There’s this certain cry that children do that makes a parent feel that if they don’t give that child exactly what they want, they will surely suffer from paralyzing pain. If it’s not a cry, it’s a look, all bright-eyed and bottom-lipped, that demolishes your defenses and makes you completely forget anything your little one has done wrong. As I see my thirties anxiously approaching, I am surrounded more and more by friends who are falling victim to that cry or that look. As the holidays approach they break their backs working overtime to afford Christmas presents so that their kids can live the holiday fantasy sold by Macy’s and Target commercials. Instead of implementing a routine of rewards and consequences, some children are being taught that any and everything is worth celebrating and regardless of what behavior they choose to display, in some way they will be recognized and rewarded. I’ll never forget a student I once had who received a party bus celebration to the Jersey Shore, despite the fact that she had been suspended from school several times during the year. When I asked how she managed to pull off still getting a Super Sweet Sixteen type of bash despite her disobedient behavior, she and her girlfriends responded, “But it’s her Sweet Sixteen!?”
In some ways, I understand the want for parents to provide their children with a lifestyle they’ve never experienced. Some single parents, especially burdened by the guilt of a “broken family” feel the need to make up for the absence of the other parent, and end up overcompensating for this absence materialistically ignoring the reality that all the Air Jordans in the world can’t replace an in-the-flesh father. What some parents fail to realize is that by buying and doing everything for their children, even when they are young, they are doing them a huge disservice in the long run.
I can appreciate that my parents raised both me and my sister with a healthy balance of comfort, work ethic, and responsibility. We had nice things and never had to worry where our next meal was coming from or fear being embarrassed by our clothing. But we also witnessed how hard our parents worked for all of the nice things we possessed and we had a decent understanding that our behavior had a direct influence over any “extras” we received.
It’s important to encourage your children’s independence and allow them to make mistakes because this is how they learn to make positive decisions and navigate the real world without you. It troubles me when I see mothers out job-seeking for their teenagers and filling out job applications on their behalf, but it explains why we have a generation of young adults who don’t know how to write a check, fill out a form or advocate for their wants and needs.
Many parents spoil children out of worry that their children will hold resentment or not love them if they don’t give them everything they want. They fail to find a balance and either give their children everything they ask for or giving them nothing at all.
So where do you draw the line between attending to your child’s wants and needs and not getting taken advantage of? It’s important to realize that children are needy by nature. You are not spoiling your child by showing them affection; there’s no such thing as too many hugs and kisses. A big part of being a nurturing parent is comforting your children when they are upset or in pain, feeding them and playing with them. You shouldn’t substitute these basic duties with money or material items.
Think you may be creating a monster? Here are few clues that you are spoiling your child rotten:
1. You’ve sacrificed all of your “you” time so that you can spend every second with your child.
It’s true that when you become a parent, your children become your top priority but your own well-being should rank high in your priorities as well. You shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting some alone time away from your kids to relax and regain your sanity. If you aren’t a healthy individual, it’s almost impossible to be a healthy parent.
2. The only time you touch your child is when he/she cries.
By restricting your affection and attention only to times when your child is crying or misbehaving, you are teaching your child that the way to get your attention is to disobey or make a lot of noise. Hugs, kisses and encouragement should be abundant and unconditional in your household. Children shouldn’t feel like they have to earn your love.
3. You anticipate your child’s every request.
You’re a mother, not a waitress. Preparing a brown bag lunch or having dinner ready isn’t the same as giving your child pizza every night because they won’t eat anything else or continuing to do your 17-year-old’s laundry. You’re the parent and it’s your responsibility to teach your child responsibility, compromise and independence. In the real world they won’t always get their way or have someone to fulfill their every request. Don’t start these bad habits at home.
4. You don’t allow your children to do anything for themselves.
With independence comes self-control and discipline. As your child grows older they will gain more privileges and should understand these privileges come with responsibility. When you’re cleaning up your child’s room, doing their laundry and running to clean up every mess, you’re handicapping your children and sending the message that privileges and no responsibility are a natural part of life. My mom would’ve never filled out a job application for me. How can you trust you child with the responsibility of maintaining employment, when they couldn’t even get up to look for the job? You may be your child’s first teacher, but I believe experience is still the best teacher.
5. Your child incessantly whines, hoards belongings and has difficulty sharing.
The world is filled with situations where we have to learn how to work well with others. A part of building social skills is learning how to manage conflicting personalities, compromise and listen to others.
6. Your child has no regard for the comfort of those around him/her.
Anyone in a household has an obligation to the well-being of family members as a whole. When a child has no respect for the comfort of others, they begin to harbor false expectations for the world to revolve around them.
7. You have a belief that your child can do no wrong.
Don’t be the parent who assumes that the teacher is picking on your child because there’s no way your baby was disruptive in class. Unconditional love is not the same as condoning bad behavior. Having your child’s back is not defending their actions when they are wrong, it’s being honest with them and letting them know when they’re out of line.
8. You’re inconsistent with discipline.
It’s been a long day and the last thing you want to deal with when you’re trying to quickly pick up dinner is a temper tantrum. Instead of dealing with the situation effectively, you buy the toy he/she is hollering about so you won’t be embarrassed or even more frustrated. Remember: If it’s easy for you as the parent, it’s probably not the best discipline technique. You may have saved yourself a headache for now, but you’re really just contributing to a pattern that if your child screams loud enough, he/she will get whatever they want.
What would you consider “spoiling” a child?
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee.
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