On Spoiling Children

By Perri Klass:

In the pediatric office today, parents often bring up spoiling, as that mother did last week, in reference to young babies, sleep and feeding. It’s as if the later, more confusing questions about how to respond to a child’s demands crystallize in those early months when the new baby cries and the parents worry.

The official pediatric line — I said some version of this to that mother last week — is that you can’t spoil babies by taking good care of them. But even that doesn’t turn out to be simple.

“It’s important to be there and to be responsive and responsible, but it also doesn’t mean that you have to be totally at the whim of the baby,” said Dr. Pamela High, a professor of pediatrics at Brown University and medical director of the Fussy Baby Clinic at the Brown Center for the Study of Children. “You’re teaching them patterns and routine and regularity.”…

As children get older, setting limits and establishing family routines and expectations gets more complicated. But it’s still a question of balancing immediate gratification and larger life lessons…

Though parenting style is hard to study, he points to a body of research that cumulatively suggests that children benefit from strategies that build self-control and emotional resilience….

With older children, you get into the issue of stuff. “When I think of spoiling, you’re talking about attention and you’re talking about things,” Dr. High said. “I don’t think you can spoil with too much attention to what your kids are doing and thinking and suffering from, but I think you sometimes have to be careful about things.”

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Jeremy

    I’m pretty convinced that WWIII will start over parenting styles…You think the polarization and hostility between Republicans and Democrats is intense? heh

    In my experience, you CAN spoil with attention. Purely anecdotal, of course, but the kids I know with over-attentive parents seem to lack independance and emotional resiliency. Maybe when they’re older, we’ll see something different but most of the “attachment” kids are walking nightmares with harried parents whose social circle is happily keeping its distance.

  • Mickey

    I am the father of 6 children that are aged 13-22.5 years. I am also a practicing pediatrician in the Midwest. My wife and I have home-educated our children all the way through their “formal education” years until they have reached college age. I guess I am about as conservative as you can get both from a scriptural and social perspective, although I would consider myself “generous” in my orthodoxy.

    I have always approached the education of parents with a few perspectives in mind:

    You cannot spoil a child during the first year of life. They are completely dependent on their parents for everything. The warning I give parents with the approach is that adolescents starts at 12 months not 12 years.

    After the first year of life parents need to help then learn they are not God, like they think they are. I submit this is an application of the greatest commandment. The second principle they must learn is they are to be responsible for their actions, an application of the second greatest commandment. I have challenged parents to find ways to apply these two commandments in every aspect of the parenting for the last twenty years.

    There are three corollaries to these principles. First, remember that we parents are not gods either, so admit to your mistakes when to your children when they are old enough understand your mistakes. Second, during the very earlier years of their training, when having a battle of wills with them, WIN; and when you cannot win make them believe that you one. Finally when training children, you only have 18-21 years to train them for the following sixty years of their lives. Be their parent these early years, be their friend later.

  • John Inglis

    I only have 3 boys, but amen to what Mickey wrote.

  • scotmcknight

    Amen so much I will post that comment as a post Sunday afternoon.

  • Holly

    From me, too, Mickey. I’m a mama of nine, sending my oldest two boys out of my home this week (college.) Good words.

  • http://eatingasapathtoyoga.wordpress.com Guiltless

    I love Perri Klaas’ books!

  • Evelyn

    I posted, but the comment is not showing up. But when i tried to re-post it said it was a duplicate comment… any ideas what’s going on?

  • Evelyn

    I’m a mother of 4 and secondary school teacher (though sham atm).

    I respectfully disagree with this:

    “Second, during the very earlier years of their training, when having a battle of wills with them, WIN; and when you cannot win make them believe that you one. Finally when training children, you only have 18-21 years to train them for the following sixty years of their lives. Be their parent these early years, be their friend later.”

    1. It all depends on what you understand by the term ‘train’ – which in my experience can include everything from the Pearls child abuse strategies to grace-based discipline.

    2. Describing the early years as a “battle of wills” betrays a very adversarial mindset, in my opinion. Our children are not an enemy to be conquered (or an enemy who are supposed to end up falsely believing they’ve been conquered). Authoritarian parenting styles (which this implies) have been shown to be unhelpful in the long term (win the battle, lose the war). As bad, in fact, as permissive parenting. Authoritative parenting, on the other hand, has been shown to be the most helpful to children. But you can’t be authoritative AND adversarial.

    (www.parentingscience .com/authoritative-parenting-style.html describes the different styles well).

    3. One of the dangers with this kind of adversarial parenting is that by the time the kids are older, they won’t want to be friends – if you kids are grown up and they are your friends, chances are you didn’t parent too authoritarian. Or they’re still too scared of you to walk away.

    4. I believe our model for parenting should be our heavenly Father, as modeled by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. that means we expect kids to make mistakes, we teach them how to clean up their own messes, but we do so in a way that is respectful.

    As I re-posted recently on Facebook: Discipline: where are children get to be children, and we get to train ourselves to model love, connection and appropriate behavior in spite of everything.

    Readers may also find this interesting: http:// gentlechristianmothers.com/articles/crystal/gbd.php

  • Mickey

    Scot,
    Sorry the thought above should have been, “Second, during the very earlier years of their training, when having a battle of wills with them, WIN; and when you cannot win make them believe that you won.”

  • Mickey

    Evelyn,
    While I am familiar with what you call the, “Pearls child abuse strategies” and I disagree with many of thier opinions. It would be difficult for me to be a home-school dad living in this part of the country and not know of their teachings. The Peals approach is not the basis of this article blog post or my response.

  • Evelyn

    Mickey – sorry, I must have been unclear. I was not suggesting that is what you meant, nor did I think the article was about the Pearls. I just find that the term “train” so vague as to be misleading. What do you understand by the term?

    I should also clarify that my use of “you” in points 2 and 3 did not mean “you, Mickey” but “one”. Lazy writing on my part, I’m sorry. It can be hard to concentrate on a snatched reply in the middle of cooking!

    Any thoughts on point 4 (which I consider to be the heart of it all)?

    It’s bedtime here but I’ll come read tomorrow morning :-)

  • Mickey

    Evelyn,
    Thank you for clarifying. So often on the Internet, we misunderstand each other. I suspect it is the impersonal nature of the interaction here. The visual clues and voice tones that take place with face to face conversation that help us understand one another are just not available here. On the other hand, I would not have the pleasure of this conversation if it were not for the Internet. Your bedtime was the time I finished up in the office.

    To your point of, “that means we expect kids to make mistakes, we teach them how to clean up their own messes, but we do so in a way that is respectful.” I could not agree more. This is my point of teaching them to be responsible for their own actions, i.e. “to love your neighbor as yourself.” It is a delicate balancing act to appropriately praise the desired behaviors or attitudes and correct the undesirable behaviors or attitudes. To borrow from Scot, if we live “knowing that Jesus is Lord and King”, we will get it right more often than not.

  • Evelyn

    Amen! Many blessings to you and yours :-)

  • Mickey

    Thank you to all for the kind words of encouragement.


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