What words come to mind when you think of a ‘spoiled’ child?
Entitled? Manipulative? Demanding? Annoying?
I’m guessing that whatever words come to mind, they aren’t particularly pleasant. It’s safe to say that society does not look kindly on pampered children.
And let’s face it – whiny, demanding, manipulative children turn into whiny, demanding, manipulative adults.
So how do we avoid ‘spoiling’ our kids? What does ‘spoiling’ even mean?
Enter Karen Skinulis of practicalparenting.ca. I attended her presentation, ‘Loving Without Pampering’ at the Ontario Society of Adlerian Psychology annual conference. I am so grateful that she has allowed me to share with you some of the information she provided during her presentation.
For starters – what’s the big deal? Is ‘spoiling’ our kids really that bad?
Turns out, the answer is yes. Pampered children:
- Develop the belief that people are there to serve them and make things easier for them
- Develop an unrealistic view of life and do not have experience dealing with reality
- Do not develop a sense of their capabilities as they have little opportunity to make decisions and take responsibility
- Can develop problems in their work, intimate relationships and within their social networks
Not exactly parenting goals of mine.
So how can we avoid ‘spoiling’ our kids?
Let’s take a look at the five different forms of pampering:
1) Giving too much service
Oh yes. This is a big one. We parents get so much satisfaction from being helpful, don’t we?! We just love feeling indispensable. The only problem with this is that by always jumping in to save the day, we give our kids the impression that they aren’t capable of doing things for themselves. For anyone wanting to raise capable, confident, independent kids this is not the message we want to be sending.
So how do we avoid giving too much service?
- Don’t do for a child what they can do themselves
We need to be aware of our children’s growing capabilities. Reaching milestones, such as climbing the stairs, drinking from a cup and dressing themselves helps our kids feel independent. As soon as you notice an increase in their capabilities, it’s time to let go. No more carrying them up the stairs, no more bottles, no more dressing them. Although it can be hard to let go of the ‘littleness’ of our kids, it is so very importantly that we let go and allow their independence.
2) Giving too much attention
I love spending quality time with my kids. What I don’t love? Pulling on my pants when I’m on the phone, interruptions when I’m trying to talk to someone at the door, or little people climbing all over me when I’m trying to visit with friends. Not only is attention-seeking behaviour annoying, but always giving attention when it’s demanded creates real problems for our kids. Attention-seeking children can develop the mistaken belief that they are only important if someone is paying attention to them. While our kids need to know that they are loved and cherished by us, they also need to learn that they are not the centre of the entire universe.
So how do we avoid giving them too much attention?
- Don’t give attention when they are demanding it
I really love this advice, though I’ve found it can be incredibly hard to follow. How are you supposed to handle a screaming toddler pulling at your pants when you’re on the phone with the plumber because the toilet exploded?! (Hypothetically speaking, of course…)
The answer? Practice, practice, practice!
Here’s what I did: ‘pretend’ phone conversations. Yep – I pretended to talk on the phone. When G would start pulling on my leg, I explained to him that I was not available and that I’d come see him when I was finished. When he continued demanding attention, I carried on with my pretend phone call until he calmed down. By the third ‘practice’ phone call he understood that I wasn’t available when I was on the phone – he would play with his toys or read his books until I was finished and then we would continue playing together.
3) Giving them their own way
This one is hard – especially in public! It is so easy to give in and let them have that extra treat if it means five more minutes of silence so you can finish getting groceries. Giving in may be easy in the moment, but in the long run always giving in creates demanding kids – and who wants that?!
So how do we avoid always giving our kids their own way?
- Be consistent
I’ve found that my kids really benefit from structure and routine. They know that all tv watching happens after nap/before supper and that asking to watch tv outside these times is not going to happen. Every time you give in, they learn that nagging/whining works. They are smart little creatures, these kids of ours. Be consistent. Be firm.
4) Giving too many things
While buying the occasional ‘surprise’ present can be fun, ALWAYS buying gifts creates a level of expectation. Kids who receive too many ‘things’ can become materialistic and hooked on instant gratification. Why should they wait for Christmas when they can get it right now?
So how do we avoid giving too many things?
- When shopping, stick to a list
If your kids see you making impulse purchases they’re going to want to do the same.
- Keep purchases focused on ‘needs’ rather than ‘wants’
If you’re finding that your kids are becoming entitled or materialistic, talk about cutting back on ‘extra’ purchases. Maybe try keeping special gifts reserved for occasions such as birthdays and holidays and see if that improves things.
You know what I’m talking about – those parents who remove all obstacles and dangers from their kids’ paths, managing their every move, even going so far as to lobby their kids’ teachers (even University professors!) for better grades. When it comes to constantly pointing out dangers (You’ll get hurt! That’s dangerous! Stay away from there!), overprotective and anxious parents pull their kids back. While we need to keep our kids safe, we also need to let them grow and experience life.
I think we all know that overprotection doesn’t do our kids any good, but how do we avoid it?
- Set them up for success
Again – practice, practice, practice! When the time comes to loosen your grip a little, prepare your kids for what to expect. If they’re ready to start walking to school on their own, go over your expectations and help them develop a plan of how to handle potential challenges – a barking dog or an unfriendly stranger, for example. By making a plan and working through different scenarios, you’re preparing them for what to expect, giving them the tools they need to handle things on their own and how to go about getting help if needed.
- Teach them to judge risk
Educate your children on what’s reasonable risk and what’s dangerous. What’s reasonable and what’s dangerous will vary from child to child based on their age, physical, emotional and intellectual capabilities. What’s risky/dangerous will also change over time for the same child – while getting up on a chair is dangerous for a baby, it’s a reasonable skill for a 2-year-old. Update your teaching as necessary.
- When they’re ready, let them go
Even though it may make you nervous, there will come a time when little Johnny is ready for the ‘big’ swing or the ‘big’ slide. When your child starts indicating readiness to tackle new challenges, try letting go instead of pulling back – you may be surprised at what your kids are capable of 🙂
So there you have it, folks!
How do you feel about this list? Are you already following most of this advice? Or are you feeling overwhelmed?
For now, we’re working on #2 and #3 – not giving too much attention and not giving in all the time. As we make some progress we’ll move on to the others.
Any advice on this list you’d like to implement with your family? Let me know in the comments or you can post to my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you! 🙂
Image Credit: David Zellaby