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How to Stop Spoiling Your Child and Why

saying no and helping them work for what they want

Several years ago, our family moved to a sleepy town on the border of Tarrant and Denton counties. Back then, we felt like we lived in a little house on the prairie.

Then it happened. Progress. Like so many others, our young suburb slowly but surely grew up to become “affluent.” Before I knew it, Range Rovers filled the carpool line at school, girls carried their lunches in Lululemon bags, and the end-of-year award ceremony could have doubled for a LoveShackFancy fashion show.

I found myself wondering, How do I raise children in this brave new world, where everything they want seems to be within reach? Sure, I want them to be happy. But I don’t want them to feel entitled. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Encourage an Unentitled Mindset in Babies

“As a baby, it can all start there,” says Koy Roberts, Ph.D., a child, adolescent and family psychologist based in Coppell. “As a new parent, you’re mostly concerned with your infant’s health and comfort, not as concerned with their psychological development. If you pick up your baby every time [the baby] cries, and never let your baby learn to cry a little bit and soothe itself, you could unknowingly set the stage for entitlement.”

Setting that precedent right away is important, says Holly Lockett, a licensed professional counselor supervisor with Frisco Counseling and Wellness. “We need to nurture [children], love them and let them know they’re safe—and also teach them to self-soothe and be independent.”

Lockett, who does a lot of work with children who have attachment disorders, suggests standing out in the hallway and talking to a crying baby. “Use a calm, reactive voice. I think that when children, even babies, hear us be very calm, it helps them to calm down too,” she explains.

Telling Kids No at the Store

As your children get older and inevitably want something they can’t have, particularly at the store, resist the urge to just give in. Lockett says to go with a simple, “Not this time,” or “We’re not going to get that today. ” Roberts advises parents to let their kids learn to hear “no” and work through it.

But what if that means creating a scene in the checkout lane? What’s the best response? “Honestly, it’s to not react,” Lockett says. “If we start reacting to them, then they’re going to escalate and we’re going to escalate and it’s just going to be a mess. Just don’t buy into it.”

If you’re worried about stares from innocent bystanders, chances are they’re not going to be the disapproving glares you imagine. “Look around you and see how many other parents are like, Got it. Totally get it. Been there. Done that. They’re way more supportive than we think. We don’t have to be embarrassed,” Lockett says.

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Teach Kids to Work for What They Want

As kids get older, the “asks” grow with them. Before you know it, their friends are all socializing remotely over Sony PlayStation 5 and wearing big kid Nike Air Force 1s. Now what?

“I’m a big believer in working for things,” Lockett shares. Chores, improved grades, better behavior—go with what makes sense for your family. “Consider the individual child, what they can do, what their capacity is as well as maturity and age. Choose achievements that are realistic for them,” she says.

Our kids have grown up in a world where an Amazon Buy Now button can deliver whatever we want to our door in an hour. “Everything is instant gratification, and that does a disservice to them,” Lockett says. “As adults we have to wait for things. So if we can teach work ethic and delay instant gratification, things will mean more to our children because they had to work for them—and it feels good to earn something.”

Give Kids a Structure to Build Better Habits

Consistent bedtimes, rules, and clear limits and expectations really are worth the effort. “Kids do much better when they have structure. That allows them to internalize habits that they can carry with them later in life,” Roberts says. “There are limits and expectations that they’ll have to deal with in school and in society, with teachers and bosses later on in life. They have to get used to that. Mentally, emotionally and psychologically, we just function a lot better with structure.”

So what about those of us who may have gotten a little off course, especially during virtual learning or the lax summer months? It’s time to sit down with the kids and hit the reset button. Simply start off with, “We made some mistakes. Things are not working in our household right now and we need to make some changes,” Lockett suggests. Start small, maybe with a consistent bedtime, and go from there.

Encourage Your Child to Overcome Challenges

Allow your child to fight their own battles and develop coping skills in difficult situations so they have the confidence and tools to overcome challenges on their own. Step up if they get in over their head, but resist the urge to constantly rescue them. Model behavior that teaches them how to react when things don’t go your way. As a family, volunteer for those less fortunate and teach your kids that the world does not revolve around them. At the end of day, you’ll be doing them a favor.

“When you have to deal with ‘no,’ adversity, expectations, limits and challenges as a kid, you’re learning adult stress management skills and resiliency,” Roberts says. “You have to cultivate and develop those things over time. You can’t flip that switch at 21.”


Here are some resources to get your kids on the right track:

The article was originally published in August 2021.

Image: iStock