Have you experienced being in a store and your child asks for something – a toy, a candy, something they want – you say “no,” and he starts having a fit, then we give in to make the tantrum stop. It would work; your kids would stop crying – for the moment. But it also ensures that every shopping trip will be a battle.
Giving children too much of what looks good, too soon, and too long. It is the process of giving things to a child to meet the adult’s needs, not the child’s. This is called overindulgence.
Overindulging isn’t just about buying lots of holiday gifts. It is giving a disproportionate amount of family resources to one or more children in a way that appears to be meeting the children’s needs. Still, it does not, so children experience scarcity in plenty. They learn if something’s not the newest model – get a new one; if one is good – more is even better; if it’s too hard to do; look for an easier way. These children often experience competence issues as adults, can’t get down to work, or give up on things before completing them.
It can also be a form of child neglect. It hinders children from mastering their needed developmental tasks and learning necessary life lessons.
Types of Overindulgence
- Giving too much. Whether it’s too many toys, activities, or electronics, giving too much of anything can be harmful. Children need downtime, and they also need to learn how to entertain themselves.
- Over-nurturing. When parents prevent their children from learning the skills needed to be independent, that is also overindulging. For example, doing your child’s homework or rescuing him from all uncomfortable emotions.
- Soft structure. Not giving your kid enough discipline or healthy limits can prevent them from becoming self-disciplined adults. An example would be not giving your child chores or giving in every time he throws a temper tantrum.
Why Parents Overindulge Kids
All overindulgence comes from a place of well-meaning and love, and parents may overindulge for several reasons. They want to make their child happy, may have the affluence and ability to give more, or may wish to provide the child with things they never had in their own childhood. Or, they may just be trying to get through the day, and giving in is an easy way to appease a fussy child.
Often, parents who overindulge don’t have a basic understanding of child development and how it can be negatively impacted by overindulgence. Sadly, our self-absorbed society has told parents to help their kids feel good about themselves, that the parents must make their children happy. But underneath it all, kids don’t need parents who make them happy. They need parents who will make them capable.
Why Overindulging Children Isn’t Healthy
Here are a few reasons why you may want to think twice about giving your child everything your child wants:
- Overindulged children have no accountability for their actions. As a result, the parent has little to no control over the child.
- Overindulgence can lead to dysfunctional thinking in adolescence.
- Adults who were overindulged as children tend to lack everyday skills and do not want to grow personally, or develop meaningful relationships, as they get older.
- Overindulged children cannot delay gratification – they would want it NOW, leading to them being ungrateful and unappreciative in adulthood.
How to Guard Against (or Stop) Overindulgence
If you’re quietly thinking and all this sounds familiar, you may be overindulging your child. But worry not; there is still hope. Here are some things parents can do to reduce overindulgence and get back on the right track:
- Recognize that you overindulge your child and choose to do things differently.
- Use “The Test of Four.” When you think you may be overindulging your child, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the situation hinder the child from learning the tasks that support their development and learning at this stage?
- Does the situation give a disproportionate amount of family resources to one or more children?
- Does the situation exist to benefit the adult more than the child?
- Does the child’s behavior potentially harm others, society, or the planet somehow?
If you answer yes to one or more questions, overindulgence may occur. Rethink your decision!
- Work on one problem area at a time.
- Forgive yourself for your parenting mistake.
- Ask for help and support.
If you’re guilty of overindulging your child, choose to create a positive change in your family. Commit to stopping unhealthy behaviors that are harmful to your child.
When you become aware of what an overindulgent behavior looks like, you’re on the right track. With practice, you should recognize when you’re overindulging and have a chance to rethink what you’re doing. It will be difficult at first, but your children will thank you in the long run.