Disclosure :: this post is sponsored by The Parenting Center.
“How much is enough?” is a question parents frequently ask themselves when faced with the demands of their young children. Many parents are concerned about raising children who are “spoiled” with the amount of toys, privileges, and yes, even the nurturing they receive. Overindulgence is a trap for both parents and children that can have far-reaching consequences. Such a pattern, which can begin in the preschool years, may ultimately rob children of their ability to find success and happiness as adults. But sometimes it’s difficult as a parent to find the balance between expecting too much of a young child and expecting too little.
Some tips for parents to avoid overindulgence:
Encourage children to develop self-care skills and do simple chores.
Young children want to learn how to be capable and competent. Teaching them how to dress themselves, pick up toys, set the table, and care for a pet are all ways to support this aspect of their development. Some tasks may need to be broken down into very simple steps that can be taught and encouraged by a patient caregiver. Acknowledge and praise a child’s contributions to the family, no matter how small the act.
Enforce consistent limits.
Establish some expectations about behavior that are easy for a child to understand and for a parent to enforce consistently. Focus on encouraging the positive behavior you want to see, and communicate the limits as calmly, simply and clearly as you can. Don’t be afraid to say “No” when necessary, whether in response to an inappropriate behavior, or a demand for material “stuff.” A parent can always empathize with a child’s desire for something (“That is a really cool toy, I can see why you like it”) without shaming or giving in to the demand.
Help children learn to delay gratification.
Developmentally, preschoolers often have trouble learning to wait for the things they want, and it’s our job to help them learn patience. The child whose parent helps them wait for a turn on the swing set, or wait for their birthday to get that great toy, is more likely to acquire and use that skill. Practice saying, “You have enough for now.” Some adults still don’t have an understanding of what is “enough!”
Encourage empathy and compassion.
Overindulged children have trouble thinking about other people’s needs. Preschoolers are just beginning to see things from other people’s point of view, but it is still a challenge for them, particularly when they are upset. Parents can help by talking calmly with their children about what other people may be feeling, and how our behavior impacts others. For example, point out to your son how happy Grandma looked when he thanked her for his birthday gift. On the other hand, if he intentionally knocks down his friend’s block tower, encourage him to help his friend build a new one as a way of making amends. And, perhaps most importantly, showing empathy for our children’s feelings in the early years is key to them learning to offer it to others in the future.
For more information on this topic, check out “How Much is Enough? Everything You Need to Know to Steer Clear of Overindulgence and Raise Likeable, Responsible and Respectful Children” by Jean Illsley Clarke, Ph.D., Connie Dawson, Ph.D., and David Bredhoft, Ph.D., and “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” by Wendy Mogel.
About Lisa Phillips
Lisa Phillips, MSW, GSW, is a social worker and has been a Parent Educator at The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital since 2001. She received her BA from Occidental College and her MSW from Tulane University. She is the mother of two teenagers.