When kids go from best behavior to obnoxious in ten seconds flat, it can be hard not to feel annoyed…or even downright exasperated! But when a pattern of spoiled behavior emerges, the red flags really go up and we realize it’s time to step back to figure out how to unspoil our kids—and I think many of us eventually realize there’s no simple quick fix.
Several years ago now, we took our girls to a dinosaur-themed restaurant after spending the day at Reptile World in Orlando. Despite the fact that we were surrounding by asteroids “crashing” into the scenery and these amazing, realistic animatronic dinosaurs, my oldest was stuck on ONE thing: the Build-a-Dino Workshop we passed in the gift shop.
Despite a firm NO WAY, she just wouldn’t let up. She couldn’t enjoy all the fun happening around us, instead preferring to complain and whine the entire meal.
I was aggravated, of course.
But mostly? I was worried.
As moms, we always feel like we should be doing more, teaching more, giving more. We want the absolute best for our kids, but we also want to ensure they’re respectful, behaved, and appreciative of all the things they have. We want to teach valuable lessons AND ensure they know they’re loved. We try our best to be fair but firm. We try to provide enough but not too much.
Yet sometimes, despite our best efforts, our kids just act…spoiled. And wow does that hurt.
Turning around spoiled behavior is a process. So please, give yourself a break when your kids get sassy, stubborn or ungrateful. The good news is that children, especially young children, often respond naturally and eagerly to kindness, empathy and unselfish acts. We just need to know how to nudge them in the right direction.
1. Engage Your Kids in Discussion
One of the best ways to help our children be unselfish and kind is to simply talk about it. None of us are perfect, of course (and most of us are far from it!), but children respond incredibly quickly to the idea of charity and giving to others. You might be surprised at some of the answers and thoughts they contribute.
Ask your kids to help with charity drives, such as food collection or coats for the needy. Be sure to bring up talking points with your child, such as, “Some kids can’t afford a new coat. What do you think we could do to help them?” or “You’ve outgrown your jacket from last year. Let’s donate it to help someone who doesn’t have their own coat.”
Be sure to delve into how they feel about giving and how they would feel if they didn’t have enough. Try discussing a time when your child felt hungry or cold, or even a time when they faced an emergency. Ask how they felt in that tough situation. Ask questions and talk about ways we can help others facing difficult situations or hardships.
2. Set Goals and Delay Gratification
Remember saving your money when you were a child? Maybe from a paper route or from your first job? I’ll bet you remember the first thing you saved up for and how hard you worked to be able to buy that special item…and I’ll bet you valued it even more because you earned it.
When kids are given things freely, they often lose the sense of value experienced when something is earned. Earning a special item such as a toy or a coveted pair of trendy shoes—or even earning the privilege to participate in an activity—doesn’t have to be punitive. It can actually be quite joyful and exciting. Earning a reward brings the recipient a great deal of satisfaction.
The next time your child asks for something, rather than caving and just handing it over (or dealing out money to purchase the “prize”), ask your child what she thinks she could do to earn the item. Discuss the price and be candid about it. It’s perfectly fine to say, “I didn’t budget money for a Barbie this trip to the store, but I think we can come up with an idea together so you can earn it soon. What do you think you could do to earn enough money (or to earn the privilege)?”
And remember: things don’t have to be the center of attention when it comes to gratification. Our family learned so much when I took away our kids’ toys. Earning privileges can always come in the form of activities, experiences and trips. Our journey toward a more simplified lifestyle has taught all of us the value in creativity and family time in lieu of material things.
I’ll be honest. Whichever path your choose, you’re probably going to face an adjustment period when you first propose these ideas—particularly if it’s new to your child and she hasn’t been told before that she needs to earn privileges.
Setting a goal with your child and then helping them work toward that goal helps them feel successful and proud. It also helps them consider how much they want an item, so they can learn impulse control and delayed gratification.
3. Help Children with Gratitude
Regularly showing gratitude can change your family’s entire mindset. Encourage your kids to write thank you notes and to be sincerely gracious. This is important not just from an etiquette standpoint, but because it teaches children to consider the positive things in their life and to critically think and reflect on kind actions of others.
When someone does something nice for your child or gives her a gift, make it a family policy to write a thank you note. It doesn’t have to be an essay. A short, simple and sincere show of thanks is just fine. Drawing a “thank you picture” is perfectly acceptable for youngsters. Whatever the expression, these thank you activities help kids truly acknowledge the goodness of people around them.
On a similar note, make gratitude a regular family practice. Each day at dinner, ask your kids what they were most grateful for today, or simply ask each family member, “What was the best thing that happened to you today?” Encourage everyone in your family to express their gratitude through prayer and to reflect on the people and happenings that make their life great—and don’t forget the small stuff!
Making gratitude a daily practice helps keep all of us positive, not just the kids. You’ll be amazed at how these little daily additions can really change the dynamic of your entire household.
4. Encourage Positive Outlets and Expressions
As I’m sure you know, kids often struggle measuring their emotions. They feel things deeply and their feelings can change from minute to minute! We’ve all seen one of our kids go from riotous laughter and joy to complete and utter devastation and tears in what seems like seconds. The joyful part can be wonderful and delightful—but the other part, well, not so much.
Approach emotional turmoil with understanding. Teaching your kids how to count to ten, deep breathe, take a personal timeout, or be able to say something like, “I need a minute to calm down” can seem almost comical at first. However, giving your kids coping tools really helps them control some of that emotional energy and make good choices. Help your kids use “I feel” statements, rather than accusatory words, and ask them to identify their emotions, the cause of them, and what they see as the resolution.
5. Lead by Example
While we all try to lead by example, some days are certainly better than others. Many of us struggle to articulate our emotions, focus on the positive, express gratitude, think of others and delay gratification. However, our kids have no better role models than their parents. (No pressure, right??)
When we approach family life with a positive attitude, we set the tone for your household—and our kids will follow…eventually. When we’ve cleaned the house or worked on family projects, I’m amazed at how readily my girls enthusiastically join the team. Children naturally want to please people and to be included in activities—and they respond quickly to praise and positive response. Our kids might actually have a thing or two to teach us as well!
We all have our spoiled and selfish moments, but by implementing a few tactics and changing our mindset and activities to flow in a more positive direction, we can shift our entire family’s behavior and “unspoil” our kids. Like I said, give yourself a break, but try to be consistent. While it might take a while to see a big change, if you stick with it, I promise it’s worth it.