My son’s little brown eyes narrow into slits as he hovers close to my face.
“I want a toy!” he yells.
There are a million thoughts running through my mind, but the one that keeps playing the loudest is “how the fuck did we get here?” My son is a pretty mild mannered kid. Sure, he has his moments, but he’s four. I know most of the time he’s just acting his age and can chalk any sass up to that.
But this was different than the usual sass. This was coming from a place of entitlement. Somehow my son had decided that just because he had asked for something, I was just going to buy it for him, no questions asked. And that is definitely not how I want to run our household.
I will admit that sometimes I spoil my son a little. I’m a single mom, and when he was younger, I used to overcompensate for my guilt with toys. As he’s gotten older, I’ve slowed that down considerably, but sometimes old habits die hard. If we’ve reached the point where my son is becoming demanding and disrespectful, then I knew it was time to put my foot down and say “no more.”
On her website, Your Modern Family, Becky Mansfield has some great tips for “unspoiling” your kids. I have been trying some and while it’s a lot to unlearn the behavior for both of us, it’s so necessary and important.
1. Be consistent.
I admit, that is a hard one for me, but I’m working on it. Following through with discipline is usually the hardest. Offering consequences is a good first step. For example, if I have to ask my son more than twice to put away a toy, the toy gets taken away for an hour.
Mansfield also mentions the “when, then” method. This has helped us immensely. For example, “when you’ve finished your dinner, then you can have dessert.” It sets a simple, attainable goal with a clear cut consequence. Leaving little room for grey area is one of the keys to being consistent. I’ve noticed that one of my biggest inconsistencies is with time. I’ll say “ten minutes until” three times, which means my kid is getting extra time. If I say, “you have ten minutes to play in the bathtub before it’s time to wash up and get out,” then I will set the timer on my phone for ten minutes. Then, both of us can hear it when it goes off, and there’s little arguing.
2. Set expectations.
This is especially helpful for when you’re leaving the house. When we’re going grocery shopping, I try to take a detailed list if I can. I will share the items on the list with my son when we walk into the store, so that I don’t forget, but also because then he knows that if he wants something that’s not on the list, chances are he’s not getting it.
If we’re at a store like Target, where it is easy to deviate from the list, I make it very clear before we walk in that we’re not going to the toy section. I don’t care if we’re shopping right next to it; we’ll walk right past it. He can be as mad as he wants, but if he causes a scene, he will lose a privilege when we get home, like no television or no tablet for an hour.
3. Be careful with random gifts.
When it comes to buying things, we all have times where we will slip up. Buying our kids toys when there is no reason to is one of the biggest slip ups we can make as parents. I admit it, I’ve done it a bunch of times. Buying my son toys is the easiest way to spoil him. If I see a toy he likes on sale, or one that I know will be hard to find in a couple of months, I’ll buy it. I cannot resist a sale, I’m not ashamed to admit it. But then I’m creating a cycle of expectation for my son.
If my son breaks or loses a toy, I will not replace it quickly, if at all. I recently told him that if he couldn’t take care of his crayons, I refused to buy another box. I’m super serious because, frankly, I hate cleaning up little bits of crayons. When I stopped buying toys just because, it taught my son to appreciate a gift. For the most part he only gets gifts for Christmas and his birthday, but sometimes if he’s been behaving and doing his chore consistently, I might surprise him with something inexpensive. If you’re like, “thanks for picking up your toys, here’s a scooter!” you’re doing it wrong.
Wanting to give our kids stuff is natural. But if we just keep giving them things, they’ll begin to take us for granted. Not giving in to their demands can be hard when sometimes all you want is five minutes to pee in peace. I mean, come on, we’re only human. No one is saying it isn’t okay to spoil them sometimes. It’s when it becomes excessive that it becomes a problem. But creating boundaries that are easy to stick to and have clear consequences aren’t as hard as they may feel.
It’s going to be hard at first. Kids are stubborn, and if they get conditioned to expect something for nothing, breaking the cycle can be hellish. But remember this, “No” is a full sentence. Tears dry. And you don’t want to raise a kid who is an entitled, disrespectful little shit. Because they’re going to have to exist in the real world without you.
And you don’t want to be “that” mom, do you?