That said, Deerwester, Keefe and Petersen say there are ways to start guiding your child down a more fulfilling, less self-centered, path. A few of their tips include the following:
Don’t pretend children are successful by virtue of existence. Deerwester recommends cutting out the empty praise and hollow self-esteem building so prevalent in society today (think, for example, of the youth sports teams that give trophies just for participating.) Instead, honor your child’s strengths and help them learn about and understand their less-than-perfect assets.
“A child isn’t special because he’s perfect,” she says. “A child is special because we appreciate who he is as an individual, one with strengths and weaknesses. If we keep pretending everyone is smart, talented, over-achieving and successful by virtue of existence, then it’s going to be a self-sabotaging, self-defeating world.”
That means children are responsible for tasks such as household chores and completing homework, but they do not automatically get an allowance. Rather, allow them to earn a monetary reward or other privilege by doing chores or other tasks.
Keefe says it can be difficult to follow through with this—what parent doesn’t want to give their child everything?—“but you’re teaching them self-control and that will spill over into other parts of their life.”
Effectively handle temper tantrums. It’s hard to do, but as long as the youngster isn’t hurt, in danger or being abused in any way, calmly and firmly ignore a child who’s yowling and, if need be, remove them from the situation.
“Children have the right to their emotions, but I won’t tolerate a temper tantrum at the dinner table,” Petersen adds. “They can have a temper tantrum, but it will be in their room.”
Which brings up another point: never threaten to take away a child’s food, as that’s a basic need that should not be used as a negotiation tool.
Be clear about rules and expectations. Let children know what age-appropriate chores they’re expected to do, and what the household rules are, such as choosing which one electronic device (TV, smartphone, video game)—yes, one—that they’d like to use that evening after they’ve completed their homework. After all, electronic devices are a privilege, and a privilege is earned, right?
“Kids feel safer when there is an adult in charge and when you set limits calmly, effectively and reasonably,” Keefe adds. “Kids don’t like to mention it to parents, but they appreciate rules.”
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