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.”


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.


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...

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.

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