Why You Shouldn't Buy Your Kids More Toys

Last Updated Sep 23, 2010 5:06 PM EDT

Sometimes I dread taking my daughter on playdates. Inevitably, my little one comes home and asks why she doesn't have some toy that her friend has. I find this question difficult to respond to. The real answer is that I don't believe children should have a bedroom overflowing with American Girl dolls and Nintendo DS games. But I worry that if I say this my child will think I'm criticizing her pal's parents -- or worse -- throw a temper tantrum in an attempt to get what she wants.

I decided to call Richard Bromfield, PhD, a faculty member of Harvard Medical School, for some advice. Turns out he addresses this issue and other parenting traps in his new book How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents.

When I mentioned my problem to Bromfield, he applauded my instinct not to spoil my child and encouraged me to stand my ground. He believes that parents need to set limits and not over indulge their children. Even if it temporarily makes Moms and Dads a bit unpopular with their sons and daughters.

What's the danger in spoiling a child? First, you're only making your job as a parent more difficult. (That is, of course, unless you like whining.) But more importantly, you're also not helping your son or daughter develop into a well-adjusted adult who can handle the normal setbacks that life is sure to throw his or her way, says Bromfield.

More importantly, some spoiled kids even run the risk of having financial problems later in life. That's because they don't learn the very important lessons of delayed gratification or the value of money.

Imagine this scenario: your child is five and you buy her a toy every time she demands one. Soon, she'll expect to get whatever she desires whenever she wants it, says Bromfield.

Now imagine that same kid at 22. Chances are she hasn't learned to save up her money in order to purchase something she really wants. Instead of waiting to buy a pair of expensive shoes, for example, she's likely to charge them on her credit card with no thought for how she will later pay the bill.

Terrified of this outcome, I've started telling my daughter that if she really wants something she can save up her allowance and buy it herself. Or, she can write the item down on her wish list and hope that she gets it for the holidays. (I've given her no promises.) So far, my four-year-old is a bit disappointed she doesn't already have an American Girl doll of her own. But I'm willing to bet money that by December she's forgotten that she ever wanted one in the first place.

How do you handle your kid coming home from a playdate demanding new toys?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Vintage Toys image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
More on CBS MoneyWatch:
Money and Manners: Are You Offensive?
Identity Theft: Your Child at Risk
Skinny Jeans and Other Clothing You Shouldn't Buy Your Preschooler
Why You Should Give Your Teenager More Money
  • Stacey Bradford

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