None of us wants "spoiled" kids-children who are bratty, self-centered, demanding, or inconsiderate. So what spoils children and what doesn't?

When I was raising my children, I was often told that I would spoil them if I held them a lot when they were crying. Fortunately I didn't believe this nonsense.

You can't spoil a child with love. Children need love as much as they need food and water. The problem is in defining "love."

We are not giving love to our children when we give them everything they want on the material level. Parents often think they are loving their children when they pile them up with all the toys or activities they desire. But what is the actual result of indulging our children in this way?

There are three big negative consequences of "spoiling" our children on the material level:

1. It fosters addictive behavior-a pattern of filling up from the outside with things and activities rather than filling up from the inside through caring and creativity. Too many adults are addicted to spending or other activities to fill up their emptiness. If they are stressed, instead of dealing with the source of their stress-which is generally some way they are not taking care of themselves-they cover their feelings with some addictive behavior such as spending, TV, food, alcohol, and so on. When we offer our children too many toys, too many activities, too much comfort food, or allow too much TV, we are not loving them. We are training them to be addicted.

2. It promotes lack of consideration for others. Often parents provide things and activities for their children while denying their own needs. It's not loving to children to give in to their every demand, especially if it means putting yourself aside. When you constantly give in to your children and deny your own needs, children learn that it's okay to disregard the needs of others. They learn to be disrespectful.

3. It teaches false values. One of the big issues in our society is that children learn to identify their self-worth with others' approval for how they look, how many toys they have, how expensive their clothes are. Unless parents show their children that they value them for their inner qualities-their caring, creativity, compassion, laughter, joy, passion for life-rather than for their looks, possessions, and performance, children learn to attach their self-worth to others' approval. True self-worth comes from inside, from knowing we are valuable for who we are, not for how we look or what we do. Unfortunately, our materialistic society fosters attaching self-worth and lovability to others' approval for things such as a car, a house, or clothes. When we "spoil" our children with material possessions, we foster codependency, which is dependency on others' approval for our sense of worth.

Yes, we can spoil our children with material things, but we can't spoil them with love. What do I mean by love? Love is the energy of acceptance for who the child really is. Love is understanding, compassion, and caring for your child's true being. You are loving your children when you spend time just being with them, hanging out with them, being fully present with them, really listening to them. The greatest gift you can give your children is to value them for who they really are on the inside. This is love, and nothing material can ever replace it.

As we move into the holidays, you might want to examine the values and expectations you are imparting to your children. Perhaps instead of spending all the holiday money on presents for your children, you could encourage the whole family to reserve some to buy clothing, food, and toys for those who are in need. Imagine the real gift you could give your children if Thanksgiving, Christmas and Chanukah were times of true service in addition to feasting and sharing gifts with each other. Rather than "spoiling" our children by giving them too much, why not enhance their self-worth by providing them with opportunities to be giving, caring human beings?

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