33 answers

Advice for Handling an Unappreciative 7-Year Old

I'm the stepmom to a 7-year old. She is normally a very thoughtful and quite happy child considering her situation, which is she spends every other day/night at her mom's house and every other weekend at her grandmas, alternating between the two. She's with us maybe 40% of the time. This situation cannot be helped a this time.

My husband and I like to take her places and give her some "fun." We've taken her to the county fair, parades, festivals, mini-golfing, movies, museums and thrown her parties. We try to make things fun for her, as she tends to sit around at her mom's and watch TV (although they occasionally go out and do fun things.)

All of these outings have ended up the same. At the fair she wanted to do ALL the rides, and we didn't have the money. So we told her "pick four you really want to do" or something similar. At the aquarium she was mad she didn't get to see the shark exhibit, which was extra money. At the fair she wanted us to buy her lots of stuff, we told her to choose one souvenir, and she pouted that she wanted more than one. If we try to buy her ONE gift, she wants MORE MORE MORE. And what could be fun family outings seem to end with her pouting because she didn't get everything she wanted, and me fuming that we spent a lot of money and this is what we get. My husband thinks this is "normal" behavior for a child and says she is just disappointed. He'll often try to cheer her up by tickling her or asking "where's my happy girl?"

We've tried the allowance thing, and are still trying. She has a chart and she marks off her chores when they're complete. At the end of the week she turns in her chart and we give her allowance. When we go places we tell her "bring your allowance" and we've made the rule that we are NOT buying her anything, she has to buy it with the money she earns. However, she wants to spend her allowance right away, no matter how much we talk to her about saving. And when she runs out of money, it's back to the "I WANT I WANT I WANT" and me either leaving the store immediately, or threatening punishment for one more "I want." Sometimes I ignore it completely.

How can we turn our family outings into something that's FUN, instead of having them end with her pouting because she didn't get everything she wanted? I actually don't want to take her anywhere anymore.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

WOW, thanks for all the great advice! It's good to know we're not alone!

After sharing all your responses with my husband we looked closer at the situation agreed together on a solution.

We are beginning to think she is getting this attitude from her mom. Unfortunately her mom IS the kind of person who thinks she is "entitled" to free stuff. She did not get married to her boyfriend so she could collect welfare. We homeschool her, but her mom went and got a free backpack of school stuff anyway. But they just got a new widescreen HD TV! And recently our DD tried to send an email to Webkinz telling them she was poor so she wanted free Webkinz. We didn't put two-and-two together until we read your responses, because some of you said the behavior must be working SOMEWHERE or she wouldn't do it!

We are definitely going to do fewer outings. There's no need to do something that seems to end in upset for all of us! It's just throwing money away. This way when we DO go out, it will be special.

We are going to start setting the ground rules before we leave, and let her in on what we are doing and what our expectations are of her. If she doesn't seem excited about what we're doing then we won't go.

You all had differing opinions on allowance. Thanks for your points of view, they were helpful! We are going to stick with the allowance for now because it gives her some buying power so we are not the sole source of her getting something. It works for small things, when she's begging for something from a vending machine, we tell her she has to buy it with her money. She thinks twice about it then. I think making her put some of her allowance in savings is a good plan.

We are going to talk about greed and manners. I'm pretty sure there are some children's stories out there about greed. We can incorporate those lessons in her homeschool.

And we're going to have a talk with my husband's mom. When she goes over there she is indulged. Their attitude is "we don't get to see her much, so we want to get her candy, pop, ice cream, toys, etc." That isn't helping right now, and if they can't abide by our guidelines then perhaps she should have limited visits over there.

Mostly we're going to have patience and a steady attitude. Thanks for all your encouragement! If you think of any more advice I'd love to hear it!

Featured Answers

Hi Nicole.
you have received from great advice. i just wanted to let you know that the bernestein bear series of books has one about being selfish or greedy. Hope this helps and good luck.

ShuCKs! i THOUGH MY KID WAS JUST UNGRATEFUL TOO! aPPARENTLY THIS IS NORMAL? OK, I have been fussing and alternating breaths! aNYWAY, I give her the money too, let her decide what she wants and when its gone, its gone. IF they have to learn a hard lesson- next time they'll get it right. 7 years olds like to feel like a big kid. My daugher has a chart and she earns her privlages. Say I budjet 25 dollars. I give her 15 and then when she begs for more, and its a worthy cause, I use that extra I hid. BUt, 7 years olds! ALso, no matter how they beg, never take a seven year old anywhere "JUST TO LOOK" its a trap!

Wow, I thought I had the only greedy kid! My son used to do this, sometimes he still does. It's like whatever I do to make him happy is never enough. We could go out to the museum, catch a bite to eat out, and when we got home he'd be upset he never got to play video games. On his birthday, we let him decide what to do and he spent the whole day playing video games and then cried because he didn't get to go out and have fun.
Try cluing her in on the budget. "We are going to spend $20 tonight, and when that is gone it's time to go home." Show her receipts, or let her hold the money. Give her advance notice and let her plan the whole evening.
Also, do less! When we stopped being able to go out as much because of money reasons, my son started to appreciate what we did do a lot more.
Good luck!

More Answers

I liked the way you ended it......"leaving the store immediately".... I've done that and the message usually comes out loud and clear. Bad behavior is tiring but please don't ignore it. I wouldn't want to take her anyplace either. You're husband is wrong - don't accept bad behavior and don't just take her places out of guilt, fear that she is bored or not stimulated enough at her other homes - it becomes competitive and a kid learns quickly how to "play" this game with the parents! Pull out a board game, take out a box of creativity items (crayons/paints/glue, paper, beads/stickers...anything) and spend time with her. Another idea, send her home with a "creativity box" so she has other things to do at home. It's what she needs more than anything. She's been so accustomed to "taking" without giving and your husband is working so hard at being the "fun parent!' He just needs to be a parent.

Kids learn to be gracious and to have good manners, more by observing their parents. Teach her how to "give back" this Holiday season by helping someone less fortunate. It's a great way for children to learn gratitude. You can even do this as a family - help out at a food drive, soup kitchen, etc... Or you could work together to make an item or two.... "Project Linus" is a vey nice charity
http://www.projectlinus.org/chapter.php?StateKey=IL#tgt
She doesn't need any more regular "gifts". It's come to the point that she expects them - not appreciates them.

So sorry about her situation - it's so sad that you can't do a 3 days on/3 days off at the same location. That way, she could actually make friends in her three neighborhood "homes". Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful

Sounds normal to me. Don't engage with the drama. Children don't appreciate what we do for them - they have no way of understanding. (not that I haven't found myself explaining anyway!)

My take on it is, you can't control what she feels or make her grateful, and you'll only frustrate yourself trying. It sounds like the poor kid has very little control over her schedule or who the adults are who have say over what she does - I'd whine too.

What you can do is make your limits clear to both of them. Stop trying to control what your husband does and how your stepdaughter feels, because you can't do either of those things. Instead think about your own boundaries and what you need to be comfortable within this family. Maybe that means you don't go on outings some of the time. Maybe that means you say, "I need to have no more complaining for five minutes." Maybe it means you agree that after x number of complaints, the outing ends (agreed in advance).

1 mom found this helpful

In her limited time with her father (and you) focus on connection rather than fun. This is her time with her father. It's so easy as a mom to over-engage with step children, and so hard to step back. So, build your times together around the two of them, rather than around her. The MORE MORE MORE attitude is probably a 7 year olds way of trying to get her needs met. It's easy at that age to think that tangible goods are what you need, when what she wants is a little normalcy, time and focused attention from dad.

1 mom found this helpful

I think it is pretty normal. Especially if you are doing lots of outings as it sounds. I have 4 kids and we were doing Lots of outings. I got so frustrated that everything we did ended in tears and "I wanted mores". I stopped. We started doing more free things and cheap things and not as often. I have discovered that they appreciate fishing and an afternoon in the park as much as they do an amusement park. They love to bake so we find a recipe and do it together. I guess what i am saying is maybe it is time to take the glam and distractions out of your relationship and get down to what it is really about, spending time together and building a bond.
Keep It Simple Silly... The KISS theory.

1 mom found this helpful

Oh, that poor little girl! I hope you can find it in your heart to embrace and love her -- ultimately, she will mimic the behavior of the adults (including you) in her life. So if you are a good role model and love her, I think that's the best possible. Maybe seek some personal or family counseling. There may be some "greed" issues in yourself, as well as low self-esteem in yourself, that you want to explore. I agree with Kristinn M.'s response below -- and frankly, your treatment of this little girl sounds almost abusive.

While this is a stage they are normally going to go through, it does sound a little over the top. I suspect that the problem is one where she feels like there is nothing stable in her life right now. It sounds like she is living in three homes and essentially with three sets of rules, no matter how much everyone might or might not try to communicate.

I agree with the idea that quieter one-on-one bonding time might be a good idea. I'd also look for places where there is nothing to be purchased. Take an outing to the forest preserve and hike a trail while it's still nice enough (of course I'm writing this while it's snowing, so that option might be trickier right now). There are lots of events and activities that can be found where you don't pay money or you pay upfront and there isn't anything to buy later. One-night classes, where you can learn to do something fun together. Drum Circles, Festival Lights drives and walks... things like that. My mom and I used to just drive around and look at all the holiday light displays when I was a kid - we'd point out all the different things we saw to each other. Reel her in to the down-to-earth things and it will likely help give her a feeling of stability that will help her "greed" issue and probably in other ways as well.

She sounds lucky to have a stepmom who cares so much! Good luck!

How does someone learn to appreciate? By being shown unconditional love and appreciation, by seeing appreciation modeled by those around her.

Love and appreciate her. Just love her and appreciate her in all the ways you can think of. It's really as simple as that. The problem is that so many parents have become so confused about what loving means. Love is not punishment, threats, control and teaching lessons. Love isn't tough- it looks good and feels good. It looks like:

* Teaching through modeling
* Kindness
* Patience
* Being on her side and trying to see things from her perspective.
* Validation- "You really wish we could get more. That x looks really neat. Wouldn't it be fun to have a stack of money that reached all the way to the sky and we could buy the whole fair?! Maybe I could write x down for you and we can maybe try to get it next time or we can think of ways to save the money."
* Always looking for the good in your child and giving her the benefit of the doubt by assuming a legitimate need is trying to be met in the best way her present skills allow.
* Setting your child up for success
* Abundance- Where in her life is she not feeling this and where can you fill this child's cup?

If you are interested in peaceful, connected parenting I recommend the books "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn and "Connection Parenting" by Pam Leo.

I used to deal with this type of behavior all the time. My guess is she is doing this because at some point someone has given in to her pouting and complaining and given her what she wanted. I was guilty of this and it made everything worse. So my suggestion and what I started to do was to give them my expectation of them for any location and what we were going to do/not do/buy/not buy at that place. For example, we go to toys r us for a birthday present for her friend. I say..we are going to Toys R Us to pick out a birthday present for Susie. We are not buying anything for you or any of your sisters. If you start asking and whining for anything, we will leave the store and won't buy anything for Susie and I will call her mother and tell her you won't be able to make it to the birthday party. Or..we are going to the zoo today. We are going for 2 hours and we are going to see the following exhibits ... (or what free animals do you want to see out of this list).. we are not staying any longer and we are not purchasing any souvenirs or food. If I hear anyone asking and whining for anything, we will be going straight home. You can tailor this to allow her to bring ____ amount of her own money with if she wants to. The key is that you have to mean what you say and they can't just be threats. You have to leave immediately. In the beginning, we missed birthday parties, left outings and left grocery stores with a cart full of food. It was no fun. But it was well worth it. I can take them to any store and while sometimes they will still ask for things, I say no and remind them of what we talked about and they now know that no means no. I don't get the whining, temper tantrums, etc. any more.
Good luck.

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