Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unspoiling my children

You know what? I'm learning that it's okay to say no. It's been a few weeks since I read Richard Bromfield, PhD's How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents, but I'm starting to put his advice into action.

He recommends putting an end to indulging our children--not just because we'll be happier if we quit frittering away our time and money making them "happy," but because they'll grow into happier, more self-reliant individuals if we don't give into their demands.

Are my children spoiled? On the grand scale of American children, they're probably not. They are mostly polite, well-behaved kids, and their behavior never approached the horrifying examples in the book of children who demand a toy or candy reward for enduring a few boring errands.

But they want for nothing and probably are over-indulged. Worse yet, I've witnessed them acting entitled or attempt negotiation with us (e.g. "Please can we have dessert? I ate a good dinner. Please, please, please?") I've found it's easier to give the kids a small square of chocolate than it is to hold my ground and say "No means no."

But I'm embracing my ability to power to say no and defer gratification. Every time my 5 year old asks for something (usually something from that infernal American Girl catalog), I tell her "You can ask for that for your birthday or save up your allowance." She's learning about the relative cost of things and would rather consider purchases than actually make them.

I've also become better about enforcing consequences. Both girls behaved atrociously on our flight home from NYC. It was lunchtime when we landed and I knew they were hungry. I also knew it would be another half and a half before they got home, so I needed to feed them. I bought them a McDonald's Happy Meal to share, but I made a point of sending back the toy. The girls' eyes widened a little, but shockingly, they didn't utter a word of protest. It was as if they understood that their actions really did have consequences and they quietly ate their chicken nuggets.

I'm not sure my demonstration of unspoiling was as dramatic as the "shock and awe" tactics Dr. Bromfield recommends, but it did work. Well enough, in fact, that I'm almost looking forward to turning around the car the next time the kids are shouting in the back seat and silently driving them back home.

Disclosure: My copy of the book was a review copy provided to me free of charge. The link is an Amazon affiliate link, which means I'll get a small percentage of the purchase price if you click through to buy it.

A couple hours after posting this, I received the following email from the book's author:

Alma, I loved your story about unspoiling. Your buying your daughters a Happy Meal but asking McD's to keep the toy was brilliant.  And I could not help but smile at your anticipated pleasure at turning the car at the next infraction.  You so demonstrate what I truly believe, that parents know all this, and that once it clicks, it clicks.
Richard Bromfield