No parent sets out to intentionally spoil their kid. Most of us do our best to raise our babies to be thoughtful, kind, dependable, and grateful. We cringe at the thought of our children acting like spoiled monsters, or hurting someone else because they think they’re better or more deserving.
And so we structure our lives so our kids absorb the important lessons in How to Be A Good Human.
We don’t allow impulse purchases in the checkout lane. We limit screen time. We enforce a reasonable bedtime. We teach them to be kind and respectful to servers. We expect them to donate their neglected toys to charity. We bring them with us when we volunteer to pack dinners and supplies for families struggling during the holidays. If they skip a homework assignment, we make them finish it and turn it in whether the teacher will give them credit or not. We teach them to allow guests to have first pick of what game to play, and we remind them to ask their guests if they would like a glass of water or a snack.
All of these little day-to-day practices add up to a kid who learns to consider others and not feel like everything is owed to them. And we commit to these things because no one wants to raise a rude, entitled brat.
That said, there are a few ways I love to indulge my kids — occasional acts that feel like huge treats to them and make them feel like they’re “getting away with” something, but really we’re doing something that benefits all of us and doesn’t actually spoil my kids at all.
Here are my top 4 favorite ways to “spoil” my kids:
1. Always say yes to books.
I got this idea from a friend who has an “unlimited book” rule in her house. Her four kids are never allowed impulse purchases and don’t have a ton of toys, but one thing they are never denied is books. Unlimited brand-new hardcovers aren’t in my budget, but that’s okay because Amazon does have great-priced paperback books, our local thrift shop has loads of books for under a dollar, and of course, the local library has thousands of books we can read for free. The cool thing about “spoiling” my kids with books is that they have this sense of getting whatever they ask for, but they don’t even realize that they’re expanding their minds with each new book they read.
2. Allow a later bedtime.
We’re pretty consistent about when the kids get into bed on school nights, because obviously kid brains need sleep in order for their brains to function and their bodies to grow. But every now and again it’s worth it to let your kid stay up a little past bedtime, or even way past bedtime. For example, when an impromptu game night turns into a marathon Monopoly session. Or because they simply must read one more chapter. Or because something cool is happening that rarely happens. We live in Florida, not far from Cape Canaveral, and sometimes there will be a late-night rocket launch. Or sometimes there’s a lunar eclipse. I always let my kids stay up to see those. The kids might miss an hour of sleep, but the time spent experiencing something cool together makes it 100% worth it.
3. Get absolutely filthy.
Like most parents, I spend a lot of time telling my kids, “Eat over your plate!” “Don’t spill that!” and “If you stomp in that mud puddle, so help me …” I want to teach them to care for their things. But sometimes, after a nice heavy rain, it’s good to put on your grungiest clothes or an old bathing suit and stomp in some mud puddles. Or paint a giant canvas with bright colors without caring about paint splattering. Hell, if you’re in your own backyard, who says the kids even need clothes? Connect with nature, sweet babies. Sometimes you’ve got to become one with the earth, literally. These messy memories are ones our kids will never forget.
4. Play hooky from school.
Again, this is only an occasional thing. I don’t want to give my kids the idea that skipping school is something they can do with any amount of regularity. But every now and then, if we’ve had a ridiculously stressful week, or we’ve been so busy running around to all our activities that we’ve hardly spoken two words to each other and we just desperately need to reconnect, I will allow a snuggly, ice-cream-eating, hours-long-movie-marathon day off from school. These days also happen to be the perfect opportunity to run outside in their underwear and stomp in some puddles. And again, this is an indulgence that, though it happens infrequently, is an experience our kids won’t soon forget.
I just want my kids to know that, though I will always encourage gratitude, kindness, generosity, and dependability, I will also encourage them to occasionally break the rules, spoil themselves, and make a really big mess. Especially when doing so strengthens the bonds between them and their loved ones and creates unforgettable memories.
Because living and loving with abandon is probably the most important life lesson of all.