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Unspoil Your Child

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STEP 3: Don't justify your decisions.

The other night, I told my 4-year-old daughter that she couldn't have any cookies before dinner. Somehow, she managed to turn this into a 10-minute discussion about why. I realize now that she had no interest in listening to my explanation about the sugar content of the cookies — she was simply doing her best to break me. "Parents have this illusion that if they give their children the reason why they can't do what they want, the child will stop wanting it, and as far as I know, that has never happened in the history of parenting!" says Nancy Samalin, a parenting educator and author of Loving Without Spoiling. Instead of trying to reason your child into obeying you, simply say, "No, and that's the end of the discussion." If she comes back at you with, "Why?" remind her, "In our house, that is the rule." And as your child repeats her "But why?" refrain over and over, keep this statistic in mind: A survey by the Center for a New American Dream found that kids will ask for something an average of nine times before the parents cave. So stay strong and repeat your simple "no" on the ninth, tenth, and eleventh entreaty. Eventually, your child will realize that her attempts are futile, and she'll move on.

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.

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