Almost every family has one; the adult who just can’t tell a child “no.” Often an individual with a soft spot for children, the spoiler caves on demand and allows himself or herself to be easily manipulated by the child’s whims. The spoiler enjoys pampering, has trouble setting limits, and is instantly overwhelmed by the sight of a child’s tears.

As a parent trying to set and enforce limits for your child, having a spoiler in your child’s life can be annoying and even downright maddening. Whether it’s your child’s mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, step-parent, or even an older sibling, the spoiler breaks down limits you’ve worked hard to establish. And the hardest part is, no matter how much you yell, rant, and rage about it, the spoiler just can’t seem to stop. The good news is, you don’t have to let that person spoil your parenting! Instead, be proactive, find solutions, and activate effective coping strategies.

Here’s what you can do for yourself, your child, and the spoiler to begin establishing a better balance.

  • You: First and foremost, remember to stay calm. Getting angry at your child or the spoiler isn’t going to help anybody. Instead, give yourself a reality check. Remember that even if the spoiler is failing to set limits, you can still do so as a parent. Children are smart and are able to discern who means “no” and who doesn’t, so be aware that the spoiler is not detracting anything from your parental authority. Remind yourself about this fact when you start feeling angry, and avoid confrontation with the spoiler, especially in the presence of your child. This is especially true if the spoiler is your spouse, since friction between parents can often be much more harmful than spoiling!
  • Your Child: Preparing for encounters with the spoiler allows you to make the best of it while preventing the worst of it. If Grandad is overgenerous with the sweets, make sure your child eats a good nutritious lunch before the visit. If Nonna enjoys shopping for toys, tell her which ones would be appreciated so that your child doesn’t come home with another noisy-flashy-annoying gadget. Keep the spoiler’s nature in mind when looking for a sitter, and don’t leave your child under the spoiler’s care unless you are prepared for the inevitable consequences.
  • The Spoiler: Avoid criticizing or berating the spoiler for his/her behavior. Instead, communicate appreciation for the warmth and love s/he is showing your child. Discuss your concerns about the harmfulness of overindulgence on your child’s physical, emotional, and social development. Most likely, the spoiler wants what’s best for your child and may just need some help setting boundaries. Be supportive and offer assistance rather than criticism.

Like all other tricky relationships in life, having a spoiler in the family can be complicated and challenging. Remember that while there is no quick fix, living through this process can be a growth experience for you. You’ll practice getting along with difficult people, communicating in an understanding and nonjudgmental way, and stretching the limits of your tolerance. Raising a child is also the task of raising a parent, and this challenge is no exception. Good luck!