Learning to walk the line between blessing and spoiling your children

Mom, can I get a candy bar at the check out line…spoiling your children

Dad, I have to get that new video game. Jimmy has it and it’s awesome…

But if I don’t get those new clothes then I won’t dare show my face at school…

Can I have $20? My friends are all going out tonight and I spent all the money I had…

If you have kids then you have probably heard some of these questions at one point or another. So what do you do? Most parents want their children to be happy and to have good things. But where does “blessing your children” turn into “spoiling your children”? When we say yes too often at what point do we actually begin harming our child? Those are difficult questions but ones that each parent must ask.

Getting what you want

In his book,The New Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children, John Rosemond tells of an exercise he frequently does in his parenting workshops. He asks parents to take a few minutes and brain storm everything that they want. No limits. Maybe it’s a new vehicle, perhaps a trip, better TV, new wardrobe, you name it. Whatever comes to mind.

He then asks them to go back through that list and realistically check off which ones they feel are reasonably likely to be achieved in the next 5 years. The average for all the people in his seminars is around 15%. If they are fairly wealthy then maybe 25%.

Now here’s the kicker. The typical American gives their children 75% of what they ask for in any particular year.

The problem is we are teaching our children to become accustomed to a material standard that is completely unrealistic for what they can hope to achieve as adults. Worse still in most cases they get these things through no work or sacrifice on their part. Is it any wonder that when they grow up they often have difficulties managing their money and find themselves deeply in debt?

Learn to frustrate

Rosemond says the answer to this problem is parents need to learn to frustrate their children. The key is a very short word that has almost disappeared from our language. That word is “No”.

  • No, you can’t play that video game right now, you need to do your homework first.
  • No I won’t buy you that thing you want, but here is some work you can do to earn the money to buy it yourself.
  • Sorry, I gave you your allowance for this week. If you’ve spent it all, you are just going to have tell your friends you can’t go to see that movie on Friday night.

Helping kids mature

The ability to postpone gratification is the mark of maturity. – Sigmund Freud

Helping your children to learn to delay desires is a critical step in the development of your child. While every child is different and for some this is easier than others, I think this is a learned trait. It doesn’t come naturally for us, but it is vital if your child is going to mature into a healthy adult.

Spoiling your children

I think in many cases this is as much a learned activity for the parents as it is for the child.

Sometimes the child knows just the proper level of whining that will get what they want. As parents we are often tired, over worked and sometimes it’s easier to just give in. We aren’t doing ourselves any favors though as we are teaching our children how we can be manipulated.

Sometimes I think we give our kids what they ask for in what is really an attempt to buy their love. This can especially be a problem in families that have been touched by divorce.

Most often I think we just love our children and get joy in seeing the smile on their face when we give them what they ask for. As difficult as it is (and I am speaking to myself on this one) we must understand that we are not really helping our children when we give in. We are really harming them in the long run.

At the core of the debt problem

I have been thinking about this lately and I really wonder if this issue is very much at the heart of the debt issues we have as a society. We have a generation that really hasn’t learned the meaning of the word no. Credit cards have contributed to the problem. Access to easy credit allows us to avoid the need to say no. If we want something we just pull out the plastic and we can have whatever our heart desires. And so we continue until we are drowning to the point we have to change.

All this is not to say you should feel guilty about saying yes to your kids’ desires. Sometimes it’s fine to give them what they want. Sometimes. Just make sure that you aren’t creating unrealistic expectations that will cause them real problems when they are on their own someday. Make sure they learn to work. Make sure they learn to save. Make sure they learn that sometimes they need to sacrifice what they want, in order to give to those less fortunate. Make sure they learn that they can’t always have everything they want. And even the things they can have may require work, savings, and patience before they can get it.

If you do these things, your child may not be happy with you today, but someday when they are happy, well-adjusted adults they will thank you.

How do you achieve the balance between occasionally blessing your child without crossing the line and spoiling them?

Photo credit: Namlhots (creative commons)


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