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How To Avoid Spoiling Your Kids

by Emily Guy Birken

No one plans to raise a child like Veruca Salt. The spoiled brat in the story Charlie and Chocolate Factory was given her every heart’s desire by her loving and over-indulgent parents—and became a gimme gimme monster who ends up being pushed down a trash chute when she won’t take no for an answer.

Obviously, this fictional child is far worse than any real case of entitlement, but Roald Dahl had some pretty sharp observations about what makes a kid spoiled: poor decisions from her parents.

avoid spoiling your kidsThe thing is, Veruca’s parents truly loved her. When she went tumbling down the trash chute, Mr. Salt went diving right after her. Loving your kids is not the issue when it comes to spoiling them—it’s about the decisions and habits you make every day.

Here are three things you can do every day to make sure your child does not end up like Veruca:

1. Let your child feel disappointment. Life doesn’t always go your (or your child’s) way, and that’s as it should be. Parents often want to shield their children from harm, but learning that disappointment, pain, and heartbreak are all temporary helps to build resilient kids (and adults). Your little one doesn’t really understand yet that she’ll survive if she never gets that American Girl doll she wants. But giving everything to her will make her fear that she can’t handle disappointment because she’s never felt it.

One simple way to put this in practice is to let your household run out of favorite groceries once or twice a month. If your milk-loving son realizes that the moo juice doesn’t magically appear in the fridge at his whim, he’ll have a better understanding that he’s not entitled to everything he wants.

2. Focus on the future, rather than the right now. One of the reasons why kids become spoiled is because it is so much easier to hand over whatever they’re screaming for rather than deal with the tantrum. While it may make this particular trip to the grocery easier, it won’t make raising your child easier overall. You need to recognize that your limits now are in investment in the future.

It’s the same way that you encourage your child to save some of their allowance or gift money for the future. If they immediately spend every cent they get, they will never learn how to resist instant gratification.

3. Make children choose. Kids as young as two years old can handle making choices between two options. Older kids can handle even more choices. Asking your child to decide whether he wants an English muffin or a bagel for breakfast gets him used to having a sense of control over his environment and life. This also helps him to develop self-regulation: when a child feels he has some choice, he won’t feel the need to break rules.

In addition, having kids live with their choices helps them to understand the fact that resources are limited and that their choices have consequences. For instance, if they decide they don’t like the cereal they picked out at the grocery store, you can let them know that they still have to finish the box before buying more.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to entitlement, the problem is not really about money—it’s about a lack of limits. Setting reasonable limits on children from the beginning and making it clear that wanting something is not reason enough to get it will go a long way to help avoid spoiling your kids and keeping them grounded.

After all, you’d hate for them to turn out like Veruca.


Published or updated January 16, 2013.
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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Antonia Rodriguez

I am a bit perplexed by this article. Of course common sense tells us that overindulged kids don’t learn to appreciate what they have, or are unwilling to work for it, etc. However, I am personally acquainted with so many examples that counter the statements made here. I have been very close for many years to people who defy the idea that spoiling ”ruins” kids’ ability to develop into successful adults. Many friends with whom I grew up were spoiled profusely, bribed with rewards, and excelled in school and now have careers, families, i.e., to all appearances are happy with their lives. Conversely, I have met people who were meticulously denied extravagances who are miserable, myself being one of them. For example, “giving everything to her will make her fear that she can’t handle disappointment because she’s never felt it.” My father made a point of making certain I got used to disappointment, and the message it implanted in my mind was ”get used to disappointment — I don’t expect you to succeed”. He missed the situations in which his support could have helped me enormously. He was also under-protective rather than overprotective; his stance on my being bullied relentlessly as a child and an adolescent was that I needed to learn to cope with it myself. The lesson I learned from this was that I was not worth the effort of his making a stand for me, which profoundly affected my self-esteem. I still feel worthless in his eyes. His intentions may have been good, but my point is that there is an opposite extreme to spoiling (and I’m not talking about abuse). I really do believe a balance needs to exist between spoiling and neglect.

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