It’s hard to play tough

Spoiling kids has been discussed everywhere lately, as parents grapple with decisions that may be easy in the short term (Fine, you can have a sweetie after the grocery shopping), but have implications for the long term (Is my laundry done yet? I have lectures).

The new generation stands out starkly from others: They notably are more materialistic, at a younger age. Parents tell me they feel more guilt because they’re working longer hours, but more guilt leads to more compensating and less consistency.

Look at the proliferation of blow-out birthday parties, even if our child is too young to remember it…

Parents typically give in to whining when their child is around 18 months, as their language skills take off. As soon as children see their parents are serious, they tend to adapt, but most parents never get serious. It’s hard to play tough.

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So what to do? Here are some tips to change things around:

Play more

Children today have, according to studies, decreased resilience and increased anxiety, depression and egotism. All of which contribute to the entitled aura children have today in this trophy-for-showing-up world we live, and it’s because of a lack of time for free play.

Think about how much you played when you were growing up. With the employment outlook here in SA, parents worry about their child’s future more than ours did. Childhood has become ‘résumé building’: The right preschool, the right sport, trendy extra-murals. But play is how we all learned life skills. When dad’s not looking, five-year-olds swing high to the point where they feel fear. And if there’s a scuffle, they learn self-control because their friends might leave if they lash out. Play is a lesson in give and take.

The take-home is that we have to pull back and give children room to take risks. Do that, and you’ve made your little-one’s playmates your partners in teaching them self-discipline. And, yes, there’s also tons of value in you playing with your kids.

Focus on values

When parents decide to reverse their actions, they focus on ‘no’, and punishment. But it’s not the solution. Say you want your son to help clean up. How do you get him to do it? You could say, ‘We need to get four things done. Which do you choose?’ Start by doing it together, and gradually step back from helping, then praise your son as he does more.

The reason this works, is because you’re approaching it in terms of values: Helping your child to take pride in a job well done. Though it may seem that giving a child control over which chores they want to do would contribute to an entitled feeling, it’s the opposite. Choice is important in guiding behaviour, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a real choice or a choice given with an illusion of control.

The value system extends to the material too; we need to look at our own values. If you always own the latest phone, handbag or laptop, your child sees that and expects the same.

Take it slow

Consider how people throw themselves into a diet and soon give up. The shock of changing everything means we change nothing. The same is true for un-spoiling children. You have to make slow and progressive changes, and we are in this because our lives are too busy. If early evening is the toughest time, make a decision to do less, so you have time to focus on your children and bring around change.

Remember their age

Toddlers are irrational beings, it’s hard to explain and reason with them, so you need to use your tone and body language, and ignore tantrums.

For more information contact Dr Laure Stretch: [email protected]