By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Is it ok to spoil your kids?
None of us want "spoiled" kids - kids who are bratty, self-centered, demanding, inconsiderate. But what spoils children and what doesn't?
When I was raising my children, I was often told that I would spoil them if I didn't let them cry or if I held them a lot. Fortunately, I didn't believe this nonsense. You can't spoil a child with love. Children need love as much as they need food and water.
The problem is in defining "love." We are not giving love to our children when we give them everything they want on the material level. Parents often think they are loving their children when they pile them up with all the toys or activities they desire, but what is the actual result of indulging our children in this way?
Three traps of material giving
There are three big negative consequence of "spoiling" our children on the material level. First, it fosters addictive behavior. Children fill up from the outside with things and activities rather than filling up from the inside through caring and creativity.
Too many adults are addicted to spending or other activities to fill up their emptiness. When they are stressed, instead of dealing with the source of their stress (which is often some way they are not taking care of themselves), they cover their feelings with addictive behaviors such as spending, TV, food or alcohol. When we offer our children too many toys, too many activities, too much comfort food, or allow too much TV, we are not loving them. We are training them to be addicted.
Another trap is providing things or activities for our children while denying our own needs. It's not loving to children to give in to their every demand, especially if it means putting yourself aside. When you constantly give in to your children and deny your own needs, children learn that it's okay to disregard others needs and be demanding brats.
Children may not learn to consider others if you do not expect them to consider you by considering yourself. They will learn to treat you the way you treat yourself, so it is not loving to your children to disregard yourself. When you disrespect yourself, you teach your children to be disrespectful.
One of the big issues in our society is that children learn to identify their self-worth with others' approval for how they look, how many toys they have and how expensive their clothes are. Unless parents show their children that they value them for their inner qualities -- their caring, creativity, compassion, laughter, joy and passion for life -- rather than for their looks, possessions and performance, children learn to attach their self-worth to others’ approval.
True self-worth comes from inside, from knowing we are valuable for who we are and not for how we look or what we do. Unfortunately, our materialistic society fosters attaching self-worth and lovability to outside approval for things such as a car or a house or clothes. When we "spoil" our children with material possessions, we foster co-dependency on outside approval.
You can’t give too much love
You can spoil your children with material things, but you can't spoil them with love. Love is the energy of acceptance for who your child really is. Love is understanding, compassion, caring.
You are loving your children when you spend time just being with them, hanging out with them, being fully present with them, really listening to them. The greatest gift you can give to your children is to value them for who they really are on the inside. This is love, and nothing material can ever replace it.
As we move into the holidays, examine the values and expectations you are imparting to your children. Perhaps instead of spending so much money on presents for your children, your whole family could buy clothing and food for those who are in need.
Imagine the real gift you could give your children if the holidays were times of true service in addition to feasting and sharing gifts with each other. Rather than "spoiling" our children by giving them too much, why not enhance their self-worth by providing them opportunities to become giving, caring human beings?
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is the best-selling author and co-author of eight books, including Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You?, Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By My Kids?, Healing Your Aloneness, Inner Bonding and Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By God?. Visit her web site for a free Inner Bonding course or contact her at [email protected].