How to Un-Spoil a Child


After researching this difficult aspect of parenting, I kept on having flashbacks. Yes, you guessed it, I am guilty of such behavior. And, even in my grandma status, I'm willing to change so that my adult kids can continue growing into more mature and responsible individuals.

orphan girl charity israel 103.jpgToday, many parents have the habit of trying to save their children from certain circumstances.  This is really a short-term gain for their immediate protection, but it's actually a long-term pain. We wind up training our kids to be helpless decision makers. After some online research, here are some alternative ways to re-train and re-phrase your adult parenting language for your children’s behaviors.

Instead of:

  • “Let me take that for you.” Allow you children to ask you to help before you save them.
  • “Don’t do that honey, you may hurt yourself.”  Is it a safety or health issue? Can they decide the degree of difficulty?
  • “I’ll let it go this time.”  Every time you let it go, you show that you will bail them out and they won’t have to live with the consequences of their actions.
  • “I just picked up your…” Let children handle things, pick up toys or clean their room. Experience is messy. Let them learn from experience.
  • “It started to rain outside, so I brought in your…” If you do this once, okay. If you do it twice, you have set up an expectation. If you do it three times, congratulations – you now have a new job.

orphan girl charity israel 105.jpgMore parental coaching language to be conscious of using:

  • “What possibilities do you see?”  Promotes thinking, helps children alternatives.
  • “What have you thought of so far?”  Lets children know you see them as problem solvers and promotes a search for solutions.
  • “You are old enough. Come on, I’ll show you how.” Your job is to teach them how. Their job is to do it.
  • “See if you can do it.”  This approach makes you dispensable, not indispensable.
  • “Ask me if you need help.” If you help before they ask, they won’t learn how to ask.

orphan girl israel charity 106.jpgMost American children are being treated like royalty and are treating their parents like serfs.  It may sound dramatic, but according to a Time and CNN poll, 2/3 of American parents think their kids are spoiled.

The problem does not stem from the amount of toys, electronics, clothes, sporting equipment, and TVs that kids have; it’s the way they treat their parents.  Or is it the way parents treat them?  Most parents have been manipulated into tying their kids' shoes, cleaning up their toy-littered rooms, and buying them expensive electronic gadgets in response to whining.

If we don’t resolve to be tough, it’s easier to just do what the kids want. What will happen when they’re young adults, of course, remains to be seen. But, we already have an idea of what lies ahead. Colleges complain that students can’t do anything without their parents coaching them via cell phone.

As American parents, we are in the midst of this dilemma. Unspoiling our kids does not come naturally.  Ironically, making kids work takes work.  Then again, having self-sufficient, respectful, helpful kids is too good of a thing to come easily.

shutterstock_192991727.jpgHow did we do it? Here are three of our strategies:

1.  Have goals for your money

Not everyone is living on a tight budget where spending less is a must, not a should. Often, parents raising small children live on one salary, yet their mission is to give their kids a comfortable life, while not going into debt. That can only be done by living simply and being resourceful. It's not always easy to say “no” to small luxuries, but when there is only one salary, there are limits. Having a goal (buying house, for example) is a mission – those limits must be enforced. Finally buying that house and earning two salaries, budgets can be loosened. But to avoid sliding into spending money just because one can, people need to set new goals: renovation of the home, saving for retirement and college funds.

Having clear financial goals helps keep people on track — and when they talk to their kids about those goals and how we prioritize spending — it’s easier for them to say “no” to little extras that eat away at our bank account and fill their lives with clutter.

Example: A child puts 50% of his/her allowance into savings, 10% into charity giving.  40% of their allowance can spent as they like.

2.  Begin an allowance plan

When kids have their own money, begging is reduced to almost zero.  Once kids learn how money works, their discretionary spending comes out of their allotted amount.  “Can I please, please, please have this sparkly, pink pony?” can calmly be countered with, “If you want to spend your own money on it,”  and that’s usually the end of that.

3.  Adopt a household chores system

Asking kids to help unload the dishwasher every now and then does not work. Irregular requests are highly resisted. However, a system of assigned tasks leaves little up for debate.  A good start is having each child getting themselves ready for school and bed on time.  A list of tasks (brushing teeth, packing lunch, straightening up the room) must be completed in the allotted time. An X on the chart is equal to going to bed early that night, whereas smiley faces add up to occasional prizes.

For everyday family needs — like setting the table, straightening up common areas, and entertaining little ones before dinner — kids are assigned days of the week.  During house cleaning and laundry chores, parents and kids can divide tasks. 

These systems don’t just happen naturally, of course.  In the old days, when manual labor dominated daily life and goods were costly, children were an essential part of the family economy.  Nowadays, asking children to help, or saying “no” to something we can easily afford, seems almost quaint.  But bringing up children that can take care of themselves, help with the housework, and entertain themselves without grabbing their parents' iPhones is a beautiful thing. A famous parenting author says, “kids need to feel needed in an essential way” Maybe today’s child-centered parents would feel better about setting limits if it were for the child’s good. It's also good for parents!
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