If you’ve ever wondered why so many people spoil their children, it’s simple. They get two big pay-offs. First, the obvious: it’s easier just to get through the moment by indulging children’s demands, rather than stopping to teach them a lesson. And the more subtle reason is that by living for and through the child, they can avoid all their own feelings, issues and responsibilities. It’s like a drug—a pain-killing escape from reality.
The reasons not to spoil a child are that you do get to live your own life. They won’t wear you out, embarrass you, or empty your wallet. And when they get older, they won’t be as quick to turn their backs on you like they have no idea who you are.
It is very satisfying to raise children who have the basic self-confidence to believe that their needs will be met, not necessarily on demand, but always on time, not necessarily by others, but because they’re also learning how to get things done themselves.
Raising unspoiled children requires that you don’t meet their wants or especially their demands when these differ from what you know deep inside that they need. Making them wait fairly often for what they want teaches them patience, and allows them to use their imagination and self-care skills to see how they can more independently meet their own needs.
As they see you sometimes taking care of your own needs ahead of their demands, you are modeling for them how effective caretakers must take care of themselves too.
So how can you tell yourself and your children the difference between what they need and what they demand? They often want or even whine for things they don’t really need, because they don’t know what they need. They need you to teach them what they need, such as:
They need to know their needs will be met eventually if they wait and ask politely.
The demand of the spoiled: I will get others to meet my needs.
They need to know that they are loved, that they can give love and receive love.
The demand of the spoiled: I will charm others into showing love to me.
They need to know they can comfort or entertain themselves when they are lonely, sad or bored.
The demand of the spoiled: I can always find ways to avoid being left alone.
They need to learn to enjoy hard work, finishing a task, and doing it well.
The demand of the spoiled: I am charming and clever enough to get others to do my work for me.
They need to express anger at selfish mistakes, forgiving themselves and others for such mistakes without holding a grudge.
The demand of the spoiled: If you don’t do things my way, my temper will make you wish you had.
They need to trust themselves not to freeze when they’re afraid, but to act smart.
The demand of the spoiled: I will dramatize my fear until you have done whatever it takes to relieve me of it.
They need to give a brief smile or hello with eye contact when they first see a friend or family member.
The demand of the spoiled: I am special, so I don’t look at or speak to people until they have broken the ice first.
They need to trust that they will be praised and rewarded eventually for doing good, criticized and punished eventually for doing bad.
The demand of the spoiled: I am praised because I am specially gifted. I will make anyone feel guilty for criticizing or punishing me.
They need to avoid lying, realizing they don’t always need to tell the entire truth.
The demand of the spoiled: I give whatever version of the truth it pays me to give, but I’ll never admit that.
They need to apologize and discipline themselves when they’ve messed up.
The demand of the spoiled: If I’m in trouble, I will never apologize. My family and friends will bail me out, because if I ain’t happy, ain’t nobody going to be happy.
They need to know they can make friends easily, because they enjoy being a good, loyal friend.
The demand of the spoiled: I’ll treat you like a friend when I feel like it, depending upon what you’ve done for me lately.
They need to know that they are being prepared to leave home someday and live their own lives.
The demand of the spoiled: I will leave home (and come back) whenever I feel like it, for a bigger stage and a better audience.
When you’re tempted to indulge your children, just remember, you’re not giving in to them, you’re selling them out, down the river to a sick society. You’re spoiling their lives, and not just theirs, but yours, and everybody else’s they’ll spoil. So Buck Up, Campers. Let’s put our grown-up pants on.