Q & A Today: We Don’t Want Overindulged Kids
By Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC
Posted on May 16, 2021
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Q: My husband and I are in the talking and planning stage of starting a family. We are surrounded in our neighbourhood with overindulged kids who are growing up entitled and selfish. Some of them are the offspring of people we think very highly of. We want to do everything possible to ensure our future kids don’t grow up like this. I think we would benefit by having a roadmap to raising them to be loved, not overindulged and spoiled rotten. – Karen
A: I am impressed that both you and your husband are taking the time to go into parenting with your eyes wide open. No one intends to raise overindulged children. In fact, long ago, in the pre-industrialised world, there was rarely such a thing as an overindulged child. Life was hard and families had an ‘all hands on deck’ lifestyle, where kids regularly contributed to helping the family function on a daily basis. Advances in technology over the past 90 some years have changed all of this. Hard work from kids to help keep the family going is now a rarity, and kids have the freedom to be kids.
Another big change in today’s world is the media, which blasts at us with a nonstop fevered pitch about all the things we ought to be purchasing and doing for our kids. It wears us down and it is easy to understand how we can start to feel like our kids are deprived if they don’t have these material things, ranging from the latest games and technology to fashionable clothing. Kids can often end up confused because they don’t learn the difference between wanting something and needing it. Unfortunately, rather than helping, providing an excess of these material ‘things’ simply meet children’s superficial needs rather than help build their character.
The roadmap you’re looking for to avoid raising overindulged children lies in avoiding the word ‘too’. Children that are given too many privileges and possessions, too much permissiveness with too few consequences for not following through on commitments, and are too often prevented from having to do or think for themselves can experience a lifetime of negative consequences.
Let me suggest that a way to be mindful of how to bring forward your best parenting skills is to keep the following points in focus.
1. Value time spent with your young kids. This means both quantity and quality. Parents are sometimes influenced by our consumer-oriented society in which we live to think that a new toy will keep our young kids happy. Knowing the child is occupied and happy with the new toy can give parents an opportunity to pull away and focus on their own interests or work. But this can create problems. Children’s emotional needs are endless and change regularly as they develop. They need to have parents around to provide consistent values and guidance. Shiny new toys or the latest gadget cannot accomplish this important task.
2. Allow your school aged children to experience emotional discomfort. Parents want their children to be successful in life. But this goal can sometimes conflict with natural opportunities for children to learn insights and coping skills, as the road is filled with twists, turns and bumps. Over-indulgent parents often rescue their children from somewhat common problems they encounter, ranging from boredom to behavioural conflicts at school to completing homework assignments. However, if parents are continually rescuing them from these normal types of consequences, then the kids grow up not knowing how to properly navigate challenges they may face and be able to properly care for themselves.
I experienced this a few years ago when conducting a seminar for parents of students readying to enter university. I was addressing the importance of preparing their children to successfully transition from the family home into a university dormitory. I explained that the parents should teach their children how to balance a budget and do their own laundry.
I advised that once their child was living in the college dorms the parents should not become a human alarm clock, calling in the morning to ensure their kids are awake and ready to attend class. And I reminded the parents that their children are responsible for their academic work, and not to call a professor if their child complains about an instructor or a poor grade on a test.
One parent spoke up at this point and stated, “I can’t imagine a parent doing such a thing.” Another parent responded, “I am a Dean at the University of California and I’ve had a parent call me complaining about their child’s grade.”
Parental attempts to protect their children from natural consequences of the choices they make can result in the children developing insecurity about being able to manage issues in their lives. It can also result in children developing a sense of entitlement, believing that they should get what they want simply because they want it, rather than earning it.
This insecurity and entitlement can be avoided if parents make a concerted effort to being more than their children’s cheerleaders. Children need parental support and love. But they also need honest feedback. There is a gift in learning how to receive negative feedback. The children will grow up understanding how to accept inevitable negative comments that come from others in their lives, such as professors, employers, neighbours, and in-laws.
3. Encourage your children to be independent and self-reliant. If they have confidence in their own judgment and ability then they’ll be able to push forward in challenging times. They won’t expect you to rescue them. They’ll be more comfortable being able to count on themselves and less needing to use control and coercion to get what they want.
You can foster this independence by helping your children explore ways to achieve success on their own. Encourage them to go after things that matter to them while offering support and guidance rather than believing that you have to make the decisions for them.
4. Recognise the difference between unconditional love and limits. We all must obey laws in society and learn to accommodate the needs of others, not just ourselves. Parents who acquiesce to children who back-talk (arguing, sassiness, eye rolling) are giving them too much power. These children are not learning how to express themselves within the limits of the setting in which they exist. They’re also not learning to respect others. Help teach your children to avoid manipulating others through sulking or nagging.
5. Provide discipline. It isn’t only okay to correct a child’s behaviour; it is a parent’s responsibility to do so. Discipline helps the children understand when they must assume accountability for something they did. Personal integrity encompasses many, many concepts, including taking ownership of their mistakes.
Karen, the fact that you and your husband are so wisely asking these questions prior to starting your family reflects that you both want to make your future children the centre of the family, but not the centre of the family power. In doing so, you’re going to be able to help your children master the necessary developmental tasks that promote their growth and will benefit them throughout their lifetime.
Enjoy the journey through parenthood,
Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC is author of Overcoming Adversity: Conquering Life’s Challenges, by Australian Academic Press. Eileen is a life and business coach and public speaker residing in the United States. She has spent her professional career working in medical and psychiatric hospitals and in her private practice, counselling people experiencing emotionally traumatic events.
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