A blog inspired by the book "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" by Dr. Wendy Mogel.
“I know why this is hard for me. My mom and dad always made me feel like I was the best: the most beautiful, the smartest, the most charming. And mostly I’ve done well in everything. But now I’m finding out that I’m not that unusual. Maybe I’m good enough, but I don’t know anymore.”
Parenting is, by its very nature, a giving job. Mothers, fathers, and caregivers often give all of themselves to their children – mentally, physically, and emotionally. While there is no such thing as loving a child too much, there is such a thing as giving, and giving in, too much. Despite a parent’s loving, best intentions, showering children with abundance can often become more than they can handle. Overindulgence can be defined as giving too much of anything to a child such that his or her learning and development is slowed. When we give children everything, or do everything for them, we deprive them of experiences necessary for the development of basic skills, confidence, and self-esteem.
There are three primary ways in which parents may overindulge their child: by giving too much, by over-nurturing, and by imposing soft structure. Overindulgence by giving too much can refer to just about anything: too many possessions, too many activities, too much money, too much power in the household, etc. Overindulgence by over-nurturing can refer to doing any activity for a child that he/she could do for themselves, thereby reducing self-reliance. Overindulgence by imposing soft structure can refer to being lax about rules, applying consequences inconsistently, having low expectations for behavior, expecting a child to contribute little to nothing to the household by way of chores and responsibilities, etc.
When raised with this style of parenting, children do not experience firm limits and boundaries. They learn that they can get their way through verbal argument and manipulation. Parents are overly concerned about hurting children’s feelings when setting limits or imposing consequences. As a result, children are given an undue amount of power in the home, which they may be emotionally and mentally unprepared to handle. Parents are emotionally over-attentive, which can lead to children developing a sense of entitlement and an expectation that everything will be done for them without them having to do their part or give back.
Since 1998, researchers at the Center of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota have been studying the effects of overindulgence on child development as part of their Overindulgence Project. They have identified a host of risks and consequences of overindulgence. A sampling of their findings indicates that children who are overly indulged may:
- Show deficits in moral reasoning, as the development of conscience is hindered.
- Behave in more aggressive, less compliant ways.
- Fail to learn how to appropriately assert themselves and may lack self-confidence.
- Show lower levels of compassion and empathy towards others.
- Develop a sense of entitlement, in which their needs surpass the needs of others.
- Perceive themselves as being at the center of the universe, leading to selfish or self-centered behavior.
- Constantly seek affirmation and approval, as they learn to doubt their own lovability and self-worth
- Become overly dependent and less self-reliant. According to Dr. Mogel, children “learn only one skill (overdependence on their parent), and the tools they’ve mastered (guilt trips, excuses, manipulation, anger, intimidation) will be destructive to them in later relationships.”
- Feel very powerful in comparison to adults, which makes them feel unsafe emotionally.
- Fail to develop strong inner controls, instead relying on external controls provided by parents and other overindulging adults.
- Display serious problems into adulthood, including impulsivity, self-serving behavior, hostility, and difficulty maintaining long-term supportive relationships.
In order to experience genuine happiness and contentment in life, children need to learn skills. When indulgent parents try to reduce a child’s frustration by giving him/her what they want, they in fact deprive their child of the opportunity to learn necessary life skills that lead to academic, athletic, artistic and personal success now and in the future.
Kate Fierce is the Lower and Middle School Guidance Counselor at Shorecrest Preparatory School. Shorecrest believes in a school-parent partnership to provide the best possible outcome for students. To learn more, join us for a personal tour of our St. Petersburg, FL private school campus.