Happy October everyone! I know there’s a lot going on this month, but I was surfing social media and the topic of ‘spoiling’ came up. I figured I’d write this article before the holidays get in full gear and kids really begin to lose their minds.
I saw a very cute four year old exhibiting some behaviors that bothered her caregivers and it took me back a little to an issue I had with my youngest son, the Khev-meister. It was new for me because my oldest two were well, they were raised differently. See, my oldest two are only three years apart and when I had them I was a young, poor mom. Although I always had the support of a huge, well established family, there were many times when I just couldn’t afford to get two little boys everything they wanted, whether they deserved it or not. It was just a reality of being a young, unwed mother with only a high school degree. My boys often were very deserving of a little extra material happiness but I just wasn’t in a position to provide it.
One of the ways I taught them to be grateful for what they had was to take them on charity outings at Christmas time. The post office used to have a program where you could pick a letter from a child addressed to Santa, and buy everything on their list and deliver it to them. (Obviously this created some challenges that later on made the practice untenable – I still answer letters, however now the packages are dropped off at the post office and you never get a chance to see the difference you’ve made to an actual child.) These outings were great for my boys because they got to visit and deliver things to children who had asked Santa for warm socks and a coat for their baby sister as opposed to the latest video game console.
Fast forward to my youngest son who is 8 years younger than his closest brother. I was also much older and more established in my career when I gave birth to him and really got a chance to enjoy parenting in a way that I hadn’t before. He was literally the center of attention from birth. His brothers used to physically fight over who would hold him, sometimes pulling the baby in different directions and requiring my intervention. Khev was a happy, funny baby. He had a personality that was engaging from very small and we all wanted to be the one to make him smile. He got anything he asked for. It was easy, he didn’t want outrageously expensive things and I could afford everything he asked for, I really enjoyed putting a smile on his little face, it totally gave me a rush of joy to see him so happy. Have you started to guess what happened?
As he got older, he wasn’t used to hearing no. So when I did have to tell him no for anything, it was a problem. He whined. He blinked back silent tears and looked like I crushed his soul. As he approached the age of 9, it was like he just couldn’t take no for an answer for anything. If I said no he followed me through the house, begging, explaining, arguing. It was getting insane and it was my fault I was miserable because I’d created this sweet little annoying monster. He wasn’t really a brat, he had great manners, the best grades, he was competitive dedicated and sweet. He just couldn’t stand to hear his parents tell him no. And it wasn’t necessarily over any material things either, it was just if he wanted to do something or didn’t want to do something that I required, it turned into a federal case.
I’ll just tell you, there’s no amount of reasoning you are going to do, even with a nine year old that is going to fix this. The answer is to start saying no to EVERYTHING. And that’s exactly what I did, I said no to anything and everything he asked me. Nothing was up for negotiation, ever anymore. It was just ‘No’. He pouted a lot. He said I was mean. But eventually, two things happened: he began to ask for things and just to get his way in general much less because he felt that the answer would just be no. He began to seriously weigh what to ask for an how to ask for it to get a positive reaction. For instance, he stopped trying to get out of swim class because I was making him go. And he would go for three, maybe four classes before he would ask for McDonald’s after class. He would start by saying it’s been a while since we had McDonald’s, could we get it after class next Sunday? I would then say, you know what, it’s been over a month. If you continue to behave for the rest of the week, McDonald’s it is on Sunday.
This is a win/win situation for all involved. He eats less McDonald’s which I think is pretty gross anyway. He begs, whines and is generally annoying af to my life way, way less. And he finally began to appreciate the fact that I don’t have to buy him what he asks for every time he asks for it just because he is a good kid. Being a good kid doesn’t mean you should automatically get what you ask for because then, you’ll no longer be so good of a kid.
That whole process wasn’t as easy as writing a few paragraphs about it sounds, and it didn’t take 2 months either. It took well over a year and of course we had a couple of set backs. I felt guilty at times and he smelled this weakness and took advantage of it like a shark smelling blood, which galvanized me to stick to my guns better going forward. There were times I felt like being the person to put a smile on his face, not that distressed scowl and I felt bad. But I knew I didn’t want a teenager that felt like he should get whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it because that would be a hell of a lot more difficult to fix than a nine year old. And once I got through it I couldn’t believe I had let it go on for nine years in the first place.
If you want to give your child something that will help them in life, teach them that they can’t always get what they want. You’ll lessen their disappointments in the future and teach them how to cope with a life that isn’t always going to go their way. Too many young people have been given their hearts desires as kids and cannot navigate the real world where their feelings aren’t the top priority of every other human they come in contact with. I feel sorry for them because it was easier for their parents to just say yes, avoid conflict, internalize their child’s smile with their own beneficence. No coping tools, just unfulfilled desires and no clue how to achieve them either.