Changes in the socio-cultural and working environment in recent decades have paved the way for the emergence of some dysfunctional behaviours in children.

One of the sets of attitudes and behaviours that most concern parents is that of the child who becomes the undisputed master of the family , submitting the other members of the family to his or her demands and whims.

Do you know ‘Emperor’s Syndrome’?

Educational psychologists have already called Emperor’s Syndrome the ’emperor children’, who choose what food to cook, where the family will travel to spend the holidays, the television channel they watch at home, the times to go to sleep or to do different activities, etc.

In professional contexts, Emperor’s Syndrome is called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

To achieve their purposes, they scream, threaten and physically and psychologically assault their parents. It could be said that their maturity level in the area of empathy (that ability to put themselves in the other person’s shoes) is underdeveloped. For this reason they do not seem to be able to experience feelings such as love, guilt, forgiveness or compassion.

Entering the Mind of the Authoritarian Child

This phenomenon has been called ‘Emperor’s Syndrome’, since emperor children establish behavioural and interpersonal patterns to privilege their whims and demands over the authority of their parents or guardians. Whoever does not abide by the child’s imperatives is a victim of scandalous tantrums and even aggressions.

The violence that children exert towards their parents, learning to control them psychologically, results in getting them to obey and comply with their wishes. This characteristic in the personality of the children has also received the denomination of “dictator children”, because of the unquestionable dominion that they exert in the family womb.


Emperor children are easily distinguishable: they often show personality traits that are typical of egocentrism and have a low tolerance to frustration : they do not conceive that their demands are not met. These traits do not go unnoticed in the family environment, let alone at school where their demands may be less satisfied.

They are children who have not learned to control themselves or to regulate their own feelings and emotions. They have the expertise to know the weaknesses of their parents, who they end up manipulating on the basis of threats, aggressions and fickle arguments.


Although some research has tried to elucidate the genetic causes of this syndrome, the truth is that there is a great consensus among the scientific community that Emperor’s Syndrome has causes of psychosocial origin . This points to the decisive influence of the change in the work and social model, a factor that has repercussions on the quantity and quality of the time that parents can dedicate to their children.

Many educational psychologists and psychopedagogues have stressed that one of the parenting factors that can lead to the child acquiring Emperor’s Syndrome behavioural patterns is the short time for parents to educate and establish norms and limits to their offspring. Economic needs and the unstable labour market do not offer tutors the necessary time and space for upbringing, causing a guilt-type educational style, and being prone to consent and overprotect the children.

A lack of affective family habits is also often observed in these children, neglecting the need to play and interact with the children. Socially, one of the problems that serves as a breeding ground for childish egocentric behaviour is the ultra-permissive attitude of adults towards their children.

  • You may be interested in reading this post: “10 strategies to improve your child’s self-esteem”

Differentiating between Authority and Authoritarianism

The prevailing educational style decades ago was based on authoritarianism : parents who shouted, who dictated orders and who exercised punitive control over their children’s behaviour. In a way, for fear of falling back into that style that many suffered in their own flesh, the current educational style has turned towards the opposite extreme: the ultra-permissive .

That is why it is important to remember that authority is not the same as authoritarianism: parents must exercise a controlled and intelligent degree of authority, in a healthy way and in accordance with the educational and evolutionary needs of each child.

The culture of anything goes : the ethics of hedonism and consumerism

When we talk about education and educational styles for our children, we must remember the crucial influence of the moral values of society as a whole, since this superstructural form of shared ethics will foster certain vices and/or virtues in the child’s attitude.

Today’s consumer culture abandons hedonism and the need for leisure and promptness as inalienable values. This clashes with any kind of internal or external imposition of responsibility on one’s actions and with the culture of effort. If these values are not well managed and redirected, children wrongly learn that their right to have fun or do what they like can override the right of others to be respected, and they lose the notion that rewards require prior effort.

Family and school education

Doubtful parents who exercise a passive and lax education , neglect to establish reference frameworks for their children’s behaviour, always allowing them to respond, giving in to their blackmail and even being victims of verbal and physical aggression.

The education system is also saturated. While parents have already relinquished all authority, teachers are forced to set limits for children who have been brought up to disobey and defy them in pursuit of their demands. It is the case that teachers who try to set standards are met with disapproval and complaints from parents who do not consent to anyone exercising authority over their children. This reinforces and strengthens the child emperor’s attitude.

The child emperor in adolescence

During adolescence, emperor children have consolidated their behavioural and moral patterns , being unable to conceive of any kind of external authority that would impose certain limits on them. In the most serious cases, they may even assault their parents, a complaint widely reported in police stations and increasingly frequent. In fact, it is the mothers who bear the brunt, who suffer, comparatively, the greatest proportion of aggressions and humiliations from their children.

Building Good Education from Childhood

Professionals in psychology, psychopedagogy and mental health agree that it is essential to build a solid foundation in the education of children. In order to educate future healthy, free and responsible children, adolescents and adults, it is necessary not to renounce setting clear limits , allowing children to experience a certain degree of frustration so that they can understand that the world does not revolve around their ego, and to gradually inculcate in them the culture of effort and respect for other people. Only in this way will they be able to tolerate frustration, commit themselves to their objectives and strive to achieve their goals, becoming aware of the value of things.

For more information on practical tips to avoid having an emperor child, we recently published this article:

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A psychologist tells us about Emperor’s Syndrome

Vicente Garrido , prisologist and criminologist from the University of Valencia, offers us his professional vision of child tyrants in a complete interview with EiTB.

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  • García Galera, Mª del C. (2000). Television, violence and childhood. The impact of the media.
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  • Pinker, S. (2001). The instinct of language. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.