At this point in the pandemic, your delivery person could probably see your name on a package and know where to take it without looking at the address. If you're like most parents, you've probably been clicking "add to cart" a bit more than usual these past few months. No judgment — keeping kids entertained in an extended lockdown turned out to be even harder than anybody expected — but it's fair to wonder, will your kids be spoiled after quarantine is over and they stop getting new things delivered to their door on a daily basis?
"Our children are without the usual opportunities to grow and learn cognitively, socially, and emotionally; they may feel lonely and isolated," child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Amy Ursano, M.D., tells Romper. "Distraction and the opportunity to build self-esteem with new challenges can be really powerful." In other words, the money you spent on that new backyard playset didn't go to waste, it went towards building your kid's confidence on the monkey bars. If you're lucky enough to be able to buy new toys and games and instruments and playsets during a time when kids have fewer chances to learn outside the home, "You are most certainly not spoiling your kids, but giving them something to keep them engaged," clinical social worker Kathryn Smerling, Ph.D., tells Romper.
Still, is there a point when all of these new distractions start to become expectations? Having a lot of toys won't cause a kid to develop a sense of entitlement, Smerling explains. "Spoiling a child is up to the values of the parents who transmit entitlement to their children," she says. Basically, your kids are smart. They know the current situation is a temporary one. If you haven't given your kids a sense of entitlement under normal circumstances, you can feel assured they won't develop one over the course of quarantine.
Of course, no one really knows how long all of this is going to last. But Ursano says there are things parents can do to help their kids keep a level head right now. "Choosing toys together, exploring websites and dreaming together about the fun... consider talking with them regarding budgets and choices," she suggests.
It's also important to set "appropriate limits" and talk through all the feelings that come up, including the feelings of other people in the household. "Children who are spoiled or entitled are often not as respectful of other people's feelings," says Smerling. "They think in a hierarchical manner with their feelings on top." At the same time, there are kids "who 'have' everything and are still able to share, are generous, and respectful." Use your kid's recent bounty of new toys as an opportunity to teach your child about generosity. "Integrating acts of kindness into the child’s life can model empathy," says Ursano. "Activities like sending an 'I miss you' card to a friend, calling someone they haven’t seen in awhile, setting up a scavenger hunt on Zoom with a friend, drawing a picture in chalk on a neighbor’s driveway."
As you move forward in quarantine, if you notice your child acting out, don't panic. "This behavior isn’t a sign you are spoiling them. It is simply the message that 'this is hard, and sometimes scary, and often irritating, and I need help,'" says Ursano. As long as you continue to show your kids they're loved, they're going to be fine when all of this ends (whenever that may be), even if they're surrounded by piles of new playthings.
Dr. Amy M. Ursano, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatry, University of North Carolina
Kathryn Smerling, Ph.D., LCSW
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.