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Unspoil Your Child


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Marisa Cohen
Redbook Magazine Logo
A trinket here. A toy there. Somehow it's all adding up to a kid who expects to get whatever she asks for. Here's how to unspoil your child.

Who hasn't bought a few moments of peace from a screaming toddler with a lollipop or splurged on a pair of sneakers just to hear your son say, "Mom, you're the best!" When you're busy or stressed, it's tempting to buy your 2-year-old that stuffed pony just so you can get through Wal-Mart without the Embarrassing Public Tantrum. Or let your kid eat candy and bread for dinner so you can eat your own fish and veggies in peace. But if your child rarely has to wait between "I want it" and "I have it," then he may be missing out on the chance to develop the emotional tools he'll need to be a happy and successful adult. “When your child doesn't have the opportunity to deal with the little disappointments in life by your saying no to her, you may be giving her poor preparation for dealing with the small or large difficulties that may come her way," says Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., author of Spoiling Childhood: How Well-Meaning Parents Are Giving Children Too Much — But Not What They Need. It's not too far a stretch to see how a child who is given every new video game the day it comes out can develop into an adult who gets frustrated when he isn't given the corner office on his first day of work, notes Steven Friedfeld, a family therapist in New York City. But you can put an end to the gimmes — whether it's your child's inflated holiday list or her insistence on treats or snacks as prepayment for good behavior. Here's how to go about implementing the despoiling process:

STEP 1: Acknowledge where the problem starts.

As much as we hate to admit it, spoiling is mostly about us parents: "We often try to compensate for what we didn't have as children, to assure ourselves that our children love us, or to make up for any parental guilt we feel," says Ehrensaft. Teresa Sellinger, a mother of three in Sparta, NJ, readily agrees with this: "I came from a huge family and grew up wearing hand-me-downs," she says. "So I'm always buying my daughters the most stylish, matching outfits to wear to school. I know that's more about my issues than theirs!" Giving your kids whatever new gizmo they want as soon as they want it is also a way to show off how successful you are, both financially and as a supermom. How many times have you heard a mom "complain" about how many Webkinz her kid has, as she simultaneously glows in the knowledge that she was able to buy them for her? Try to figure out where your need to spoil is coming from. Ask yourself a series of questions: Are you tired, overstressed, and trying to find a quick-fix solution? Are you feeling guilty for not spending enough time with your kids? Are you getting more of a kick out of this gift than your child is? Once you figure out what's driving your tendency to spoil your kids, you'll be better able to kick the habit.

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