The Royal Baby has finally arrived, and there’s been much discussion about the little Prince of Cambridge.
Many following the story are certain their precious bundle of joy is just as special as little George, and some treat their own children like a prince or princess, but how do you raise a child to feel important without turning them into a spoiled or entitled tyrant?
Stacy DeZutter, an educational psychology professor at Millsaps College, said trying to make your child happy all the time avoiding disappointments is one of the biggest parenting pitfalls and usually results in short-term happiness.
“Children need opportunities to learn to ‘do without’ and to handle disappointment, because unless they really are royalty, the world is not going to give them everything they want,” she said.
Without learning from disappointments and frustration, parents create unrealistic expectations about how the world will treat them, DeZutter said.
“If parents always give them everything they want, they will expect the rest of the world to do the same, and they will be ill-equipped when this does not happen,” she said.
DeZutter believes we are seeing more indulgent parenting today than in the last two decades. She said research has shown that parenting styles swing between “authoritarian” and “permissive” over time.
Authoritarian parenting is more dictatorial. Adults parented this way often feel they weren’t valued or respected as children or had too many restrictions. So when they have kids themselves, they swing in the other direction toward permissive parenting.
“This involves being extremely responsive to a child’s unique characteristics and desires, but not enforcing many expectations or rules,” said DeZutter. “I think we are seeing a lot of this now.”
Another reason may be because both parents work and may feel guilty for not spending more time with their children as in previous generations when there were more stay-at-home parents, she said.
DeZutter said authoritative parenting is the style most likely to produce well-adjusted children. It involves having high expectations, clear rules, and working with the child to meet and follow them. Parenting decisions are based on the child’s particular needs, preferences and characteristics.
There has also been a lot of discussion today about children going through an “extended adolescence, in which they take longer than previous generations to become independent, responsible adults.”
“One reason may be that young people whose parents were more focused on catering to their desires than establishing firm expectations for behavior need more time to figure out how to stand on their own as adults,” DeZutter said.
Another problem with permissive or indulgent parenting is that children may look back and wonder why their parents didn’t love them enough to truly parent them.
“Children will feel loved if their parents are warm and affectionate, if their parents listen to them and take an interest in the things that matter to them,” she said. “Children will feel loved if their parents are happy when they are with them. This means that parents need to do self-care. They need to manage their stress and make sure they attend to their own needs as well as their children’s.”
DeZutter is also not convinced that it’s healthy for a child to feel “special.”
“Being ‘special’ means that you are ‘not like the others,’” she said, “and seeing oneself this way may make it difficult to function in settings, such as the classroom or the workplace,” she said.
“When we talk about making our children feel special, we may really mean that we want our children to feel valued and important, and to be self-assured. The best way to do this is to give your children positive attention – talk to them about the things they are interested in, and do activities together that you both enjoy.”
It’s also important to give children real responsibility.
“We may feel that we are caring for our children by not placing demands on them, such as contributing to household chores or by protecting them from challenges that may come without having to solve problems or make decisions on their own,” DeZutter said. “But doing this actually robs them of the opportunity to experience competence, which is a key part of developing one’s identity and a sense of self-confidence. Children will actually feel better about themselves if their parents trust them with important tasks and if they have opportunities to accomplish things on their own.”
Cliff McKinney, director of the Mississippi State University Psychology Clinic, said parenting can be tricky.
“On one hand, you want to give your child things so they have a good life,” he said. “And on the other hand, you must decide what to withhold so that your child gains valuable skills and abilities, like frustration tolerance and problem solving,” he said.
The job of a parent is not to give our children everything, he said. It’s to both provide and withhold.
“The most well-adjusted individuals are ‘optimally frustrated,’” he said, “meaning that their parents frustrated them enough so that they could learn how to handle negative situations appropriately, but did not frustrate them excessively to the point that they became depressed, anxious or rebellious.”
Spoiling children has been happening since parents and kids existed, and it also happens in the animal kingdom, McKinney said.
“Socrates is credited with saying, ‘The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise,’” McKinney said. “So, this is not something new our culture is facing.”
He said the repercussions of spoiling a child are pretty severe.
“These children may be impulsive and more frequently end up committing criminal acts, such as vandalism and substance use, as they grow older,” he said.
Non-violent discipline and quality time are the answers.
“A child who likes their parent is more likely to listen to their parent,” he said.
DeZutter said children should be valued and respected, but they should not be made to feel like royalty.
“Royalty lead exceptional lives in circumstances most of us can hardly imagine,” she said. “Children should be made to feel competent and important, but not exceptional – not as if demands, expectations, and rules do not apply to them.”
–LaReeca Rucker, The Clarion-Ledger