Recently, I participated in a parenting webinar on research that was done at the University of Minnesota by Dr. Connie Dawson and Dr. David Bredehoft on overindulgence.
What is overindulgence?
Overindulgence is different than spoiling, although it may seem similar. Overindulgence is having or doing too much of something that prevents development and hinders children from learning necessary life lessons. Overindulging children is giving them too much of something they want too soon or for too long. Another way of describing overindulgence giving children things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age interests and it may meet the adult’s needs more than the child’s.
What are the outcomes of overindulgence?
Overindulged children turn into adults who tend to feel sad and angry when they don’t get what they want. They may have trouble with various skills including:
- Learning how to delay gratification as an adult
- Giving up status as center of attention
- Becoming confident in every day skills and relating with others
- Taking personal responsibility
- Knowing what enough is
- Creating personal identity
- Knowing what is normal for other people
How exactly does overindulgence happen?
Overindulgence almost always comes from good intentions. Adults are trying to keep kids happy and prevent stress. There are three ways that children are overindulged.
- Giving too much. This can mean too much of anything – too many toys, camps, and even too many activities.
- Over-nurturing. This is doing for children what they should be doing for themselves which keeps them from learning life lessons and instead learning to be helpless.
- Soft Structure. This means there is little discipline and few boundaries, no rules or rules that are not followed through on and children are not contributing to the family by doing chores, etc. Caving on rules occasionally teaches children to be flexible, but caving on rules all the time teaches children to be manipulative.
Overindulgence is a complex idea and every situation is different, so how do you know if you are overindulging a child?
The University of Minnesota created the test of four which is a set of four questions to ask to help identify overindulgence. A yes to even one of these questions is a sign that overindulgence may be occurring.
- Does it get in the way of the child learning a development task? If the child is over the age of 2, does it reinforce the belief that the child is the center of the world?
- Does it use a disproportionate amount of family resources? Family resources are money, time, energy.
- Whose needs are being met? Is it more for the parent than the child?
- Does it harm others, property, the environment or the community?
If you find yourself answering yes to these questions, there are some tips that may help.
Distinguish between needs and wants. Try to give your child everything they need, but not everything they want, even if you can afford it.
Seek out child development information and learn what children should be learning and struggling with at different ages so you know when to let them struggle in order to learn.
Create rules and follow through with appropriate consequences if the rules are broken. Take the time to teach chores and household tasks, including self care tasks.
Build a united front. If you and those raising your children disagree on something try using the “it takes two to say yes and one to say no” rule of thumb.
For more information on Parenting in the Age of Overindulgence, there is a free online course that is offered at http://www.extension.umn.edu/family/live-healthy-live-well/healthy-children/overindulgence/online-course-for-parents/
There are also books available based on this research called How much is enough? and How much is too much?