By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
The following advice about how not to spoil your child is inspired by the work of my dear mentor, Dr. Ben Sorotzkin, to whose work I have added some of my own ideas.
No parent wants her child to be spoiled, selfish, and demanding. Can this be avoided or resolved by reducing the number of material things we give them? How does a child get this way? How do we prevent it?
In the majority of cases a child becomes "spoiled" because, although his material needs are being met, his emotional needs are not.
This causes unhappiness in the child, and he or she acts spoiled in a desperate attempt to relieve her unhappiness and fulfill her emotional needs. Children may demand and crave toys and material things as a substitute for their emotional needs, but they don't realize that those things will never satisfy him. So how do we satisfy a child's emotional needs and thus prevent him from being spoiled? There are several important ways.
How Not To Spoil Your Child: Say “Yes” 10 percent more often.
Every child can handle a certain amount of “No’s” and needs to hear ‘Yes’ a certain number of times. If he hears ‘Yes’ less than he needs, resentment and frustration will build up and he will become demanding and disagreeable. By just saying ‘Yes’ that extra little bit we can bring him into his comfort zone and he or she will be much more pleasant to deal with. One might think that saying ‘Yes’ causes a child to be spoiled, but I find the reverse is more often true. Saying yes at limited, carefully chosen moments can be a tremendous communication of love and will go very far in fulfilling your child's emotional needs and thus preventing him from acting spoiled!
Giving too many orders frustrates and restricts children. It makes them feel angry and bossed. Would you like it if your employer came in and gave you an order every five minutes? Therefore we need to issue 10 percent fewer commands to our children. This will also again bring them into their comfort zone, preventing irritability. Paradoxically, it will make them much more likely to comply with the fewer remaining commands you do give, because since they are feeling less often bossed, they are more likely to comply. Which commands do you eliminate? The minor ones. Save your commands for important items like ‘Staying out of the street’, ‘Not hitting others’, and ‘Doing homework.’ Generally being less controlling and more flexible results in a much happier and more agreeable child. For example, let's say your child wants to climb on some rocks. Instead of forbidding it as too dangerous, allow him and stand next to the rocks for 10 minutes to catch him in case he falls. For a detailed discussion of the wisdom of reducing commands, click here.
If a child makes demanding requests and it feels like he's bossing you around, don't feel that you are spoiling him by fulfilling his requests sometimes. Giving in at such wisely chosen moments is precisely what will prevent him from being spoiled! Doing so at times empowers the child and increases his feeling of self-determination. Every child needs to get their way a certain amount of the time, and if he gets that magical amount he will be more content and manageable, but if he doesn't he will be irritable and demanding. Children are completely dependent on their parents and lack a sense of control over their lives. We remedy this by letting them be the boss at least some of the time. Please remember that it may take a few weeks of giving into the child more often for his resentment and frustration to subside, so please be patient and continue being flexible.
This doesn't mean you have to give in all the time! The point is that giving in sometimes will give your child the fortitude to tolerate it the other times when you can't give in!
That's the simple truth, children most often act spoiled when their parents are too strict, not when they're too generous!
As I've written in other blog posts, one of the ways of the fulfilling a child's emotional needs is to passionately listen to, reflect and validate his or her feelings. Never deny a child's perceptions. If she says he's hot, accept that and reflect, “Oh, you're feeling hot.” Never deny it and say, “But it's cool in here.” Give her the right to express her desires, “Oh, you really wish you could have an ice cream before dinner, I wish I could give you one.” If she's upset, reflect her feelings, “Oh, you are so disappointed and angry that your friend can’t come over, I wish I could make her come over right now!” Never deny a child the right to feel angry. Reflect, “Wow, I see you're feeling really angry. You're furious! You don't like that at all.” Recognizing and accepting feelings is emotional first aid and makes for a much happier, polite, pleasant and healthy child. For a detailed discussion of how to handle a child's feelings, click here.
Finally, we make our children less spoiled by being extremely nice to them! Wake up with a mantra of “How can I make my child's day pleasant?” Try to be gentle in every way. Harshness and strictness makes children miserable and difficult to manage. Work on a warm, supportive, parent-child relationship, which is the most important thing in any child's life. Try to be a continuing source of pleasure to him or her, and never a source of stress. For a detailed discussion of how increasing the happiness level reduces misbehavior, click here.
Therefore, if the child's emotional needs are not being met and he acts spoiled, reducing the amount of material gifts he gets will not resolve the problem. It will only make him more desperate. Fulfilling his or her emotional needs is the key. At the same time, giving a reasonable amount of gifts and treats will be perceived as an expression of your love and will fulfill the child's needs, resulting in his acting less spoiled!
How not to spoil your child who is going through a separation or conflict between his parents!
Kindly be advised that all this applies to the average child, but if a child is going through conflict in the home, a separation of parents, bullying or other stressors, he will require even more kindness, patience, generosity and flexibility. If a child is under emotional stress it is no time for punishment, strictness or harshness! See my report on punishment at the bottom of this page. A child whose parents are separated it the opposite of spoiled! He or she has lost the most important source of happiness and pleasure that is possible, an intact family. That means he is NOT getting what he wants all the time in a very big way. His acting spoiled is just a result of the stress of the separation, and therefore the wisest course of action is to try and raise his happiness level back up to where it should be by being kind and gentle.
Please be aware that the above represents a parenting ideal, and I don’t expect anyone to fulfill it perfectly. So have patience with yourself and try to assimilate such new ideas gradually.
Feel free to peruse the rest of my informative blog, view my specialties on this website, or download one of my interesting free reports.
If you would like to learn more about how to not spoil your child,
and would like professional guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan, you may contact me at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!