How to not spoil your kids

Spoiled – the word makes most parents cringe. It’s taboo in the realm of what most consider “good parenting.”

Yet, as the old adage goes, the road to (parenting) hell is paved with good intentions.

The best of intentions can land any well-meaning parent in the difficult position of dealing with an entitled child. After all, we want our kids to be happy right? We want them to have it better than we did when we were kids. We remember the heartache that consumed us when we were the only kid who didn’t have the latest toy. Of course we wouldn’t want our own children to feel that devastation.

Boom! Before you know it your sweet angel – who was once content with a stuffed teddy and a cuddle – now expects the latest model of smart phone, lap top, iPod, expensive shoes… you spoil them – how did that happen?

While kids pressure their parents to buy them all the latest gadgets, marketing companies pressure kids into believing they need them. Advertising saturates our daily lives in all forms of media – of which our kids are avid consumers. One study shows the average young person views more than 3000 ads per day.

Has marketing influence and a propensity to say “yes” too often resulted in an entitled generation? How can parents raise grounded kids who don’t need the latest gadget to be happy?

Family Works service manager and child/family psychologist Victoria Newcombe says that children learn best by observing and copying the behaviour around them.

“Children are often more perceptive than adults think, and are strongly influenced by what happens in their family environment. One common area of concern nowadays is that parents are distracted by their own electronic devices such as phones and computers. Giving priority to these over face-to-face interaction and engagement with children sends some strong messages regarding the value and desirability of these objects,” she said.

“Where parents role model enjoyment of non-materialistic activities and values, their children will follow their lead.”

Victoria says that one way of encouraging children to understand the decision-making processes around purchasing or use of gadgets is for parents to talk through the rationale for their choices with their children.

“Evidence from research shows that where there are positive relationships between parents and children, then the likelihood of children responding to the parents’ efforts to shape their behaviour is much higher.”

Parents own behaviour continues to be the greatest influence on their children right up to adolescence, Victoria says.

“When parents role model positive behaviours such as gratitude and not appearing to respond to social pressures such as consumerism, then their children are likely to copy and adopt the same actions and values.”

The pressure felt at school to “have it all” can be overwhelming for kids and parents. When to say no and when to say yes will be different for every family. A parent’s job is to prepare their kids for the real world, and in the real world they won’t get everything they want. Kids will recover from being told “no.”

If your child is really prepared to work hard for something special, encourage them save for it themselves – let them learn the value of money.

Victoria says the most important thing that a parent can offer a child of any age is time, and the opportunity to build a strong relationship.

“Children and young people aren’t necessarily entitled. They are seeking connection, most often with the adults in their lives who help them to make sense of the world.”