suc­cess or pop­u­lar­ity.”

Maryam En­san is a fash­ion and life­style blog­ger (www. style­me­jour­ who is out most evenings and week­ends cov­er­ing fash­ion events in Dubai.

“Do I see mini di­vas at events? Def­i­nitely,” Maryam says. “I see so many nine to 12-year-old girls at kids’ fash­ion events, ac­com­pa­ny­ing their moth­ers. It’s like a pa­rade some­times; girls with per­fectly done hair, wear­ing the lat­est trends, with the at­ti­tude of ‘I’m beau­ti­ful, no mat­ter what you say.’ They’re con­stantly tak­ing self­ies with mod­els or celebri­ties to post on In­sta­gram.”

Maryam says that young chil­dren here are ex­posed to lots of role mod­els and events where diva be­hav­iour is ac­cept­able and even en­cour­aged. If stars don’t get enough at­ten­tion, they just leave. Rather than be­ing frowned upon, it makes them even more de­sir­able. “But it’s one thing to be in the spot­light like Justin Bieber or Se­lena Gomez, for ex­am­ple, and make de­mands be­cause they are ac­tual su­per­stars, but com­pletely dif­fer­ent for a reg­u­lar kid.” Maryam says. “Be­lieve me, not all di­vas are pos­i­tive role mod­els.”

Dr Vanessa Bokanowski, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and psy­chother­a­pist at the Well­be­ing Med­i­cal Cen­tre in Jumeirah (www.

If chil­dren think they can have ev­ery­thing eas­ily, life will be a con­stant source of dis­ap­point­ment

well­be­ingmed­i­cal­cen­ says that all chil­dren have the ten­dency to be ‘lit­tle di­vas’ be­cause de­fy­ing au­thor­ity is their way of dis­cov­er­ing wrong from right. “Small chil­dren don’t nat­u­rally have lim­its; this comes with ed­u­ca­tion and with con­fronta­tion with oth­ers, mainly par­ents,” ex­plains Dr Bokanowski.

The sig­nif­i­cant age is around two when they reach the ‘no’ stage. “This age is cru­cial to pre­dict and pre­vent the diva be­hav­iour,” she says. “It’s the time when chil­dren are dis­cov­er­ing what can or can’t be done, and par­ents must make their chil­dren un­der­stand what is and isn’t ac­cept­able. A child will slowly un­der­stand that some be­hav­iour is wrong be­cause they’re not alone in the world – they have to in­te­grate into the so­cial and cul­tural val­ues of life.”

Dr Bokanowski says that some par­ents, es­pe­cially in the UAE, find it dif­fi­cult to give their chil­dren lim­its and this can be down to their own up­bring­ing. “Some par­ents have had very strict child­hoods and they don’t want their kids to ex­pe­ri­ence the same,’’ she says.

“Some of them had too-per­mis­sive par­ents, and they are then un­able to teach their kids safe lim­its. Or they think that by say­ing ‘no’, they will lose the love of their chil­dren – they just need to un­der­stand that, of course, this won’t hap­pen.

“If chil­dren think that they can be­come any­one and have ev­ery­thing with­out putting in any ef­fort, life will be a con­stant source of dis­ap­point­ment. Kids have the right to dream but it’s im­por­tant to con­trol their dreams by bring­ing them back to re­al­ity.”

Jessica’s mum doesn’t agree. Even though her daugh­ter’s diva be­hav­iour was dis­rup­tive at the time, she is con­vinced Jessica will grow up to be a suc­cess­ful adult be­cause she isn’t afraid to go after what she wants. She didn’t pun­ish her daugh­ter for her be­hav­iour – in fact she promised Jessica that next time she wouldn’t have to share the lime­light.

So why is it a prob­lem to al­low our chil­dren to be di­vas?

“Chil­dren with­out lim­its will de­velop be­havioural prob­lems,” Dr Bokanowski warns. “They have to ex­pe­ri­ence frus­tra­tion to be­come re­spon­si­ble adults and un­der­stand con­se­quences. If they don’t, they could de­velop a strong feel­ing of in­se­cu­rity that they’ll carry their whole life. A world with­out rules can feel very un­safe.”

Dr Bokanowski warns that a child with­out lim­its could grow up to lack em­pa­thy be­cause that only comes from learn­ing that our be­hav­iour af­fects oth­ers. “With­out em­pa­thy, they’ll meet tremen­dous prob­lems in their re­la­tion­ships, as they will try to threaten oth­ers to ob­tain what they want,” she says.

There is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing as­sertive and be­ing a diva, Dr Lo­gan ex­plains. “When some­one is as­sertive they are com­mu­ni­cat­ing in a way that meets their own needs, but also con­sid­ers the needs of oth­ers,” she says. “Mak­ing de­mands like a diva is gen­er­ally at the ex­pense of oth­ers and cer­tainly does not take other peo­ple’s feel­ings into con­sid­er­a­tion.

“All chil­dren should be able to have their needs met but be­ing a diva in­di­cates poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and an in­flated sense of self­im­por­tance that ul­ti­mately might make peo­ple dis­like or re­sent them.”

Parenting ex­pert Sue Atkins (www. sueatkins­par­ent­ing­ agrees that diva be­hav­iour in chil­dren could set them on a path to a dif­fi­cult and frus­trat­ing adult­hood.

“All chil­dren have dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties and the abil­ity to show diva be­hav­iour, but be­hind it all, fam­i­lies need to in­stil core val­ues – a frame­work for liv­ing,’’ Sue ex­plains. “As a par­ent, you need to de­cide what kind of adults you want your chil­dren to be­come and make sure they grow up with those val­ues.”

Sue says that al­low­ing your chil­dren to con­tinue be­ing di­vas will lead to prob­lems in the fu­ture. Be­hav­iour that might seem amus­ing, or be dis­missed as just over­con­fi­dence now, will be­come a lot harder to deal with when your kids are teenagers or adults in the real world, be­ing taken down a peg or two be­cause they don’t con­sider oth­ers. Set­ting lim­its is a care­ful bal­anc­ing act.

“I know it might sound silly but imag­ine your child is a sheep in a field,” Sue ex­plains. “If you have a fence around them that’s too tight, they’ll push against it with all their might and even­tu­ally burst out of it with frus­tra­tion. If there isn’t a fence at all, they feel vul­ner­a­ble and un­safe. You need a fence with enough room to move, that you can make big­ger as they grow.”

But what if we’re be­ing un­fair on our kids and it isn’t mini-diva syn­drome at all? Dr Delia Fayyad a spe­cial­ist pae­di­a­tri­cian at the Well­be­ing Med­i­cal Cen­tre, says it’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand why your chil­dren are hav­ing tantrums – of­ten it might not be down to a di­va­like at­ti­tude.

“I’ve seen so many lit­tle kids in Dubai shop­ping malls, late at night cry­ing and throw­ing tantrums,” Dr Delia says. “Some­times they de­mand some­thing and par­ents just buy it for them. The re­al­ity is, they’re tired and strug­gling to un­der­stand and con­trol their emo­tions. It’s a par­ent’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to know their child, know how much stim­u­la­tion they can take – and when to go home.”

Dr Delia says par­ents should be more tol­er­ant of frus­trated chil­dren. Par­ents need to learn how to avoid th­ese sit­u­a­tions or find ways to man­age them. “When young chil­dren throw tantrums, whether it’s be­cause they’re tired or be­cause they’re angry

at not get­ting what they want, par­ents should act the same: let them cool off, give re­as­sur­ance – but don’t give in.”

Dr Ka­trin Bain, a feel-good parenting ex­pert and writer (www. ka­trin­, agrees that you shouldn’t al­low your de­ci­sions to be in­flu­enced by your chil­dren’s be­hav­iour. “Diva be­hav­iour in chil­dren is a com­bi­na­tion of emo­tional in­se­cu­rity and learned be­hav­iour,” Dr Ka­trin ex­plains. “Chil­dren are gen­er­ally not good at wait­ing to get some­thing they want. How­ever, re­searchers at Rochester Univer­sity, UK have found that if chil­dren have peo­ple around them they can trust, they are much more likely to wait to get some­thing.”

Dr Ka­trin be­lieves par­ents can support their chil­dren in de­vel­op­ing this trust by at­tend­ing to chil­dren’s needs and by keep­ing their prom­ises – such as mak­ing sure the child gets their turn after wait­ing.

“It is im­por­tant to dis­tin­guish be­tween chil­dren’s needs and wants,” she says. “I be­lieve that chil­dren’s needs should be re­sponded to fully and as soon as pos­si­ble. But for chil­dren’s wants, par­ents should only re­spond when it feels right. A tantrum is your child’s re­ac­tion to the emo­tions of frus­tra­tion, anger or sad­ness. In­stead of re­act­ing to the be­hav­iour, help your child to process th­ese big feel­ings and find al­ter­na­tive ways of cop­ing with them in the fu­ture.”

When it comes to diva role mod­els, there are plenty for chil­dren to look up to and Dr Lo­gan is con­cerned that this be­hav­iour from Hol­ly­wood is of­ten de­scribed in a flip­pant or even pos­i­tive man­ner. “This sends out a mes­sage to chil­dren that be­ing a diva is a good thing – and the be­hav­iour is syn­ony­mous with fame, wealth, and pop­u­lar­ity,” Dr Lo­gan says. “Even toys and clothes are branded with the word ‘diva’, which fur­ther pro­motes the char­ac­ter­is­tic in a pos­i­tive light.”

But Dr Lo­gan says that no mat­ter where the be­hav­iour orig­i­nated, it can be man­aged and pre­vented by ev­ery­one who ‘par­ents’ a child, whether it’s par­ents, step-par­ents, grand-par­ents, or nan­nies. “When chil­dren are al­lowed to get away with things early on in life, they learn a pat­tern of be­hav­iour that they’ll go on to use later on in life,” ex­plains Dr Lo­gan. “For ex­am­ple, if you say ‘no’ to your child in the sweet shop but when they start to whine or shout, you give in and say ‘yes’, you teach your child that they only need to stamp their feet and shout to get what they want. Very soon that tech­nique will be used with any au­thor­ity fig­ure they come across.

Leila Es­mail, head of agency at Dubai-based model and tal­ent agency Bareface, in­sists her child mod­els are ex­tremely well be­haved and be­lieves the ex­pe­ri­ence teaches them im­por­tant life skills. “It’s rare to see a child throw­ing a tantrum dur­ing a cast­ing… and if they do, it’s usu­ally down to dis­com­fort rather than at­ti­tude,” in­sists Leila. “We al­ways try to make the kids as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble so they can be­have nat­u­rally and, ac­tu­ally, the world of child mod­el­ling teaches kids to be dis­ci­plined; to lis­ten well and be pa­tient.”

But else­where fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phers are feel­ing the im­pact of lit­tle mod­els with big at­ti­tudes. Martin* takes pho­tos for high-end chil­dren’s cloth­ing cat­a­logues in London, and finds the diva be­hav­iour is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing part of his work­ing day. “Just last week, I had an eight-year-old who re­fused to wear a coat be­cause she didn’t like the colour pur­ple, and she raised the roof with her tantrum,” Martin re­veals. “We only had the lo­ca­tion for two hours so we knew if she stood her ground, we’d just have to give in – and we did. We dressed her in clothes she pre­ferred and hur­ried through the fi­nal shots.”

When Martin sug­gested to his client af­ter­wards that he’ll not use the model again, the client agreed that she was dif­fi­cult but had a ‘per­fect look’ and he’d just have to work round it. “I’ve heard she’s lined up to do some TV ad­verts so clearly her be­hav­iour doesn’t put peo­ple off.”

On another oc­ca­sion Martin had to deal with a 10-year-old girl who in­sisted on hav­ing her face pho­tographed from a cer­tain an­gle. “She told me she wanted her best side and that she’d got the idea from her idol, the diva pop star Ari­ana Grande. I was speech­less! But what could I say?”

As for Sarah’s dream of Jessica be­ing the next big thing, parenting ex­pert Sue has some use­ful ad­vice. “It’s won­der­ful to em­power your chil­dren to be am­bi­tious, con­fi­dent, fo­cused and de­ter­mined,” Sue in­sists. “But at the same time, those qual­i­ties should also go hand in hand with com­pas­sion, em­pa­thy and kind­ness. You can be suc­cess­ful as well as con­sid­er­ate of oth­ers. It’s far more ful­fill­ing to be both!”

Chil­dren with­out lim­its could de­velop be­havioural prob­lems

Ex­perts warn that be­hav­iour that seems amus­ing now, could be­come a lot harder to deal with later

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