The demands for extra screen time, more dessert or another toy? You may have zero fear of the word “no,” but your partner (LYMI, honey) caves every time. But since spoiling our kids can have a negative impact on their resiliency (discomfort in life is a given—now’s the time to help them learn to lean in), how can you help your spouse reduce the urge to spoil? We asked Sarah Greenberg, a psychotherapist and leadership coach, to explain.
1. How to Identify an Imbalance
One of the most challenging aspects of parenting is the quest to get on the same page as your partner. If parents aren’t aligned in their parenting approach, one may try to offset the other’s style, which can lead to spoiling. “When a couple isn’t on the same page, one parent may seek to make up for the lack of closeness by attempting to connect with their child by spoiling them,” Greenberg explains. “In therapy, this is known as triangulation. Instead of the couple dealing with the conflict—in this case, their parenting differences—directly, they loop in the child to diffuse the discomfort.”
For example, say you have a harsher discipline style than your wife. She may, out of guilt, try to lessen the impact by showering the kids with gifts, over-the-top affection or leniency when they break the rules. What does that do? Undermines your authority, of course.
2. How to Get Back on the Same Page
Start by examining your parenting styles, then communicating with your spouse about what this means. Maybe one of you prefers an authoritative approach while the other compensates by being more permissive. Instead of letting the chasm deepen, try to focus on the ways your styles actually complement each other and how you could work harder to meet in the middle.
For instance: Recognize the value of your “no dessert until the toys are cleaned up” rule and your spouse’s impromptu ice cream runs. Then develop a model that incorporates both approaches. (He can still bring home surprise ice cream, after confirming with you that the playroom is picked up.)
3. What to do if you’re the spoiler
“When a parent becomes aware their child is ‘spoiled’ or ‘entitled,’ there’s a tendency to blame their kid,” says Greenberg. “For changes to be successful and loving, it’s really important that the parent can own their part and take responsibility.”
The reason we spoil can be varied, she adds. It’s partially the fear that when we nudge our kids out of the nest, they won’t know how to thrive. But it also comes down to avoidance—it’s hard to watch our kids struggle. “That would be fine if struggle wasn’t such an integral part of growth,” Greenberg says. “If we rob our kids of discomfort, we also rob them of the growth and confidence that comes from moving through challenges.”
So how do you put a stop to the cycle of spoiling? Try to teach your children that they have to earn special items or experiences. Think of it as an “if this, then that” model—if they ask for a new toy at the toy store, brainstorm together what they could do to work for that item. (You could even include info about the actual cost depending on their age.) Maybe they add an extra chore that week or help with something else around the house. The goal is to teach them that certain things have value that feel extra special when earned. And, if all else fails, and you simply need a delay tactic that’s not “yes” or “no,” try “not right now.”