This season is all about gratitude—giving thanks for the things we appreciate. But what about when we can’t get our kids to mumble a simple “thanks” for the DVD we just bought them, or for cleaning their room? Is it possible that they’re a little bit…spoiled?
I think we all sometimes wonder how this happens. They started out so sweet and innocent, tightly swaddled in their hospital blankets, and now we listen to them pitch a fit if they can’t get that designer handbag or stay up late shooting aliens on a screen. We always wanted “the best” for our kids — but this certainly isn’t what we had in mind!
The sad truth is, while our parental intentions have been good, we are part of the problem.There’s not a big “undo” button we can click, but here are seven key steps we can take to un-spoil our kids.
1. Teach contentedness 101. When kids are truly grateful for what they have, they don’t constantly demand more. Kids of all ages can learn gratitude by practicing ways to say thank you, giving thanks in gratitude rituals and serving those less fortunate. Kids who begin to appreciate how good they have it will lose the spoiled attitude, and feel happier for it.
2. Take the “gimmee!” out of gifting. Consider setting gift ground rules for your family, and manage expectations for a simpler season. For instance, commit to three gifts each (symbolizing the gifts presented to Jesus by the Wise Men), or stick to “something I want, something I need, something to wear and something to read.” You can also consider giving handmade gifts or coupons for time and talent to immediate family. Not only will these be more meaningful than another plastic action figure, but they will show kids that a present doesn’t have to have a price tag to be worth something.
3. Invest time. You’ll be treating yourself and your kids if you take the focus off of “stuff” and instead put an emphasis on one-on-one time spent together. Believe it or not, they want your undivided attention even more than the giant cardboard castle they’ve been asking for. When your kids consistently get one-on-one time with you, you’ll strengthen emotional connections and gain greater cooperation. What’s more, kids will learn that happiness comes from spending time with those you love — not the mall.
4. Go ahead: disappoint. You know how you would rather visit four stores and shell out big bucks for the “perfect” toy than face your child’s disappointment when she unwraps it? Well-meaning parents often desire to make the world a perfect place for our kiddos, whether we’re buying them a smartphone against our better judgment or cooking two different meals every night. Unfortunately, when we smooth out all the bumps, kids get used to an easy ride without life’s little disappointments and they lose out on the valuable lessons hardship can teach us (resilience, perseverance, resourcefulness). But what to do when they pitch a fit? Be brave: ignore it. Pretty soon, your kids will learn that they can survive life’s little disappointments, not to mention the fact that a tantrum isn’t going to help.
5. Split the spending. We all know money doesn’t grow on trees — or in our wallets — but do our kids understand? Opening our wallets for all our kids’ demands only teaches them that they can have what they want when they want it — the definition of spoiled. Instead, dole out an age-appropriate allowance every week as a teaching tool and require that all non-necessary spending, like toys and movies with friends, come from their piggy banks.
6. Hand down responsibility. Spoiling our kids doesn’t always involve things — in fact, all too often it comes from doing tasks for them what they should do themselves. From tying their shoes so we can rush out the door, to completing housework our kids are perfectly capable of helping out with, to approaching the physics teacher about a grade, we do the heavy lifting while our kids look on. The problem is, even though we mean well, we teach them that they are entitled to a “free ride,” and that someone else will do the work for them. Un-spoil your kids by training them in age-appropriate responsibilities, and then expecting them to keep up their good work. Remember that even though your kids won’t get it right all the time, they’ll grow a lot more by giving it a try than they will by sitting on the sidelines.
7. Rule the rules. One hallmark of spoiled kids is that they believe the rules don’t apply to them. We often give them this impression by failing to clearly communicate consequences, or not following through on the consequences we’ve put in place. While making a change is as simple as setting up age-appropriate consequences and sticking to them, I know that’s not easy. Start small by picking one misbehavior you’d like to change and tell your kids, “Toys in the living room need to be put away by dinnertime. Any toys left out at that time will be put into a box in the closet for one week.” The more you follow through, the better your kids will learn to play by the rules.
These seven steps will go a long way toward un-spoiling your kids, and preparing them for a real world that won’t do their laundry for them. And wouldn’t that be a holiday gift your whole house could enjoy?