How to “Unspoil” a Child
You love your child. You have striven to meet his needs, make sure he knows he is loved, and provide him a nurturing home environment. When he has identified a need or want, you have done your level best to provide for him. Your loving intentions, however, have unintentionally created a child who seems a bit spoiled. On the occasion that he has not gotten what he wants, a protracted display of anger has ensued. So, you are now deciding that it is time to “unspoil” your child. How do you do this?
- 1. Expect this to be a long and difficult experience. Brace for it.
- 2. Meet with your child and discuss the situation. Tell him that you have sought to meet his needs and wants because you thought it was the best way to communicate your love for him, but that you now see that it has caused him to form unrealistic expectations about life and relationships. Let him know that people cannot always have everything that they want because timelines, budgets, and other people must also be considered. Let him know that, as a result of your seeing that his unrealistic expectations have been caused by your behaviors, you will be changing your behaviors so that you can help him grow to be a healthy, well-adapted adult. Discuss what the new rules are. For example, he will be given an allowance. If he wants toys, candy, etc., then he will acquire those (or not) using his allowance. Otherwise, he can place items on a wish list which you will refer to on gift-giving occasions such as birthdays and Christmas. You and he will begin lessons on budgeting.
- 3. Your child may react with anger. After all, he’s used to getting his way. Or your child may not take this seriously. He may be nonchalant because he does not think that a new day truly has dawned. If your child is initially nonchalant, it is temporary: the first time you deny your child something that he wants, and he sees the new rules being carried out, anger will surface.
- 4. Be patient. Consistently and lovingly reinforce your new rules. Address resulting misbehaviors (i.e., temper tantrums) as they happen. Persevere. If you backslide to spoiling behavior, you will reinforce for him that he can get what he wants by using anger.
- 5. Be mindful of external influences that reinforce your child’s perception that he has a “right” to be spoiled. Are his friends spoiled? What messages do media convey about children acquiring toys and other items of interest? Without putting down other children or their parents, discuss with your child that each parent has the responsibility to raise their children as they think is best. Explain that media conveys their messages based on the profit incentive. Use language that is age-appropriate for your child. If he does not understand, that is ok. In later months or years, other situations will arise that will provide you subsequent opportunities to explain these issues again, and perhaps, with advanced age, he will be able to grasp the subject matter then.
- 6. Find comfort in the knowledge that parents have the right and responsibility to govern their children. Children are not peers to their parents. While children’s perspectives should be heard and considered by parents, parents must be “the deciders”. Sometimes, decisions are unpopular, but that does not mean they are unwise. Your child’s approval of your actions is nice but not required. If this is hard for you, as it is for many parents, it may help you to join a parenting network or support group so that you can share your experiences and find support in other parents who have had or are having similar experiences.
By following these six tips, you can successfully “unspoil” your child.