“Porter, you’re being whiny and you need to stop it,” said Spencer, my husband, in exasperation one evening. He had just treated the children to a day of fun times and snacks, and even purchased souvenir T-shirts for them.
Spencer had had enough. The funny thing was that Porter’s whiny moment was the first occurrence of whininess and entitlement all day.
I pondered the situation and realized that my husband had been set up to get angry that night and Porter had been set up for whiny behavior. He was behaving like children behave when they’re spoiled and so was my husband. I asked myself, “What could have changed this moment? Why are all of these normally self-governed people behaving this way?”
How The Spoiling Happens
No one wants to let their child down. Most parents thrill at the idea of doing something for their children that will create sparkling eyes and smiling faces. Since they love them so dearly, parents have a tendency to spoil without realizing they’re doing it. That’s the way it occasionally happens with my fun-loving husband, Spencer.
He gives, spends and shares his time, energy and fun. Somewhere in the middle of all that giving, sharing and loving he creates expectations that the children will be easy to parent. In other words, they won’t do anything wrong that he needs to problem solve or talk about.
I know this self-sabotage isn’t unique to Spencer. Other parents have told me many times that their spouse gets angry when it’s decided he or she is entitled to certain treatment from the children.
Let’s use Susan and Mark as an example. You see, in most adult relationships, when one adult (Susan) does something nice for another adult (Mark), then Mark knows it’s best to show appreciation to Susan in order to teach her what kind of treatment he enjoys. Mark is also likely to do something nice for Susan because her kindness and love filled him with gratitude, which increases his love for her and inspires him to serve her. If the relationship is healthy, then showing love in this way will cause Mark and Susan to build a deep, meaningful and united relationship.
Since parents love their children so much, they feel inspired to do nice things for them. In return, they naturally assume that children will reciprocate their love by serving them. Some mature children who understand give and take in relationships might do this, but many children won’t. The children who won’t only view themselves in a position of taking, not in a position to be a giver in a relationship. These children don’t even think of reciprocating the affection by showing gratitude. They just expect to be given whatever they want and to be treated in any way they want. Some children will even go so far as to tell their parents that they can’t say certain things to them or give them boundaries with electronics, games or friends. These children are trying to deny parents the ability to fulfill their role as protector and teacher.
Spoiled, entitled children are undermining the God-given roles in our society. This causes many parents to feel like they don’t know what it means to be a parent and causes children to feel like they don’t know what it means to be a child. This is one of the main sources of dysfunction in families.
Raising an Unspoiled Child
As common as it is to hear that children are the ones who need to fix these dysfunction problems by being respectful, the responsibility to solve this problem actually rests on the parents. Years ago I made myself a recipe for raising an unspoiled child. Here are the five key ingredients:
1. Teach patience by making children wait. This means they sometimes have to wait for your attention. It also means they sometimes have to wait before they can have that cool toy, see that new movie or eat that delicious treat. Delayed gratification is a principle often employed by men and women of wisdom and good character. These people know that they must learn to work, plan, and take responsibility for their successes and failures.
2. Give “no” answers. Buying too much stuff for a child is often a burden, not a blessing, for them. Giving “no” answers shows that the parent is really considering what’s best for the child. Don’t give “no” answers all the time, but often enough so that the child notices it’s a blessing when the answer is “yes.” Children need to be taught the steps to accepting “no” answers. The four steps are: look at the person; have a calm voice, face and body; say, “Okay” or disagree appropriately; and then drop the subject. Learning these four steps help children to prepare themselves to be okay with experiencing “no” answers.
3. Effectively correct problems. When a child gets whiny or when she forgets to accept “no” answers, parents can be ready to correct her instead of reacting emotionally to the child. Parents get trapped into emotionally reacting when they take the behaviors of the child personally. Having a set script for how to do an effective correction is so helpful for a parent. It helps parents steer clear of emotionally manipulating their child.
4. Understand roles and foster identity. Remember that they are children and don’t often have the maturity to have gratitude on their own. Gratitude must be taught by precept and example. It’s the parent’s role to be the teacher and the child’s role to be the learner. When parents look forward to magnifying their parent role by teaching and correcting the children, then they foster identity and worth in their child. Children need to know where they fit in and who they can look to as a leader. God’s ideal situation is to establish parents as the clear leaders for children.
5. Spend more time within the family group than without it. Children become like the people or things they spend most of their time with. Understanding this can help parents kindly tell children “no” to excessive friend time or time on electronics. When children spend more of their days with family, they will naturally feel more connected to their family. Plus, as they show love to parents and siblings, they’ll be blessed with a feeling of gratitude.
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