When I chat to my daughters – 13-year-old Lily and ten-year-old Clio – we cover the usual family topics such as how the school day went, what’s for dinner and why can’t we get the dog to behave.
But lots of other things crop up, from the tricky ‘Why is Miley Cyrus naked in her latest video?’ to the pleasing ‘Why didn’t Rapunzel just cut off her own hair to make a rope instead of waiting for a prince?’
Having built a career as a writer specialising in the subject of parenting, I like to encourage conversations that open my girls’ eyes to a world that might otherwise give them unhelpful messages about who they are.
Yes, there are huge pressures on children today that we didn’t have, especially in terms of ‘raunch culture’ and the value we put on appearance alone – but research shows the best positive influence is the parent.
Many parents shower their children with the latest educational toys, gadgets and puzzles, thinking it will aid their intellectual development. In fact it is the amount of time you spend explaining how the world works that will help them excel.
And the ‘tween’ years, between seven and 12, are critical windows when parenting decisions can help girls develop an unassailable sense of self.
It’s not just make-up and clothes that make little girls seem older than they are. An obsession with shopping, designer brands and gadgets can also replace innocence with a grasping precociousness.
As loving parents, so often we grant them their heart’s desire, thinking it will make them happy. The problem is that, before you know it, you find you have ended up with a spoilt diva.
You need to put the brakes on children’s insatiable desire to consume. Thankfully, even if you have already gone too far, it’s not too late…
Why are you spoiling them?
As much as we hate to admit it, part of the reason children crave so much is because we give them too much. It’s true that marketeers are out to attract them, but it’s you who’s actually paying up.
Work out why you feel the need to overindulge your kids. Is it because you work long hours and feel guilty? Are you afraid your child won’t love you if you say ‘no’? Maybe you want to give them more than you had. It’s only once you’ve worked out your own reasons that you will be ready to change your child’s behaviour.
Your children aren’t status symbols
Check that you’re not allowing your daughters to have things they want as a display to your peers that you are loving – and affluent. If so, restrain your spending so that the message that material things are important doesn’t rub off on them.
Make them earn it
Make sure your girls earn their privileges, because they’ll respect material possessions more when they have to work for them.
Resist pester power
Many parents buy children new things because they worry they’ll feel left out if they don’t have the latest fad. Tell them they can earn it with extra jobs around the house.
EXPLAIN HOW THINGS ARE GOING TO CHANGE
Half-hearted attempts to ‘unspoil’ children won’t work. You have to persevere, and make sure your partner is on the same wavelength as you, as kids are experts at playing parents off against each other.
Choose a quiet, neutral time – not when they are asking for something – to explain that money does not come easily and that fun things need to be earned. Listen carefully to your daughter’s questions and try to answer. You might have to strap yourself in for a few tantrums, but stick to your guns.
DON’T FALL FOR THE ‘IT’S SO UNFAIR’ LINE
Parenting educator Noel Janis-Norton of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting says: ‘Children don’t really understand the concept of fairness. What they mean is ‘I don’t like what you’re saying’ or ‘I thought I’d be getting something you’re not going to give me’.’ Many of them are among the most privileged in the Western world, so that’s not fair either.
Drip feed presents
Many mothers know the embarrassment of watching children opening present after present at birthdays and Christmases, and barely looking up to say thank you before moving on to the next.
So, at a quiet time, explain there will be a new rule that gifts will be spaced out throughout the year. Set limits by asking friends and relatives to give just one gift.
Encourage charity by volunteering
Teach kids that it’s not just receiving that will make them feel good. Steer their priorities away from consumer culture by taking them to help with voluntary work at a charity, to show them that others are not as lucky as they are.
By Tanith Carey for the Daily Mail.
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