Whether it's expensive electronic gadgets or picky eating, today's kids have the reputation of being overindulged. Parents might ask, what is overindulgence and why shouldn’t we do it? But more importantly, how do we not overindulge?
In her book How much is Enough? Jean Illsley Clark states, “Overindulging when it comes to children is giving them too much of what looks good, too soon, and for too long.”
What is overindulgence?
There are three main types of overindulging.
Giving too much
Giving kids too much. It uses up the family resources and teaches kids that they never have enough.
Over-nurturing is doing things for children that they can or should do by themselves. This keeps them from learning or mastering skills that they should have.
Having too little structure
This is giving children choices and experiences that are not appropriate for their age, interests or talents. By being an overindulgent parent or adult to the children in your life, you aren’t helping the child learn and find things out on their own.
Are your kids overindulged?
The test of four
To find out if you are an overindulgent parent, give yourself the test of four. The test of four was created by Clark to help us figure out if there is something we need to change in our parenting. Ask yourself these questions.
1. Does the situation hinder the child from learning the tasks appropriate to his developmental stage?
2. Does the situation give disproportionate amounts of family resources to one or more children?
3. Does the situation exist to benefit the adult more than the child?
4. Does the child’s behavior potentially harm others, society or the planet in some way?
How to minimize overindulgence
Start by teaching your child about the word enough. It can start even when they are babies and it is simply by using statements with the word enough in them. For example, “You have had enough candy today,” or, “You’ve had enough play time and now it’s time for a nap.” You incorporate these sentences into everyday life and it teaches your child that she doesn't always get everything she wants because there are limits.
What is enough? There are a few ways of looking at what is enough. What is too little? It’s not having a good amount of resources to maintain being healthy and safe. Abundance is having some extra to have fun with or share with others. Too much is so much all of the time that you don’t appreciate it like you should. Enough is having what you need so there doesn’t need to be any worrying.
Parenting expert Alfie Kohn discusses how we need to put our relationship with our child first. Do we want our children to grow up feeling like they deserve everything just because? No. We want them to grow up and work for things so that they understand the value of what it feels like to work hard and feel good about it after. By putting the relationship first, you don’t want to hurt your child’s feelings in any way, but you want to talk things through with him. Help your child understand why something needs to be done. Maybe after discussing it with your child, your viewpoint will change and that’s OK.
Give encouragement instead of praise
The book Positive Discipline teaches parents how to use encouragement instead of praise. Are you asking yourself, what does this have to do with overindulging? Another way of overindulging can be giving your child too much praise. Your child becomes a praise and approval junkie becoming too dependent on what others think of him. You don’t want your child to do things just so someone will praise him for it, you want him to want to do something because it will make him feel good and proud of what he has accomplished. Instead use encouragement. Inspire courage in your child so that he can change for himself.
If you feel like you might be in a situation with your child where you overindulge her, give yourself the test of four. Put your relationship with your child above everything else. Encourage her by letting her know you are impressed by her hard work. I think most parents want the same things for their children, to have them grow up and do good in the world, be responsible and work hard. If you want to help them, don’t overindulge them.
Jamie is currently a student studying Child Development and hopes to become a Child Life Specialist. She grew up the youngest of 10 children and has 22 nieces and nephews. This helped her develop her love for children and has been around since she can remember. Jamie looks forward to working with children for the rest of her life.