- in Families
Tis the season for overindulgence: overindulgence in cookies, candies, and our kids! As a parent, you want your child to have the best in life but when is enough enough? And how do you avoid spoiling your children in the midst of the holiday excitement.
Nearly all parents want the best for their children. They want to give their children everything to have a good start in life, they want their children to do better and have a higher standard of living than they did. This is nothing new, it’s been this way for generations. However, giving children too much is quite different from giving them enough.
We need to get back to some real fundamental principles and roles that define the family. My experience in working with parents is that when they come from a place of fear and guilt they overindulge no matter what age of their children, even when their children are adults! “My children won’t love me if I tell them things they don’t want to hear, like NO.”
My fear is that parents are not drawing the line clearly enough; “I’m NOT your best friend. I’m your parent. I’m always going to tell you the truth – you can rely on me for that – but I may be telling you some things you don’t want to hear.” And, for younger children still at home, “I’m going to require you to do chores and other things you don’t want to do but that’s my job.”
Children today have so much privilege it seems. So how do you teach them that while they are always loved, it doesn’t mean they’re always entitled?
Perhaps our guiding light in all this is to give children too much love and not enough money, too much time and attention and not enough privilege, as they see it anyway. Children need to know that when they reach young adulthood they are going to make their own way and that means that they won’t start at the same standard of living they enjoyed while living with their parents.
Many professionals in my field believe that overindulgence is one of the most insidious forms of child abuse known to man. We overindulge children when we fail to teach them how the world really works.
Anytime we’re competing with the neighbors, or our child’s friends’ family, or the other parent’s ability to give such as in a divorce situation, or with what the in-laws, we’re likely going to give out of guilt even if it means being resentful, and spending more than we can afford and more than we feel comfortable with. The best gift parents give their children is the parent’s own financial independence, and furthermore, please don’t make the other 11 months of the year stressful because you, as a parent, overindulged in gift-buying during the holidays. We do our children no favors.
Here are a few concrete tips to think about:
Give Children More
The process of overindulgence stems from parents needs: their need to be liked, their need to see their children only as happy, their need to feel that there are keeping up with the Jones’s, etc. Give children more experiences of delayed gratification; earning a treasured toy or new outfit; allow them more experiences of not getting everything they want. Give children more of you. Show up, mom and dad. Instead of giving them several new games, give them one game that you are willing to sit on the floor and play with them for a couple of hours.
Encourage your children to make a “wish list.” Then, have them prioritize the list in the order of what’s really important to them. They will not get everything on their list. We all have unfulfilled wish-lists, THAT’S reality. If children are too young to number their top favorite things, have them put a special sticker on the toy in a catalogue that they love the most.
Cease Retail Therapy
Retail therapy is any time we shop to stop emotions: sadness, rejection, loneliness, guilt, etc. Be aware of what you’re trying to avoid or prove with your shopping spree. When you’re at the check our stand, check back into reality. Why am I doing this? Have the courage to say, “You know what, I changed my mind on these few items. Please take them off my bill.” Have the clerk re-scan the items the other direction and re-establish appropriate structure in your family spending.
Parents love their children so much they can’t stand to see them in pain, but that’s not love. The role of a parent is to prepare a child to make it in the world on their own. Let this motivate you, Mom and Dad: Overindulged children grow up in an unrealistic world and as a result they fail to learn skills such as perseverance, coping with failure, and getting along with others, to name only a few.
We get into some unhealthy habits of buying, buying, and buying some more, regardless of our socioeconomic level. Have the courage to do something different, even if it’s simply stopping short of what you typically do in going all out. Do a little less this year and see how that can be even more enjoyable for everyone! Do a little test in your home; you can always go back to overindulgence but I doubt that you will!