Spoiled Rotten Think your spouse has spoiled your children too much? Here’s how to get back on the same page and deprogram the brattiness. BY FRANCINE KIZNER
Do you think your kids are a little spoiled? Take control.
"Dad, can I get this?" asks your little one, holding up a toy on what was supposed to be a quick trip to Target for toilet paper. You say no—she doesn’t need one more toy that she’ll forget about in two days and then have it clutter up her room. But she starts whining. And even worse, she says, "But Mom would get it for me." Now, before you go into a blind rage—at both your spouse (assuming your child's statement is true) and your child—or just give in and buy the item, think about how and why your child expects and even demands unnecessary items from you and why your spouse is so willing to give in.
First, talk about what your ideas of reasonable vs. spoiling really are, says Vicki Panaccione, Ph.D. in child-clinical psychology and founder of the Better Parenting Institute (www.betterparentinginstitute.com). "It could be that one [parent] is really reasonable and the other overindulgent, or the alternative of one being really frugal and the other reasonable," she says.
Dealing With the Finances
Your next step is to discuss finances with your spouse and come up with an agreement about how much money should be spent. By creating a budget beforehand, says Panaccione, you can give your spouse the freedom to shop for the items they want to buy for your children within agreed-upon limits.
The Reason Behind the Spoil
You should also discuss the considerations behind your actions, says Panaccione. Is your spouse feeling guilty for being away on business frequently? Is gift-giving how they show love? Are they feeling pressure to keep up with the Joneses? Or, more troublesome, are they trying to become the favorite parent?
The answer may be even simpler—your spouse may just enjoy watching your kids’ excitement at receiving gifts. "As parents, we enjoy giving maybe even more than the kids enjoy receiving," says Panaccione. "There’s nothing like watching the excitement and joy on our kids’ faces as they receive things we carefully selected for just that purpose."
But while indulging your children may make you feel good, it’s still not a great excuse to consistently spoil your kids. "The more kids are spoiled, the less the giving will be appreciated, the more it will come to be expected, lose meaning and probably over-stimulate them if young," says Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever(www.thebookofno.com).
Deprogram Your Spoiled Kids
Newman offers these tips for "deprogramming" a spoiled child:
Be aware of what type of consumer you are. If you tend to buy impulsively, your children notice.
Set limits on what you’re willing to do or spend and factor in presents coming from others.
Curb grandparent and other relatives’ inclination to spoil your children.
Know your child's passions and interests. By paying attention, you'll be able to distinguish between when you're being manipulated and when you're being asked for something that’ll nourish your child's genuine interest.
Point out flaws in advertising and offer reminders of purchases that didn’t live up to their claims.
Stay calm when you say no. Don't resort to name-calling or say things like, "You’re spoiled rotten."
Avoid competitive gift giving with your spouse, though you may agree to give some separate gifts on occasion: for instance, tickets to a sporting event or personal items that may be more appropriate for a mother to give to a daughter or a father to his son.
And with the holidays coming up, there are a few more ways you can help your kids gain perspective and focus on what they really want and what they can reasonably expect to get. Newman suggests holding an annual pre-holiday clean out of toys and clothing to give to charities in your area. Then when reading through your kid’s wish list, distinguish realistic and unreasonable requests either with your spouse, with your child or by asking your child to give you a revised, shortened list.
Rules On Giving Gifts
And when it’s time to actually give gifts, Panaccione offers these tips to help maximize your whole family’s holiday enjoyment:
Not all gifts have to be opened at the same time.
If your child becomes interested in a just-opened gift, let them play with it—even if there are more to open.
Not all gifts have to be toys or expensive things; they can be privileges or outings to enjoy throughout the year.
Return or donate duplicate or similar toys. They’re not needed and won’t be used.
Applying these tips will allow you to decide the right time to give your child a gift and when to say no.