It’s Easy to Dote on Your Kids: The Alternative to the Spoiler

Is your daughter’s closet filled with clothes that she has yet to wear? Does your child’s playroom resemble that of a Toys R Us store? As a parent, it’s imperative to manage a balance between spoiling your child, getting the essentials, and buying token items here and there. Of course, you want to be generous with your children and share the abundance that life has to offer, however teach your children that it’s important to give, and not just to get. Instill family values to ensure your kids grow up respecting others, giving back to the community, and don’t keep coming back to mom and dad for money!

First of all, sit down with your spouse or a trusted friend or family member and make a list of the meaningful characteristics you want to impart to your children. If honesty is at the top of your list, then help them learn to develop that trait by smoothing out the way for them to tell you the truth. It takes courage to fess up, so don’t try to trap them in a lie, and be quick to affirm them when they tell the truth. Be firm on honesty but gentle on your children. If kindness is a worthy trait for you, create a family slogan: “We’re the Stern family and we’re kind.” It gives your children a sense of belonging to uphold important family principles. Your kids will be watching how you treat others, so model for them what you want them to learn.

Plan family projects that reinforce your family values. As a family, talk about organizations, programs and people in need. When my daughters were young, we talked about what we wanted to do together as a family to help others. Small children can have wonderful, imaginative ideas and thoughts that spark their sense of generosity. They’ll feel respected if you listen attentively and take their contributions seriously. It also gives them a sense of pride in being part of a family that acts together.

In age appropriate ways, be open with your children about how to consider costs and how you make decisions about what to buy, both for yourself and for them – model self-restraint and moderation. You can’t expect your kids to develop common sense if you don’t show it yourself. Say no to extravagant purchases so they learn to emulate your logic and temperance. It can be okay to splurge on occasion, however make sure they know that the situation is special, only happens on occasion, and is more than likely, well deserved by the recipient.

Without burdening them or making them feel fearful or insecure, talk with them about how you work to earn the money you live on, how you save, and how you invest for your future and donate to causes you believe in. Explain why this is important.

At home you can give them a base for solid, healthy values, but realize this will constantly be threatened as they grow older and increasingly interact with a world taken over by consumerism. Media and advertising bombard us all regularly, so we—and our children—are constantly being intrigued by the bigger and the better. Convey to your children that there is more in life than buying and spending – like your family, the community, and the planet.

Peer pressure is heavy in the younger years, and kids commonly feel inadequate if they don’t have the latest in fashion or technology to show off to their peers. When their friends are buying the next level up, it’s important to talk with your children about the deeper values of compassion, generosity and integrity. Advise them not to be sidetracked into believing they are more valuable if they own the newest brand. Give them examples of people who have left an enduring mark on the world. Anne Frank. Mother Teresa. Martin Luther King. Impress upon your children that it was because of what these people gave to the world, that they made a difference.

By: Joanne Stern, PhD. Author of: “Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life”