Spoiling Our Chiildren

Parental guilt creeps into the heart of every well-intentioned parent. We feel guilty when we are angry with our children because they are just being childish. We feel guilty if we don’t have an answer to a problem; we feel guilty if we put them in a position where they are vulnerable. I heard a parent say this past week, “I just don’t know if I have what it takes to be a parent.” If that disqualifies you to be a parent, the world would end in childlessness.


From the time our children are infants, we worry about spoiling them. One of my tasks with every group of young fathers is to assure them that children under the age of 1 cannot be spoiled. They need our constant attention and reassurance. Letting them cry themselves to sleep every night creates insecure adults who mistrust the world because no one has ever taken care of their needs. Our jails are full of such children. Parents of infants need to respond to every cry and seek to find an answer. Are they wet? Are they hungry? Is it gas or are they just exhausted? Reassure them and meet their physical needs. That’s a parent’s job.


After their first birthday, every parent was awakened by the reality that their innocent little child has just played them. The crying stopped on a dime when there was someone at the door. They turned the tears on and they turned them off just as quickly. Now we have reached the time when our child can be spoiled. It’s time to learn to play smarter as a parent!


Keeping our child happy and comfortable is NOT a parent’s job! That’s called spoiling our children! Our job is to raise healthy, capable, responsible adults who can care for themselves in life. Finding a toy to distract them every time they are a bit restless creates attention starved children who simply do not know how to occupy themselves without an outside influence. A child needs to learn quickly in life that the worst thing they can say to a parent is, “I’m bored.” Find them something to do like a dreaded chore or an endless task such as picking up the dog poop in the yard. The next time that feeling comes upon them, they will find something constructive to do!


Electronic devices have become the baby-sitter of choice. Magazines and even televisions in doctor’s offices are useless and unused. Each person has their own electronic device. Conversations in the car are impossible because everyone has their face in a device and maybe even a set of headphones to tune everyone else out. No wonder we cannot communicate or coordinate schedules anymore. It’s a different kind of spoiling but we are spoiling our children with electronics, nonetheless.


The next time your child looks to you for a solution to their boredom, the use of their time or some activity they want you to provide for their enjoyment, ask them, “Are you having trouble finding something to do? Would you like to hear what some other kids have tried?” Then give them a couple of options that they will most surely find boring. Suggest they count their Lincoln Logs or Lego blocks. Give them an idea so lame that they will most surely be able to do better than that on their own! In doing so, you are teaching your child to occupy himself. That’s taking responsibility.


I say all of this on the assumption that you spend time as a parent with each child, one on one. On that foundation, your child can learn that some times are for sharing and other times are for occupying oneself. Model the same thing. Be available to your children but don’t be afraid to be occupied or too busy this time. That’s the way life works.


In all things, balance. That’s your real job as a parent.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.