How to change your kids' spoiled behaviour

By Liz Bruckner on September 16, 2015

Sure, it takes a village to raise a child, but what happens when tribe members insist on spoiling your wee one?

When you give a child too many things, you’re teaching them the world revolves around them.

There's a reason my three boys, ages seven, five and two, can't wait to get alone with their aunt. Simply put, they own her. When they say jump, Auntie asks how high. When they want to sneak a snack, she has her secret stash ready to go. The problem is, her willingness to do anything to make them smile has created three seriously greedy little monsters.

Tabitha Fournier of Mississauga, Ont. knows the feeling. Mom to Caleb, six, and Mia, three, she says the constant outpouring of gifts by her husband’s parents has reached a fever pitch. “It’s to the point that they’re buying presents for every visit – even if they see the kids four times in a month. It’s no stretch to say that my children now expect presents at each visit.”

Not surprisingly, it’s the after-effects of this ongoing cycle that concern Tabitha the most. “They’re just so ungrateful. They literally have hundreds of toys, but always act like they have nothing to play with. They’ll open a present and use it for a day, then expect something new, and if they don’t get what they want from their grandparents (and I’m not there to keep them in line), they are outright rude and demand another gift. It drives me nuts!”

While this kind of behaviour is categorically unsavoury, according to Judy Arnall, parenting expert and author of Parenting With Patience, it isn’t atypical. “When you give a child too many things, do too much for them, or teach them to think about their own needs and wants over the needs and wants of others, you’re teaching them the world revolves around them. That is never a good idea,” she says.

So how do you undo the damage? In a nutshell, parents need to retrain their child to think about others, Judy says. “They can easily get into the mindset of ‘what’s in it for me?’ and it’s the job of parents to reset their thinking to ‘how can I help others?’”

From there, she says it’s best to call in your village – particularly those who insist on showering your child with gifts. “Parents should have a quiet word with the offenders using respectful ‘I’ statements. Something like, ‘I’m worried that when Anna gets too many Christmas gifts, she thinks that special occasions are all about her’ should do the trick,” she says.

While many family and friends will heed your concern, Judy says it’s important to keep in mind that parents can’t control whether their response will be positive. “You can ask someone to respect your wishes, but parents may have to resign themselves to the fact that some [family and friends] will behave as they see fit, and that’s that.” Should an impasse arise, she advises that parents can either keep visits at home where they can monitor the influx of treats and gifts, or repeat the quiet word conversation until they hopefully see change.”

Though discussions have fallen flat with Tabitha and her in-laws – she says multiple requests to veto their gift and candy crusades have been met with resistance – she has a Plan B. “For Christmas, I’m asking all family, extended family and friends to purchase a $10 gift card to Canadian Tire for sporting goods, to Chapters for books, or to make a donation to a charity of the kids’ choice. I’m also asking that they consider forgoing gifts altogether and just make a point of spending more time with the kids, which is really what matters in the long run.”


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