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Unspoil Your Child

STEP 6: Share the thrill of anticipation.

I remember being 8 years old and running up and down the stairs in my house, screaming with excitement because the once-a-year TV showing of The Wizard of Oz was about to begin. Today, when my daughters want to see Dorothy and the Munchkins, they simply pop in a DVD.
While our instant-gratification culture has made life easier in many ways, it has also diluted the joy of looking forward to special experiences. Just think about the buildup of excitement you get when you plan a vacation a month away — there's the thrill of planning it, packing for it, talking to your friends about it. When you finally get there, the joy is magnified. But if there is no wait, no period of dreaming about it, the thrill is often less intense. "When kids are accustomed to getting things right away, nothing excites them anymore," says Friedfeld. "The bar has been raised so high that by the time they're teenagers, they might start looking toward other things — like alcohol and sex — for thrills." Friedfeld also points out that teaching your children to wait for fun and treats helps them sustain focus and attention, two very important skills for success in school.

One of the best ways to teach anticipation is to give your child an allowance and let him save it toward the item he covets. My daughter, for example, knows that it takes exactly three weeks of saving her $2 allowance to have enough to buy a new Rainbow Fairies book, and seven weeks to save for a new Webkinz. For those few weeks, she talks about the book or animal, draws pictures of it, and discusses it endlessly with her little sister.
Other parents have found wish lists to be a powerful tool. Small children can cut out or draw pictures of toys they want for their birthday or Christmas/Hanukkah; older kids can create electronic wish lists on amazon.com and other websites. And make the list finite: She can keep 10 items on it at any given time; to add a new wish, she has to eliminate an old one. This not only helps her prioritize what she truly desires but also shows your child that a toy she swore she couldn't live without in April may seem less important in July.

STEP 7: Indulge in nonmaterial joys.

By now, your child should be behaving so wonderfully that you will be tempted to smother him with tons of treats. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can bestow in abundance without running the risk of spoiling: snuggling on the couch and reading books; saying "I love you"; popping a bowl of popcorn and watching the football game; listening to her tell an elaborate story about a princess and her magical purple rhinoceros without even once checking your cell phone. And don't forget those weekly rewards for good behavior — if your child has followed all the rules you set, go ahead and share an ice cream sundae or do each other's nails. Because when you strip the parent-child relationship down to its core, it's pretty simple: Most kids would forgo another stuffed animal in favor of time with you. And that's something money can't buy.

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