Before you have kids, it's easy to go out to brunch and glare at the toddler shrieking and demanding pancakes instead of French toast — or at the parents sitting next to them — and think, "I will never, ever let my kid be such a spoiled brat."
Having kids of your own complicates the situation somewhat. You hate to see them upset, but you also hate being glared at. You're frustrated, but you also know that you'll be even more frustrated in the future if you give your kid exactly what they want when they want it.
But if there's one parenting behavior that falls explicitly in the "wrong" category, it's lying to your kids about the way the world works — that is, getting your kid the pancakes when they've already ordered and tasted the French toast.
That's according to Hal Runkel, a marriage and family therapist who has published multiple books on parenting and relationships, including, most recently, "Choose Your Own Adulthood."
When he visited Business Insider's office in May, Runkel explained what he meant by "lying":
"What spoils kids is not letting them taste the natural consequences of their mistakes. When we give them the impression that their choices don't have natural, logical consequences and we rescue them from those — when we say, 'Hey, you do that one more time, I'm going to take that thing away,' and then we don't take that thing away — that's actually what spoils kids."
Runkel shared two concrete examples. Let's say you give your kid a toy and they use it to hit their sister. If you don't take the toy away, that's spoiling your kid. Or when you wake your kid up for school when they're well past the age to start setting an alarm themselves, that's spoiling them.
"The world is not going to allow them to continue to depend on us forever," Runkel said. "Our job is to prepare them for life without us."
So if you were the parent of the shrieking toddler at brunch, you might want to let your kid experience the disappointment of ordering French toast and then deciding pancakes look better — because, in most situations, that's the way the world works. The restaurant won't let you keep exchanging dishes on a whim.
If you think you're being too harsh on your kid — maybe you should just order them the pancakes — Runkel recommends consulting parents of older kids. How did they handle similar situations when their kids were younger?
If you're really torn, Runkel recommends checking in with your intuition.
"Your gut gives you a good indication of when you're being too harsh or depriving them," he said.
Ultimately, it's worth keeping in mind that Runkel says he sees parents being too lenient much more often than he sees them being too harsh.