“Mommy, I want that video game. Josh has it and it is so much fun.”
“Dad, I just have to have Nike sneakers. The others aren’t as good.”
“Mom, I need to go to the movies tonight. All the kids are going. It’s a really cool movie.”
An endless stream of sophisticated and unrelenting media entices children to continue to want things they believe they must have. It’s a parental duty to teach children, over time, to control their impulses, to develop judgement, and become less egocentric. You can do this by helping them differentiate between needs and wants, by teaching them the concept of “enough,” and by encouraging them to become empathetic.
Why Do Parents Spoil Their Children?
Sometimes you may play into your children’s hunger for material objects for any number of reasons.
• You may not be entirely clear about your own values with regard to material things.
• You may fall prey to the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ frenzy we all live with.
• You may have a sense of not being satisfied with what you yourself have.
• You may want your children to have the things you missed out on when you were a child.
• You may be ambivalent about setting limits. You don’t want your children to be disappointed or frustrated. And you want them to like you.
• And, of course, it’s a pleasure to give to your children.
While all of these motivations are understandable, they make it more difficult to teach children gratitude and learning to appreciate what they have.
It is tempting to want to make your children’s lives easier and to protect them from disappointments, frustrations, failures and mistakes. But as Dan Kindlon states in his book Too Much of a Good Thing (2001), we can’t protect our children from the pains of growing up. “Money and material things can’t protect our children from the discomforts of maturation and it can’t buy them character either.” Children need to learn responsibility, to delay gratification, to tolerate frustration, to cope with failure and disappointment.
What Can Parents Do?
There are many things you could consider doing so your children develop the skills and attitudes to help them avoid being labelled as “spoiled”. You can teach children important life skills that will set them on a course of appreciation, moderation and responsibility. Some suggestions:
• Set limits and say “no” when appropriate. For example, “No, it doesn’t work for me to have Sarah sleep over tonight.”
• Help them to delay gratification by not giving them everything they want. For example, “No, we don’t have time to stop for ice cream tonight.”
• Don’t make things too easy for them. Allow children to experience frustration in appropriate doses. For example, “I know learning to tie your shoe laces is hard, but I know you can do it. I can talk you through the process as you try it one more time.”
• Let children experience a moderate amount of disappointment and then teach them how to deal with it. For example, “It is disappointing you weren’t invited to Billy’s party. Is there something else you want to plan for that night?”
• Teach them how to make amends when they have hurt someone. For example, “You knocked down your brother’s tower that he worked all day to build. What can you do to make him feel better?”
• Hold them accountable for their behaviour. For example, “Even though your teacher didn’t post the assignment online, you are still responsible for finding out what is your homework.”
You can raise children who appreciate what they have, learn to give back, and develop skills that help them accept responsibility and challenges. Then you can feel good “indulging” them a bit by giving things to them on birthdays and holidays and all through the year, knowing that they will show gratitude and appreciation.
(Audrey Krisbergh is a US-based Certified Parenting Educator — www.centreforparentingeducation.org)