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Spoiling kids isn’t quite the same thing as bribing them, but it has similar consequences. Whereas parents who bribe are buying a child’s compliance, parents who spoil their kids typically do so out of feelings of guilt, or because they dislike seeing their child sad or disappointed. While such sentiment is understandable (who among us likes upsetting those we love?), it creates many of the same problems.

The problems with spoiling children

Just like bribery, spoiling children occurs one act at a time, and each of these acts may not seem significant in and of itself. But when you start to stack each of these acts on top of one another, it forms a problematic dynamic:

1. When kids grow accustomed to getting everything they want, you’re insuring you have all types of problems when they don’t. Your establishing a pattern wherein children expect to have others acquiesce to every little thing their heart desires, and this will come back to bite you later. Now whenever you need to put your foot down, not only is a child upset because you’ve thwarted their desires, but it feels a lot more like a personal insult, since you now disrupted the pattern children have come to associate with being in your favor.

2. Disappointment isn’t pleasant, but it’s important. Life is full of disappointment, and learning how to effectively manage it is a crucial life skill. When you go out of you way to avoid disappointing children, not only does it deprive them of this all-important practice handling disappointment, but it sends the subconscious message that being disappointed is a disastrous thing, since you behave as though it is.

3. Spoiling teaches kids to be selfish and self-centered. Kids are educated by actions as much as words, and acquiescing to a child’s every whim teaches them that their needs and desires are all important, taking precedent over everything else.

4. It may lead them to subconsciously associate love with material rewards. They judge your approval and degree of affection based on your willingness to shower them with riches, which isn’t a message you want them internalizing.

5. Ironically, spoiling kids can actually make them feel less secure. Though there isn’t anyone among us who doesn’t like being pampered, when parents swing too far in this direction, they rob kids of the normal give and take dynamics that are usually a part of healthy social relationships, which can make things feel weird or wrong.

You’ll commonly hear these children say they want to be parented more or would like their parents to put their foot down once in a while. Which usually isn’t something kids are inclined to say. But being spoiled is sort of like eating candy for every meal: appealing in theory, but not in practice. When you’re all give and no pushback, kids have no idea where they stand. They don’t know what’s important, they don’t know where boundaries should lie, and they don’t know how you feel about their activities. Though they’re bound to enjoy this privileged, authoritive status, it can also leave a cloud hanging over the relationship. They’re like kings and queens detached from the people who have little comprehension of whether they’re loved or loathed.

6.Perhaps most of all, spoiling isn’t fair to the other parent (or any of your child’s other caregivers). When you routinely spoil kids, not only does it turn them into the “bad cop” as a parent simply for parenting in a balanced way, but it makes them feel a need to compensate. Some may feel a need to keep up, whereas others may feel a need to be even more restrictive, since you’re already showering them with all they desire.

This is a problem for all households, but it’s especially problematic in divorced families with split custody arrangements. When they come back from your home with that new video game system their mother said they might get for Christmas, and after seeing 3 movies (including the one the other parent wanted to take them to), you’re being an a-hole to the other parent and placing them in an impossible position. Both the joys and the unpleasantries of parenting should be distributed equally, and this doesn’t happen when one parent is spoiling the kids.

How To Tell If You’re Spoiling Children

It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between spoiling and everyday acts of generosity or kindness. Spoiling kids isn’t good, but neither is foiling their wishes for no apparent reason. We’ve all known parents who act like roadblocks to their children’s desires, reflexively saying no because they feel it’s a parent’s duty to do so, and we’re in no way suggesting you turn into one of those. That would be the opposite end of the balance we’re trying to achieve, and acting like a killjoy isn’t healthy for your kids, either.

So how do you know if you’re spoiling your kids? The following self-survey will help you determine whether there’s a problem.

1. What happens when you tell your child no?
Do they typically accept your decision without much fuss, or do they put up a protest? If your kids can accept no for an answer and react in a mature way to having their desires thwarted, then you’re probably alright. If, on the other hand, they make a big fuss or fall apart whenever they can’t have their way, this is a problem.

2. Do they come to you when others aren’t agreeable?
If others thwart their wishes, do they come to you behind that person’s back and ask you to intervene to reverse this decision? If so you’re probably being too lenient, and your kids have learned you’re a pushover.

3. Are you afraid of saying no?
If your answer to this question is yes or maybe, then you definitely fall on the spoiling spectrum. Parents shouldn’t intentionally thwart their children’s desires, but being a parent means regularly telling them no, if for no other reason than some wishes simply aren’t practical, and children are part of a larger family unit whose wishes must also be taken into consideration. If you feel guilt over telling your child no, or fear how they might react, then you’ve got a problem that needs examining.

4. What do you feel when you think about disappointing your child?
What thoughts come to mind when you think about disappointing your child? Some degree of anguish is normal, since no one likes seeing children unhappy. But if such situations trigger other insecurities (they’re going to hold this against me; my child will stop loving me; it will ruin their day), or if it conjures up uncomfortable thoughts from your own childhood, then this internal dialogue is likely leading you to spoil your children.

5. Do you find yourself saying “yes” to things you feel you shouldn’t?
If you find yourself acquiescing to requests that have you feeling uneasy, either because there’s not enough money, because you feel in your heart it’s an unnecessary token or a request you shouldn’t grant, or because it’s going to disrupt some other agenda, then you’ve definitely got a problem. There certainly are times when it’s appropriate to negotiate and concede to something children feel is really important, even if it makes you uncomfortable or interrupts something else. But if you’re reflexively saying yes and then regretting that decision, you’re almost certainly spoiling your kids.

6. What’s your ratio?
Are you saying no as well as yes? Can you remember the last time you told your children no and actually held your ground if they pushed back? Do your words have authority, or are they empty and easily swayed by kids? What’s your ratio of saying no to yes? Though there is no clear standard, anywhere from 20% to 50% of your responses should be no, and you also need to be regularly holding your ground when you issue a no and kids push back. (This ratio should be at least 50% in favor of holding to a no.) If this ratio is extremely lopsided, you’re likely spoiling your kids.

Learn How To Stop Spoiling Children

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