I WANT IT NOW!
SPOILED ROTTEN: THE PITFALLS OF GIVING KIDS TOO MUCH
Most parents know that not giving in to a child might set off a meltdown. But saying yes too often, and giving our children too much, may have more serious and long-term effects.
“We’ve gotten this idea in our society that children are not supposed to feel sad or frustrated for more than five minutes,” says therapist Marna Lynn, founder and director of Bergen Family Therapy in Ridgewood. “If they do, parents believe they’re doing something wrong, so they have to run in and fix it.” And “fixing” those feelings often involves buying things to make kids feel better.
“Those emotions are part of everyday life, and parents must teach children how to deal with them,” Lynn says. “But instead, we buy things to take their minds off of it. So children don’t know how to cope, only how to take their minds off of it.”
Lynn believes the effects of constant giving have a wide range. “Kids develop anxiety because they don’t know how to handle hard times. Some kids may freeze during tests, while others may develop an eating disorder or depression,” she says. “These kids look great on the outside, but they don’t feel fulfilled emotionally so they’re not happy or confident.”
Dr. Jennifer Politis, a psychologist in Ramsey, also sees the potential long-term effects of spoiling children. “I see a lot of young adults in their 20s and 30s who were given so much growing up, they never realized they needed to work for anything. They come in unemployed and unhappy. They expect to graduate college with a perfect job and have the perfect life, and if that doesn’t happen they don’t know how to function. And instead of coming up with a plan they just expect to get things,” she says, noting that these young adults often turn to drugs or alcohol to bring them happiness.
“I think parents today have good intentions, but they feel stressed out, they’re working more and they want their kids to have what they didn’t,” she says. “But when a parent can’t say no, children don’t learn how to take disappointment.”
“KIDS USUALLY JUST WANT THEIR PARENT’S TIME AND ATTENTION. SO I TELL PARENTS TO GIVE PRESENCE, NOT PRESENTS.” Dr. Jennifer Politis PSYCHOLOGIST
And spoiling isn’t just about material things. “Parents don’t want their kids to fall or to fail, so we swoop in and fix their problems,” Politis says. “And children don’t learn how to problem solve or try out different strategies of what works and what doesn’t.”
Parents of spoiled kids face issues themselves. “These parents deal with a lot of whining and demands, so they’re stressed and anxious around the child, which strains the emotional connection between them,” she says. “There’s a constant battle of ‘you don’t love me enough to get me what I want.’”
There is a way, however, to reverse course. “Parents must first realize it’s OK for kids to be sad or frustrated sometimes so they learn to handle it,” Lynn says. “If something breaks, don’t run and buy a new one. If a child is upset, don’t go get them things. Don’t teach them to numb themselves. Teach them to cope.”
She also suggests parents acknowledge their child’s feelings. “When we show kids we know what they’re feeling, we connect with them. And when we talk about those feelings, we slow down all the anxiety,” she says. “We buy things to either avoid or increase a feeling, but when we start to look into what those feelings mean, our children start to want less.”
Lynn further advises parents to problem solve with their child. Ask “What should we do?” she says. “That lets them know they’re not alone. We’re here with you.”
And if parents want to buy their children things, they should help them earn it. “When you earn something you enjoy and appreciate it more, and you learn delayed gratification,” says Lynn.
THE JOYS OF GIVING TO OTHERS
Both Lynn and Politis advocate leading by example. Politis cites research showing kids who do community service with their parents are happier and have less of a sense of entitlement.
Jen Maxfield, a Bergen mom and a reporter for WNBC, involves her three kids in charitable projects year round.
“I think having your children think about other people makes them more appreciative of what they have and also helps to make them more thoughtful and caring people,” Maxfield says.
Such projects include the Bergen County Volunteer Center’s “All Wrapped Up” holiday program, where volunteers receive the names, ages and wish list of
a family living in hardship, and then buy them their holiday gifts. “Every year the kids and I go shopping together and we imagine this family and what they might like,” she says.
Maxfield and her children also participate in the Center for Food Action’s “Weekend Snack Pack” program, where they pack healthy snacks that are distributed to children at risk of hunger. “Every child knows what hunger feels like so they relate to this and can sympathize,” she says. “They get on the assembly line with friends and see how fast they can pack, so they have fun with it.” Anyone interested in the program can find more information at cfanj.org.
For Manuela Seigerman’s Tenafly family, birthdays are opportunities to give back. “For each of our birthdays, we choose an organization and help them instead of getting gifts for ourselves,” says Seigerman of her husband and two children, ages 6 and 7. “If we just keep giving things to our kids, they don’t learn to appreciate or cherish anything because everything is disposable. It just comes and goes,” she says.
Seigerman lets her children choose which charities to help, with past choices including the Closter Animal Welfare Society and Englewood’s Women’s Rights Information Center. “My kids still get gifts from relatives and that’s enough for them,” she says. “They get such a good feeling from making other people happy.”
And Politis believes it’s not really material things that children crave anyway. “Kids usually just want their parents’ time and attention,” she says. “So I tell parents to give presence, not presents.”
Meaning you don’t have to buy a thing to give your child something priceless.
EARLY LESSONS IN PHILANTHROPY Matthew collected $1,000 in gift cards to be donated to the Center for Food Action (CFA) in Englewood at his birthday party at Bricks 4 Kidz. His mission was to end hunger. It was the first year that the party place also made a donation, making the event even more special. (Inset) Sofia loves animals! When turning 7, she chose to help the Closter Animal Welfare Society (CLAWS). Sofia and her friends donated $700 in food and gift cards to help pets in need.
TRUE VALUE Spending time with them, not giving them more things, can go a long way when it comes to keeping kids happy. Teaching kids about the importance of giving back to others who are less fortunate can pay off in a major way.