Tips for Treating your Kids without Spoiling Them

It’s hard not to spoil your kids when you don’t get to see them as much as you used to or they’re no longer living with you full time. Parents just want their kids to be happy and healthy more than anything in the world, but many parents have concerns about spoiling their kids because they’re not sure how to strike the balance between what kids want and what’s best for them.

Wealth, money, or material possessions don’t spoil a child. Children become “spoiled,” or always expect to get their way, when they aren’t given boundaries or limits by their parents. Buying a child lots of toys or scheduling tons of fun activities won’t spoil a child in itself, but failing to set rules and boundaries will. And when a parent sets rules and regulations and then gives in to keep a child happy, the child learns that they are in control of the parent.

Newsflash: kids like rules! Kids need and want structure in their lives because it’s reliable and trustworthy. Part of structure is setting rules, limits, and boundaries, but they don’t have to be delivered to children as “rules.” Explaining your actions and decisions to your child in a loving way can help them understand where you’re coming from and to accept your decisions calmly.

Spoiling stems from parents trying to make parenting easier on themselves—in the moment. Every parent has caved into buying their child a candy bar in the checkout line or a toy in a department store to keep them from having a tantrum in public. But this type of repeated behavior can lead to spoiling. Parents cave in the moment to maintain temporary control, but over time the child learns how to behave in order to get what they want, even if it’s acting out in an unacceptable way.

Allow younger kids to have tantrums. Tantrums are a fact of life for most parents. Giving in to what a child wants in order to prevent a tantrum is exactly what leads to spoiling. The price you pay now—dealing with an uncontrollable child and possibly public embarrassment—leads to benefits later, which include children who understand their boundaries and that no means no.

Spoiling isn’t caused by economic class. Although wealthier parents can afford to spoil their children more with things that cost money, spoiling more often comes from allowing a child to do anything that isn’t part of your parenting plan, such as sleeping with you, staying up late, or breaking rules without receiving punishments.

Striking a balance between freedom and structure. Children are very independent. They want the freedom to do things their way but they don’t always know how to make the best choices for their own health, safety, or well-being.

Working with your children instead of against them can help create the structure they need without the resistance. Children can be very open minded and may be willing to listen to and try to understand your reasoning for the rules you set. And explaining your decisions can help your child learn to make similarly wise and responsible decisions on their own.

Anti-spoiling tips. Keep these (mostly) easy tips in mind when interacting with your child on a day-to-day basis to help prevent spoiling.

  • Don’t set a rule and then take it back. Backing down teaches your kids that there aren’t repercussions for their actions. If you set a rule, stick by it, and don’t set rules you can’t or won’t hold to.
  • Let older kids help set the rules. For example, if your teenager doesn’t understand why they have limited television hours or a curfew, talk about it together and see if you can arrive at an acceptable limit. Given the chance, your child may set a responsible limit for himself and then be more likely to self-manage it too.
  • Let treats be the exception, not the rule. When treats become a regular thing then they’re no longer treats, making it harder to come up with something bigger and better to use as a treat instead. Whether it’s junk food, late nights, sleepovers, or shopping sprees, make sure you limit things that are supposed to be saved for special occasions.
  • Don’t offer bribes. Bribes can be very effective for getting your kids to do what you want in the moment, but over time they lead to false expectations and entitlements. Don’t offer rewards, trades, or exchanges either, as these are forms of bribes too, if you’re only using them to get your kids to do what you want in the moment.
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