Carolyn Hax: How to deal with a spoiled nephew

Carolyn Hax
Columnist April 14, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

So my nephew, 7, is unquestionably spoiled. Sadly, I think he’s taking after my sister, who has always been an I-want-I-want type.

With a gift occasion coming around, I honestly feel like getting him squat. He has so many toys, he doesn’t appreciate them. I asked him to stop throwing his toys in the bin, they’ll break, and he said, “Who cares, I’ll just buy more.” I bought him a spontaneous gift once. He asked me to return it; he wanted something else. Between this and crying whenever he doesn’t win, he’s getting harder to be around.

Sad thing is, he gets so excited to see me. My nephew has a twin who is a complete angel, never wants anything, does everything he’s asked, and so it makes his brother look more like a monster to me. How do I deal with him, and explain there are kids in the world who would appreciate all he has?


Spoiled Nephew

If possible, please get each of the brothers an experience gift — tickets, day trips to a 7-year-old-friendly place, like a children’s museum, or out to a “fancy” dinner — and make it clear the outing will be one-on-one. That reinforces your relationship with each, bypasses materialism and gives you an extra shot at teaching manners in a memorable format.

Plus, if you make a habit of this, you could do some good work against the possible underlying problem here of competition between your nephews. There’s no downside to developing your own relationship with each independent of the other. This isn’t just a twin thing, either, but applies to all sibling configurations.

Dear Carolyn:

Your comment about alone time between siblings intrigued me. My husband and I have two kids, 18 months apart (3 and 2). We both work full-time, and on the weekends, we tend to do everything all together. Is this a bad idea?

Anonymous

Your time together as a unit is extremely important, since deep familiarity and shared memories are what will keep you close to your kids — and your kids close to each other — when they’re grown. It can also be really helpful logistically when they’re small, since it’s always easier when two adults are on duty.

It’s just that family time is not above the laws of too-much-of-a-good-thing. You do want to develop individual bonds with your kids just as you want to keep those bonds strong with your spouse. Occasionally taking one child to the store with you while your husband stays home (or goes on a different errand) with the other is a small, relatively easy way to see and encourage sides of each child that might be suppressed in the group outings.

You don’t even have to force it now, if you’re happy with the way you’re doing things. As the kids get older, you’ll get plenty of natural chances to see each of them alone — like when they have separate activities and it’s just you in the car/train/bus with one or the other. That’s priceless time.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/ carolynhax.

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