We don’t mean to do it. Sometimes it’s just easier to say “yes” than to say “no”; it’s easier to do something ourselves than to hassle our child to do it; it’s more fun to be “the hero” than the “bad guy” – but in the long run, spoiling our children doesn’t do them any favors, and it makes our job as parents tougher. Here are some ways to think about whether you are overindulging your child and creating more of a problem than you’re solving…
Are you doing things for your child that he or she could (and should) do for him or herself? This can be a hard one for parents, especially if you have waited a long time to welcome your bundle of joy into your family. Autonomy is important, and so is struggling and learning to do things for ourselves. It can start with a baby/toddler who is still being fed baby food by mom and dad when he or she is capable of self-feeding. As your child grows, letting him make appropriate choices and decisions and take on tasks will build autonomy and character.
Do you find yourself giving in more than standing firm? Flexibility in parenting is important. No two children are alike and what works in one situation won’t necessarily work in another. However, if you find yourself giving in to those extra books and bottles at bedtime when you know better, or saying yes often to avoid a battle, you may need to rethink whether you are being flexible or giving in. When I came of age as a parent in the early nineties, the fad was to avoid telling your child “no” so as to create a positive, expansive spin on the world – so I’ve watched a generation of parents learn the hard way that kids need to hear “no.” Teachers will tell them no, they will inevitably not be chosen for teams or be turned down on college admissions or passed over for jobs in the “real world.” Our job as parents is to prepare them for a challenging life and provide guidelines and boundaries in which they can learn to cope and grow.
Who’s the boss at your house? If your kids are running the roost and making decisions that are best made and enforced by parents, this might mean you are overindulging and setting your kids up to expect to “be in charge” and have their own way wherever they go. There needs to be areas of concern where the parents are in charge, such as bedtime, house rules, neighborhood boundaries. While this may seem authoritative to some parents, kids really do need structure and they will feel strong and secure knowing that mom and/or dad are the ones in charge. Yes, they may throw a fit or twenty, but getting control of your household will be the best for everyone in the long run.
Are you giving in to peer pressure and “keeping up with the Jones’?” – This can be so hard for many parents. Again, if you have waited a long time to become a parent or feel like you want to give your child all the comforts and luxuries you may have gone without, you might be likely to overindulge with material goods. Children do need to learn the world has limitations. Yearning and longing can actually contribute to your child developing self-determination. It is okay to teach your child the difference between necessity and luxury. The challenge for parents is to separate and deal with our own issues of consumerism and peer pressure and try not to pass that along to our children. This is truly a challenge in our society of competition and consumption.
Most parents do not set out to spoil their children, but like many facets of adulthood, it is often difficult to keep things in perspective. We fall so madly in love with our children and want to give them the world – but that is often counterproductive to preparing them to live in it!