Before you have kids of your own, it’s easy to go out to brunch and glare at the toddler who’s shrieking and demanding pancakes instead of French toast — or, rather, at the parents sitting next to her — and think, “I will never, ever let my kid be such a spoiled brat.”
Having kids of your own complicates the situation somewhat. You hate to see them upset, but you also hate being glared at; you’re frustrated, but you also know that you’ll be even more frustrated in the future if you give your kid exactly what she wants, when she wants it.
But if there’s one parenting behaviour that falls explicitly in the “wrong” category, it’s this: lying to your kids about the way the world works.
That is, getting your kid the pancakes when she’s already ordered and tasted the French toast.
That’s according to Hal Runkel, a marriage and family therapist who’s published multiple books on parenting and relationships, including, most recently, “Choose Your Own Adulthood.”
When he visited the Business Insider office in May, Runkel explained what he means by “lying”:
“What spoils kids is not letting them taste the natural consequences of their mistakes.
“When we give them the impression that their choices don’t have natural, logical consequences and we rescue them from those — when we say, ‘Hey, you do that one more time, I’m going to take that thing away,’ and then we don’t take that thing away — that’s actually what spoils kids.”
Runkel shared two concrete examples. Let’s say you give your kid a toy and he uses it to hit his sister. If you don’t take the toy away, that’s spoiling your kid.
Or, let’s say you wake your kid up for school when they’re well past the age when they should be setting an alarm themselves, that’s spoiling them.
“The world is not going to allow them to continue to depend on us forever,” Runkel said. “Our job is to prepare them for life without us.”
So if you were the parent of the shrieking toddler at brunch (the horror!), you might want to let your kid experience the disappointment of ordering French toast and then deciding that pancakes look better. Because in most situations, that’s the way the world works: The restaurant won’t let you keep exchanging dishes on a whim.
If you think you’re being too harsh on your kid — maybe you should just order them the damn pancakes — Runkel recommends consulting parents of older kids. How did they handle similar situations when their kids were younger?
If you’re really torn, Runkel recommends checking in with your intuition: “Your gut gives you a good indication of when you’re being too harsh or depriving them.”
Ultimately, it’s worth keeping in mind that Runkel said he sees parents being too lenient much more often than he sees parents being too harsh.
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