As the holiday gift-giving season approaches, many parents want to give their children the things they didn’t have when they grew up, especially during the holidays. They find it difficult to resist getting everything on their child’s wish list. Parents may not realize that they may be doing more harm than good by contributing to an affliction called “Overindulgence.” Overindulgence isn’t harmless. It sets children up for unnecessary discomfort and failure. Moreover, it can make parenting a very bumpy road.
What is Overindulgence?
According the authors Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson and David Bredehoft of the book “How Much is Enough”, there are three ways in which parents can overindulge their children:
1. Giving the child too much or too many things goes beyond just toys and clothes, but includes anything that costs money. Children who are overindulged with too many material things often fail to learn the skill of knowing what is enough.
2. Over-nurturing is doing things for children that they could or should be doing for themselves. All children need nurturing to survive. This is not about giving too much love. It is more about hovering over a child or depriving a child of the opportunity to reach out and experience things on his or her own. It deprives the child of feeling the thrill of achievement or experiencing consequences. Making mistakes and then learning from the experience is not an option when the “helicopter parent” is preventing experiences from happening, or swooping in for the rescue before anything can go wrong!
3. Soft structure – Not enforcing rules and boundaries. Giving children too much freedom or allowing them to dominate the family. It can mean giving children choices that are not age appropriate or letting children make decisions that should be made by the adults within the family. Not giving children responsibilities for chores and ‘family work’ deprives them of contributing to the family’s well-being, and sets up an ‘attitude of entitlement.’
Harmful Impact of Overindulgence
Overindulgence in children is all around us. Overindulgence is something that can happen in any family regardless of income level and the number of children. While unintentional it is caused by parents who love their children and want the best for them. Overindulgence, although similar to spoiling, is much more harmful. According to the authors of “How Much is Enough” children who are overindulged can have serious difficulties in many areas of life, such as:
- Difficulty in learning to delay gratification
- Desire to always be the center of attention
- Difficulty learning everyday self-care and interpersonal skills
- Difficulty taking personal responsibility
- Difficulty perceiving what is enough
Are you Overindulging?
As a parent if you are concerned that your child is being overindulged, ask yourself these four expert-recommended questions:
- Does the situation keep the child from learning tasks that support his or her development?
- Does the situation give disproportionate amounts of family resources to one or more children? (money, space, time, attention)
- Who benefits the most from the –situation the child or the parent?
- Could this possibly harm others or the environment?
A “yes” to any of the above questions is a signal that you may be overindulging.
What you can do to stop Overindulging Your Children
If you feel you have overindulged your children and are ready to change your family habits, the authors encourage parents to:
- Teach their children self-care skills
- Assign household chores
- Take charge of the rules – don’t let the child(ren) run the family
- Give children only enough to enhance them
- Stop doing things for your children that they developmentally can do for themselves
Curbing overindulgence during the holidays
Teach them Charitable Giving: Make giving part of your child’s holiday experience. As a family take an inventory of your home and donate clothing, toys and household items no longer in use to a charity. Prepare a meal for a shelter, ask your children to select extra groceries to place in food boxes for the needy. This is a terrific opportunity for your child to learn the importance of giving to those less fortunate at a very early age. Your children will also learn the lesson that the season is about giving, not simply receiving.
Set a Good Example: Children learn by what they see not by what we say. Are you modeling the behavior you are hoping to instill in your child? Children notice expensive, impulse purchases made by their parents and will, in turn, think that they need to have the latest and greatest gadget also.
Reign in the Relatives and Friends: Ask relatives to limit their gift giving to one modest gift. If they feel the need to give more ask them to consider spending time with your child or perhaps giving your child a savings bond.
Taking action today to avoid or stop overindulging will take you one step closer to realizing your dreams for your child to be a resilient, capable, caring, responsible adult. Your efforts will be confirmed one day when your child says “Thank you for being a terrific parent”.
Take the opportunity this holiday season to give your child your presence instead of an extra present. Make a date with your child to do something special with each child and your spouse. Something special could be going to the museum, aquarium, sleding, skiing, iceskating , etc. Capture the day with pictures and notes about your day together. The memory will last a lifetime.
Children spell “love”…T-I-M-E. Dr. A. Witham