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Unspoil Your Child

STEP 4: Resist peer pressure.

When all their other tactics fail, children will inevitably resort to the one sentence that has been used to guilt parents since that first annoying caveman next door gave his son a shiny new rock: "But all the other kids have one!" Unfortunately, there is no magical response that will definitively shoot this argument down, but there are a couple of strategies that can be successful. "You can say to your child, 'That's interesting. Let's talk about it,'" suggests Ehrensaft. "There may be a good reason for your child wanting what the other kids have: It might be a great new game everyone is playing at recess or a new book they're all talking about. Tell your child that you will look into it, and see if it's something you want him to have." If the book/toy/game seems worthwhile, you can add it to his birthday list — or together you can come up with a strategy for how he can "earn" it, whether that means helping him calculate how much allowance he'll need to buy it (perhaps he needs to save half the price, and you'll kick in the rest) or suggesting it as a reward for a good report card.

STEP 5: Brace yourself for the meltdowns.

The first few times you stick to a new rule and say no, it will be painful — for you, your child, and everyone else within hearing distance. "There will be meltdowns at first, so fasten your seat belt and react to them in a very calm and neutral way," suggests Ehrensaft. "If you hold to that line every day, your child will learn that this is not the way to get something that he wants, and he will eventually stop." In fact, experts compare this part of the despoiling process to sleep-training your baby: a week or so of stress and tears, and then one blissful night your baby sleeps till morning — or your kid finally understands the word no.

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