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How Much Spoiling is Acceptable?

What To Do When Relatives Spoil Your Child

The old adage that you can't spoil a baby doesn't apply to preschoolers. If Mommy says no and Aunty Sarah says yes, it may seem like your hard work teaching your children not to beg, not to whine, and to behave well is ruined by the in-laws. From eating sweets to buying new toys, the set of rules that applies to your preschooler at home doesn't necessarily apply at Grandma and Grandpa's, especially if your relatives live far away and don't see your child often.

Is there anything you can do about your relatives spoiling your child?

  • Although not all experts agree, child psychologist Lawrence E. Shapiro, author of "The Secret Language of Children: How to Understand What Your Kids are Really Saying," argues that values taught in the immediate nuclear family are the most important values that a child will learn growing up. Some spoiling won't do permanent harm.
  • Decide how much spoiling is acceptable and set clear boundaries with your family ("Sammy may have one treat today but no more. Sugar makes him hyper and then he has trouble falling asleep.")
  • Give relatives acceptable alternatives that teach children better values. Try suggesting that instead of showering your child with Christmas presents, they buy one special gift and a savings bond for college.
  • Encourage relatives to spend time doing activities with children, to create meaningful memories and bonding, instead of spoiling them with stuff.
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