After returning from vacation, you open the refrigerator and realize you’ve left a half carton of milk. No problem. Simple solution for spoiled milk: You throw it out.
But what happens when you come face to face with your child who’s demanding the newest iPhone, iPad or movie concept toy? It seems “all the kids at school have them,” and suddenly the “crummy old piece of junk” your child absolutely had to have six months ago isn’t good enough anymore. Now it’s no longer the milk, but the child that’s spoiled.
Don’t despair. Although the fix is not quite as easy as pouring sour milk down the drain, there are steps you can, and should, take to turn things around. The good news for parents is that spoiled children can be un-spoiled.
Keeping Up With the Joneses — and the Joneses Jr.
In the United States, and increasingly worldwide, parenting has become a competitive sport. Just as we want what our neighbors have, we want our children to keep up with their peers. Moreover, every parent wants their children to be happy. These attitudes create a “culture of yes,” an endless and escalating buying cycle of new and often expensive clothes, toys, activities, electronics, and anything else that Madison Avenue (or your child) anoints as the “New, New Thing.”
While competition for acquisition can be hot all year, the holidays pour gasoline on the fire. As children are bombarded by advertising via television, magazines, and the Internet, parents are bombarded with a barrage of “I want,” “I have to have,” and “Jamie is getting it.”
Love Means Limits
Whether you’re training your very young child or facing off with a teen, you can deprogram spoiled children. From time to time all parents have responsibilities that prevent them from spending as much time with their children as they would like. Perhaps the boss keeps you late or you miss one of your child’s soccer games. It is important to abandon those guilty feelings that may cause you to feel a need to compensate with gifts or give in to children’s demands.
Children need structure and limits. Saying “NO” is a parenting service you want to provide. By chronically giving in to your children, you actually do them a disservice — holiday time or not. Curbing indulgences, and that includes managing the inflow of gifts from grandparents and other relatives, prepares them for the real world. They come to understand that they can’t have everything they want and will be better able to cope with life’s disappointments.
They’ll Thank You For the Memories
Many parents accept and rather enjoy splurging and spoiling. They view it as a given, a tradition that is an essential part of their holiday. Traditions and rituals can change without ruining the festivities. What’s really important is memory building.
Years of research, before and after writing Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day, have underscored that children get over disappointment far faster than adults. Surprisingly, when you ask adults about their childhoods, what they remember are the things family did together or a quirky inexpensive gift they received — not the big splashy must-have of the moment. It is ironic that we hear that message over and over from the credit card companies, the industry most dependent on conspicuous consumption. But the truth is and always will be: It is those things money can’t buy that are truly priceless… and memorable.
Deprogramming the Spoiled Child: 12 Tips
- Role modeling is key. Be aware of what type of consumer you are. If you tend to buy impulsively, your children notice.
- Curb grandparents’ and other relatives’ inclination to spoil your children.
- Avoid competitive gift giving between parents who are divorced so you don’t fall into the single parent trap of trying to make up for the absent partner with gifts.
- Set limits on what you are willing to do or spend and factor in presents coming from others.
- Know your child’s passions and interests. By paying attention, you’ll be able to distinguish between when you’re being manipulated and when you’re being asked for something that will feed or nourish a child’s genuine interest.
- Point out flaws in advertising and offer reminders of purchases that didn’t live up to their claims.
- The Kid’s List: at holiday season, learn to parse between realistic and unreasonable requests. You can do this alone, with your child, or ask him to give you a revised, shortened list.
- Stand your ground even when your inclination is to weaken. You are the parent teaching your child about making choices.
- Stay calm when you say “NO.” Don’t resort to name-calling, as in, “You are spoiled rotten.”
- Hold an annual pre-holiday clean out of toys and clothing with your child to give away to charities in your area.
- If old enough, encourage your children to join you in volunteering at senior citizen centers, shelters, food banks, or religious events.
- Avoid excess. In giving to children, holiday splurging puts the emphasis in all the wrong places and encourages the spoiled child to want more.
Social psychologist, Susan Newman, Ph.D., specializes in issues impacting parenting and family life. She blogs for Psychology Today Magazine about parenting and her 15 books guide parents and help improve family relationships. Among them: The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide; Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day; Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily. Dr. Newman has appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, 20/20, CNN as well as other television and radio shows throughout the country: NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight, FOX News and NPR’s Market Watch, The Takeaway and Talk of the Nation. Her work has been featured in major newspapers in and out of the US including, China, England and Canada. To learn more, visit her at www.susannewmanphd.com.