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February 13, 2012
Unspoiling Children in 10 Steps

Is your children’s playroom nearly bursting with toys? Does it seem your son hardly has one Lego set assembled before he’s eyeing the catalogue for the next? Do your children start their Christmas lists in July. Do you dread taking your daughter to the mall because of the non-stop nagging for gifts? You may have materialistic children and you may be materialistic yourself which is part of the problem of why your children behave the way they do.

Time-pressed families can fall unexpectedly into a trap of using gifts as incentives. But it’s not too late to adjust your standards. Here are 10 tips from How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy Guide.

1. COMMIT TO UNSPOILING. The surer your lead is, the quicker your children will follow. They will see through tepid and weak gestures. Unspoiling can go quickly, but requires fortitude.

2. STATE YOUR CASE CLEARLY. Tell your children what you expect in no uncertain terms, and follow through. Speak in specifics, as teachers do in the classroom.

3. CREATE A BRIBE-FREE HOME. Bribes work in the moment, but parents (and children) pay a high price for bribery in the long run. You may have to pay for every ounce of cooperation in the future.

4. AVOID DEAL-MAKING. Negotiations have their place, especially in the courtroom, care dealership, and so on. Show your child firsthand that not every aspect of life and its demands is a deal to be negotiated till midnight.

5. BE THE BOSS. I don’t mean a cruel, tyrannical marine boot camp officer kind of boss. I mean a boss who understands and is comfortable with the leadership and authoritative role of a parent. “Because I say so” would not be an especially good mantra for all of parenting and home life, but it sure has its place at times.

6. BUY LESS FOR THE KIDS. It may sound obvious, but it’s both necessary and challenging. For one week tally how much you spend on the children, including toys, books, school supplies, clothing, snacks, treats, sports equipment, entertainment, learning enrichment, music lessons, and so forth. You may be surprised at what your spreadsheet reveals.

7. BUY LESS FOR YOU TOO. Some parents roll their eyes at their children’s indulgence, even as they the parents spend much of their days buying, shopping, and lamenting that they do not have bigger homes, better cars and such. Your children notice if you are forever browsing the Internet for things. Children adore their parents and look to them as their ultimate role models.

8. REWARD EFFORT NOT PRODUCT. The self-esteem movement was a bust. Children do not gain self-confidence by shallow flattery and trophies for doing little. True competence comes through learning real skills and lessons that teach the child that he or she can handle things and life.

9. INVEST TIME IN YOUR CHILDREN. Seek experiences and activities that, rather than cost money, involve time: bike riding, hiking, gardening, building a birdhouse, helping do projects around the home or for others, and so forth. Maybe spend less time at the mall and more in the woods or at the park.

10. TAKE PRIDE IN THE NEW YOU. Your children are obliged to protest and throw wrenches in your unspoiling efforts. But you know better than to surrender to their easy tears and earth-shaking tantrums. Your parenting will grow more as you wish it to be, and will give your children a different kind of gift that last a lifetime.

Richard Bromfield is a Harvard Medical School psychologist and author of How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy Guide and Playing for Real.



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