The scene is Target. Your darling three-year old wants that $40 Disney Princess dress up set. Not only does she want it, she has to have it. She must have it. She will die without it. And she’s telling the entire store that you are abusing her by not letting her have it. She’s screaming, crying, shouting, kicking, and did I mention screaming. For. What. Feels. Like. Forever. How can this situation be used for developing grateful children?
What do you do?
This actually happened to me. I had two choices – give-in to the fit, buy the overly expensive toy that I hadn’t budgeted for; or deal with the screaming fit while I exited the store.
My goal as a parent is to mold generous, thoughtful, grateful children. Giving into the fit would not do anything to help my children develop those character traits. In fact, placating a screaming child by giving into the screaming fit actually does just the opposite. That creates entitled, spoiled, ungrateful children.
Being a parent is full of little choices. These choices have long lasting ramifications. It can be hard because most of us want to have good, happy relationships with our children. However, good, happy relationships are not built by giving in to every whim a child has. Children need limits, direction, support, and security.
Here are four ways to keep children from becoming spoiled, and for un-spoiling a spoiled child.
First, recognize that as parents, it is our job to say no. Set reasonable limits for children and follow those limits. Even if it means a kicking, screaming scene in a store. If parents are strong about following the limits, then the children will only fight against the limits a couple of times before they realize that fighting won’t get them what they want. It will take longer if the parents and children have a past of fits getting the children what they want. But, if parents are strong through those fits, the children will eventually stop throwing the fits because they will learn that the parents are serious and will follow the limits, no matter what.
Make a habit of talking about all the good things (read blessings) the family enjoys. My husband and I spent time places in the world where many struggle with obtaining the simplest of needs. We often talk about how amazing clean water, fresh food, and warm homes are. My children have heard us say these things and have begun to think about all the bounties we really have. Take time during prayers to list some of the blessings, especially those taken for granted. Remembering everything that we enjoy develops gratitude in our hearts.
Teach children how to work for the things they want. My children don’t get an allowance. They get a paycheck. They aren’t paid for doing chores around the house. They do those just because they live here and are grateful for a roof, clothing, and food. They get paid for extra work they do. They can do as many extra work activities as they like and earn as much money as they want from those assignments. They are then free to do almost anything they want with the money — buy toys, candies, or school supplies, go to the movies, swimming, etc. It’s amazing how much spending the money they’ve worked for changes how much they want something sometimes.
Limit how often bribes are used to get compliance from children. Compliance can be gained through many other means, it doesn’t always need to be a gift, treat, or present. Instead of a bribe, try positive comments about the child’s behavior, or make the required behavior a game. The less often material things are used as rewards, the more powerful they become.
By limiting the use of bribes, teaching children how to work, talking about all the good things in life, and not giving in to fits children will develop into grateful, generous, thoughtful attitudes who will help them be happier throughout their lives. These habits will often lead to stronger parent/child relationships as well.