Let’s face it: It’s easy to spoil children. You want them to be happy and, thus, you’re willing to shell out for electric mopeds and giant teddy bears in an effort to put a smile on their face. It’s a good way to assuage guilt too – Sorry that Mommy spent sixty hours at the office this week; here, I bought you the Hope Diamond. It makes way for peaceful trips to the grocery store and, naturally, saying yes is a lot easier than saying no.
But, as well intentioned as it may be, giving your children the world sets the stage for them to become spoiled brats (which comes with its own set of challenges). This is especially true if you buy your kids things simply because they beg, whine, and demand; you want to reinforce positive behaviors, not “why did I have children?” ones.
This isn’t to say that buying gifts or treating them to chocolate sundaes from time to time is bad; it’s not. Yet the trick is to find balance between healthy rewards and teaching your kiddo that the world revolves around the sun instead of them.
So, how to unspoil a child? There are several ways you can do this, including:
1. Stop Apologizing
There are times in parenthood when you should absolutely apologize to your kid. Did you hurt their feelings? Say you’re sorry. Were you wrong about something? Say you’re sorry. Did you overreact to something minor? Say you’re sorry. But you don’t need to show remorse because you didn’t buy your child everything they want.
In fact, not apologizing for attending a dinner with friends instead of taking your child to the zoo or refusing to buy them a fancy jacket they want for middle school helps teach your kiddo one of life’s most important lessons: Disappointment is part of the program. This isn’t to say you should merely tell your child “no” and be done with it. Instead, empathize with the disappointment without focusing much on what caused that disappointment (for example, telling them that you understand why they’re sad about not getting a new jacket and that you know it’s nice to wear cool things). And then consider a compromise that is more budget-friendly or realistic.
2. Tame the Tantrums
Aw, a screaming, crying, irrational child – is there any better advertisement for birth control? There is no way around it: Tantrums come with the territory, but that doesn’t mean you are doomed to a life of people staring as your child has a meltdown in the middle of Target. There are things you can do to tame the ‘tude!
The most important thing is to stand your ground: Giving in to a tantrum shows your child that crying and yelling are effective ways to get what they want. Instead, stay as calm as possible and, if you’re in public, usher your child off to somewhere private. If you’re somewhere you can ignore your child (such as your house), do – just make sure they’re not in danger.
3. Promote Positive Outlets of Expressions
Children aren’t exactly the best people for emotional regulation; they wear their hearts on their sleeves and their moods can dramatically change because you poured their cereal into an orange bowl rather than a green one. Consider this when dealing with an unstable child (it’s true, they’re all unstable in some way).
One trick to teach your child is to take deep breaths when they’re upset, count to ten, and recognize that they need a minute to calm down. Kids are not born with coping skills; it’s up to parents to teach them.
4. Fight Peer Pressure
Children are the masters at reminding you that every other mom and dad is nicer. They’ll say things like, All the kids at school have these shoes or I’m the only one at recess not wearing a new outfit. There’s a few things you can say in response to this, including inviting your child to talk about it and why it’s important to them to be the same as all the others. If there’s an item your child really wants, you can also suggest that they add it to their birthday list or use their own allowance money to buy it.
Of course, it’s always possible that your child covets something that you don’t want them to have (But all the boys in fourth grade have pocketknives!). If this is the case, tell your child that different moms and dads have different rules and provide an explanation as to why you have the rules you do.
5. Maintain Boundaries
Sometimes, parents start to reward their children proactively, giving them a treat ahead of time in hopes they’ll behave. If you’ve ventured into this territory, it’s time to break the pattern. One way to accomplish this is to figure out when your child is exceptionally demanding – Do they refuse to eat their dinner? Do they insist on 23 hours of screen time a day? Do they want to stay up until four in the morning?
Next, come up with a realistic consequence in the event your child refuses to listen. For example, if they refuse to put down their screen, tell them they’ll lose their electronic privileges for next day. Make sure the consequences are age-appropriate and that your child understands what’s at stake. Make sure your spouse understands it too; if kids can play one partner off the other, they will.
6. Patent Patience
It’s hard for kids to practice patience (heck, it’s hard for adults to practice it too). Particularly in this touch-screen world of instant gratification, having to wait can feel a little bit like nails on a chalkboard (if not entirely foreign). Holding off on treats helps your child practice discipline, appreciate the treats more, and understand that not everything comes with the press of a button. Back in our day, we walked uphill both ways through a blizzard just to get to the toy store.
One way to do this is to encourage your child to save up their own money to purchase something they truly want. But, what’s more, they should see you do this too.
7. Swap out Stuff for Words
Sure, children don’t exactly put “encouragement’ on their Christmas wish lists. Yet sometimes words carry more weight than tangible items. If your kid hits a winning home run in the baseball state championships, let them hear you acknowledge that their hard work has paid off; this can mean more than a new bike or a twenty dollar bill to honor the occasion.
Not only that, but a kid who gets a present each time they do something well begins to lose their natural drive to accomplish things: If there’s not a gift involved, they’ll grow disinterested. And you definitely don’t want that.
8. Emphasize Empathy
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel for them; it’s an extraordinarily important part of emotional intelligence. Children who learn empathy are more giving and caring. You can help emphasize this by showing your child how to read facial cues and gauge the feelings of others. You can praise them when they show generosity as well.
9. Grab onto Gratitude
Gratitude does more than teaching children how to be thankful. It encourages good manners, critical thinking, and kindness toward others, too. One of the easiest and most common ways to foster this is through the lost art of thank you notes; if someone gives your child a present, have them write a thank you note, draw a picture, or make a call. You might also consider a daily habit of asking everyone in the family to name something they’re most grateful for at dinner each night. This can change the entire family’s perspective and help them focus on the positive.
10. Show them the Way
As everyone knows, kids learn through observation. That means you are their greatest teacher. If you approach projects and time together with an upbeat, helpful, and enthusiastic attitude, they will too. Likewise, if you moan and groan and stare at your phone, so will they.
Everyone acts a little spoiled from time to time, including adults. But the above tips and tricks can help keep entitlement to a minimum rather than making it a matter of routine. The key, like so many mom and dad things, is to be consistent. In other words, don’t buy your six-year-old a corvette convertible……..no matter how many times they ask you.