We've all seen them: The toddler who throws a tantrum in the toy store over the shiny ball he's been denied; the birthday girl who tears through her presents only to lament over the one doll she didn't get; the teen at the mall who begs, "But Mom, I need these Abercrombie jeans! Every other girl at school has a pair!" And let's admit it: Sometimes it's us standing by with that look of mildly embarrassed composure - while inside alarms are sounding and we're harshly questioning our own parenting abilities.
Spoiling a child seldom leads to desirable behavior, but it's understandable why we're often tempted to overindulge our little angels. Sometimes it's contrition: We overdo it on the Easter candy because we're feeling guilty about ordering takeout more often than making a home-cooked meal. Sometimes it's competition: We give in to the age-old adage of "keeping up with the Joneses" and end up with more designer clothes than our kids can wear before growing another six inches seemingly overnight. And sometimes it's consolation: We buy that second video game console to make up for the fact that they didn't make the baseball team this year. But always, it's out of love: We want our kids to have the best of everything.
Walking the line between providing for our children and overindulging them can be difficult, so we asked local experts:
I am worried about spoiling my child, but I want her to have the best of everything. How can I strike the right balance? "If your child becomes used to getting everything he wants, he will not learn the value of his possessions. Instead of buying them everything, teach your children to save for something they really want. This way, they will learn patience and appreciate the item more. Parents can also have kids pick out the toys they've outgrown to give to Goodwill, pointing out that it's nice to share with other kids who don't have as many toys. Keep in mind that you don't need to give your child material things to show him how much he means to you. The best way to show your love is by spending quality time together. Kids love to spend a mom/son day doing simple things like arts and crafts, reading, playing games, or putting together a puzzle. Grandparents often love to spoil their grandchildren a bit more than the parents do. They don't see the children as often, so they want to make up for lost time by being the 'fun' grandma/grandpa and buying them ice cream or taking them on exciting outings. As long as the spoiling doesn't undermine the parents' rules, grandparents' love and attention to your child should be a welcomed part of their visit."
- Addie Diaz, owner, Addie-tude Dance Studio, Tarrytown, NY
"It is understandable that in this day and age of "keeping up with the Jones's" you don't want your child to feel left out for not having something everyone else seems to have. But, while we all want our children to have the best of everything, that doesn't necessarily mean providing everything they want to them at any time they ask.
As a parent, your job involves teaching your child principles like delayed gratification, which reinforces that the world does not always revolve around their desires. Other important principles include: You must earn the things you want (perhaps through good behavior or grades); and you should establish good financial practices, like saving your money, which will allow you to afford the things you want. Here it's important to note that the things children earn or pay for themselves tend to be their most prized possessions (i.e., they are less likely to lose, damage, or get bored of those items). Instilling these three principles is essential to molding a well-rounded and responsible adult.
For the most part, consistency in teaching these principles is best. That said, Grandma and Grandpa are most certainly apt to go overboard at times, even when asked not to. In their mind, it might be their right as grandparents. Teaching your children that they might get special treats or toys at their grandparents' house that they would not normally get at home is one way to help them understand the inconsistency of rules without undermining the lessons you're trying to teach them."
- Christine J. Mihaila, Ph.D., The Brain Specialists LLC, Great Neck, NY
"Oh, how easy it is to want to give our child everything we didn't have! But oh how hard it is to see the consequences. Parents need to learn limits and boundaries and that saying 'no' sometimes means 'I love you.' This enables a parent to help the child learn tolerance for frustration, appreciation, gratitude, and other prized characteristics.
When a child has so many possessions, they lose appreciation for them and take pleasure only in the moment of receiving. And buying their child something, for parents, is more often a way to make themselves feel better, i.e. more loveable or monetarily successful, than it is to benefit the child. When their child asks for something new, parents should defer to a set of guidelines to determine whether it's appropriate. For example, has the child earned it in some way? Is it a gift for a special occasion, like a birthday or holiday? The request should not be met with an automatic 'yes.'
Regarding grandparents, there is a little more leeway. However, they too need to have limits and boundaries. Remember, the most important thing we want to convey to our children is love."
- Doris M. Aptekar, Ph.D., LMHC, psychotherapist, school psychologist, certified teacher, serving Nassau, Suffolk, and Queens
"Striking a balance between providing for our kids and raising responsible children is very difficult. We don't want our children growing up to believe that Mommy and Daddy will pay for everything, but we also don't want our children to think we have provided them with only the bare necessities. I would 'match,' up to a certain dollar amount, what your children earn from babysitting, shoveling snow, etc., to create the incentive for them to have a part time job. This way, they will learn the value of earning money and realize that it does not, in fact, grow on trees. I would also suggest opening a lifelong savings plan for your children and allowing them to complete the plan when they are adults."
- Ari-Ben Kirschbaum, agent, New York Life Insurance Company, Melville, NY
"Striking that balance between love and overindulgence is one of the biggest challenges facing a parent, and the task changes over time as your child grows. Responding quickly and consistently to a newborn's cries and being available every minute becomes more complicated as the baby grows. Helping that baby learn to self-soothe and start on the road to greater independence is only the first of many parenting challenges to come. Why is it so hard? Many parents feel uncomfortable being an authority figure to their children because they don't like to see them feeling unhappy. However, it is not the parent's role to be their children's 'friend,' but to help them learn the right way to behave.
Having the 'best of everything' is quite different than getting everything you ask for. Parents do no favors for their child if the child expects everything to go their way all the time-the real world doesn't work that way. Children need parents to raise them to be independent, responsible adults who know how to get along in the world. Children who grow up with no clear behavioral boundaries, no experience handling disappointments or frustration, and no empathy for another person's point of view will most likely find themselves socially handicapped-seen as self-centered, demanding, and inconsiderate of others. They may lack the resilience they will need to cope with the inevitable problems and challenges ahead. Children who lack discipline (defined as teaching, not punishment) at home tend to struggle more outside of the home. So feel free to provide your child with 'the best of everything,' as long as it includes high standards for their behavior. But remember that what children want more than the best material things is their parent's attention. They spell love: 'T-I-M-E.' "
- Karen Horowitz, director, Parenting Resource Network, Friedberg JCC, Oceanside, NY
"Grandmas and grandpas everywhere go overboard-we all know that. And, occasionally, moms and dads do too. How can you blame them? The key to not spoiling your child is to make sure she learns how to earn and budget money from an early age. Institute an age-appropriate allowance system that compensates her for the chores she does, reinforcing the idea that hard work pays off. Also, emphasize the need to strike a balance between putting away some money for the future and keeping some to enjoy now. This way, you can teach your child the importance of working hard for her allowance while showing her that the best way to make sure you have money for what you need is not to ask Mommy and Daddy, but to save your own money for the future."
- Ari M. Teplitz, agent, New York Life Insurance Company, Stratford, CT
Also see: Ask the Experts: How to Avoid Being an Overprotective Parent
Ask the Experts: How to Deal with a Child Who Back Talks