When striking a balance is a challenge

You and your children make the annual trip to the mall or big box store for back-to-school, special occasion supplies/clothing, or prom attire. You grit your teeth at the thought of how much things cost these days.

Your child sees another item not on the list…perhaps it is the latest gadget, toy, or a piece of clothing. You see it as a “want”, but not a “need”. You tell your child, no, and before you know it, your daughter is stomping her feet and raising her voice with displeasure. Her expressiveness –which you used to think it was cute– is noticeable and other customers stare. You tell yourself–no problem…I’ve got this…of course no kid wants to hear the word, no. However, there is a tiny, teeny voice inside your head wondering–does my kid expect me to buy this other item because I am too soft? Am I raising an unappreciative kid? HAVE I SPOILED MY KID?

Spoiling is about the feeling that your child should get everything without having to work for it. Turning down a child’s wants takes effort and usually brings up inner turmoil for the parent. The child might respond with anger, mean words, and reject you. These responses are uncomfortable to hear for a loving and dedicated caregiver, especially after a stressful day. Merely talking to your child about the importance of gratitude is good but not enough. Virtues like gratitude are hard for children to see and feel. They tend to do better when they walk through a “live” experience.  It is very important to show a child that actions have natural consequences, and then, follow through.

When talking about spoiling, it is easier to relate spoiling to material things and money because it is absolute. You cannot ‘kind of’ have a zero balance in your chequing account. Monetary value has an assigned number with a set value. Tallying a store receipt offers an absolute, inarguable and immediate dollar amount. You know what is available to spend, you buy the stuff, bring home the goods and hopefully hear a, “thanks”. Done.

How do you instill the deeper values related to gratitude, appreciation, and respect? We often wish we could convert their understanding of a dollar, into their understanding of a bigger “thanks”, such as your desire to increase their overall  betterment, without an immediate material item as a reward.  Consider this alternative proposition: What if you could invest in a “product” that leads to an emotional and psychological richness. The “return” on your investment is not immediate. Saying, no, and teaching the child to delay gratification may also result in a negative response from your child such as anger, lashing out, moodiness, and defiance. This kind of spending is hard to feel good about in the short run. Saying no and delaying gratification is worth it, and will pay dividends for years to come. Your “stock” yields a more humble, grateful child in the long run.

Quick and Dirty Spoil Meter

Before you review the Spoil Meter, gather receipts of all spending on that child for the last 30 days. Add movies, sports equipment, school supplies, leagues, lessons, leisure events (for food or toy) attended and clothing. This total provides a realistic idea of how much you are really spending. If the number surprises you and more importantly, if the number is more than your budget, read on!

-Recurrent whining and complaining to get things or get their way

-Frequent demands

-Little compromise or willingness to reach a deal, especially where delaying gratification is part of the settlement (yes, even for younger children)

-Repeatedly asking for help to attend to a task that your child is capable, developmentally able to do, and where you have taught the child to do

-Trying to control decisions such as what outings to choose or where to eat and without discussion leads to a temper tantrum or refusal to go

-Difficulty bouncing back after disappointment, even with coaching and prompts

-As a parent, do you find yourself buying top of the line items where less expensive would be just as good, relative to the child’s age and need?

-As a parent, have you developed a reasonable budget (if not, do it now) and are you staying within it?

-As a parent, do you review the guidelines for spending with the child but give in anyway?

-Do you know what is developmentally appropriate for your child’s age with regards to being able to understand, negotiate, barter, deal with disappointment and recover?

 Quick Ideas To Refresh Your Effort

We would agree that loving your child through necessary “checkpoints” and milestones in life is essential. Each developmental stage has certain tasks that a child masters to launch into the next stage.  A good example is a child who is trying to learn to tie a shoelace, gets frustrated, and finally succeeds. Another example is a youth who gets a job, and buys his or her own piece of clothing with those earnings. In both cases, it would be easy to step in and rescue the child from their discomfort and frustration. (Who wants to see their kid suffer?). Children need to feel good about mastering tasks. One of those tasks is learning that the word NO does not mean a parent’s love is any less, or that the whole world is crashing down. (Read twice if you have a teenage daughter). Parents play a pivotal role in showing the child that it is very normal to be, feel, and act frustrated, or disappointed, and helping that child recover and move on, without giving in. Read the following reminders and decide to commit to one of them this week.

  1. Keep your cool – it is ok to say that these are some stressful moments without adding a hint of blame or sarcasm. Model the behaviour you expect from your child.
  2. Huddle Up before you go shopping or to an event – this is a fast conversation without repeating that can take place before you go out or in the car before you start the engine.
    1. Be clear about what you will and won’t be buying. Also be clear if any compromises might be made in certain cases (i.e. we are buying one pair of jeans, but if there is a sale, I may buy you two pairs depending on the price)
    2. Clarify if there is a perfectly good item for x price, but the child wants to one a bit more expensive, do you expect the child to pay the difference? With allowance? Birthday money? Gift card? Can it be a loan or does the child have to bring the money? If it is a loan under pressure, how and when will it be paid?
    3. State the consequence and rewards for behaviour in public.
    4. Praise works wonders – catch your child doing a good deed (holding a door open) or practicing restraint when you know he or she really wants something. Tell your child and share it with others. Do it often.
    5. Ask for help and teach cooperation around the home – children like to feel part of the action. Show them how to do chores and household duties. Even a small child can “pretend sweep” a small area, a tween can vacuum / take out garbage, a teen can do laundry and help cook
    6. Do the Unthinkable – if a child is not responding to redirection and emotions still run high, go home. Return home even if you are in the car, or at the grocery store. Say very little until you are safely at home and no longer operating a vehicle and trying to break up siblings fighting at the same time. These surprise turnarounds show that you are serious and nothing gets in the way of safety, good manners and helping children reset their moods. Leave out the yelling, begging, repeating and bribes.