Lesson Five Are you Giving Your Kids Too Much?
1 While traveling for various speaking engagements, I frequently stay overnight in the home of a family and am assigned to one of the children's bedrooms. In it, I often find so many playthings that there's almost no room - for my small toilet kit. And the closet is usually so tightly packed with clothes that I can barely squeeze in my jacket.
2 I'm not complaining, only making a point.
I think that the tendency to give children an overabundance of toys and clothes is quite common in American families, and I think that in far too many families not only do children come to take their parents' generosity for granted, but also the effects of this can actually be somewhat harmful to children.
3 Of course, I'm not only thinking of the material possessions children are given. Children can also be overindulged with too many privileges - for example, when parents send a child to an expensive summer camp that
the parents can't really afford.
4 Why parents give their children too much, or give things they can't afford? I believe there are several reasons.
5 One fairly common reason is that parents overindulge their children out of a sense of guilt. Parents who both hold down full-time jobs may feel guilty about the amount of time they spend away from their children[0804:64] and may attempt to compensate by showering them with material possessions.
6 Other parents overindulge because they want their children to have everything they had while growing up, along with those things the parents yearned for but didn't get. Still others are afraid to say no to their children's endless requests for toys for fear that their children will feel unloved or will be ridiculed if they don't have the same playthings their friends have.
7 Overindulgence of a child also happens when parents are unable to stand up to their children's unreasonable demands.[0907:61;
1001:61] Such parents vacillate between saying no and giving in - but neither response seems satisfactory to them. If they refuse a request, they immediately feel a wave of remorse for having been so strict or ungenerous. If they give in, they feel regret and resentment over having been a pushover.[0610:44] This kind of vacillation not only impairs the parents' ability to set limits, it also sours the parent-child relationship to some degree, robbing parents and their children of some of the happiness and mutual respect that should be present in healthy families.
8 But overindulging children with material things does little to lessen parental guilt [0907:32] (since parents never feel that they've given enough), nor does it make children feel more loved (for what children really crave is parents’time and attention). Instead, the effects of overindulgence can be harmful. Children may, to some degree, become greedy, self-centered, ungrateful and insensitive to the needs and
feelings of others, beginning with their parents. When children are given too much, it undermines their respect for their parents. In fact, the children begin to sense that a parent's unlimited generosity is not right. The paradoxical result may be that these children will push further, unconsciously hoping that, if they push too hard, they will force their parents into setting limits.
9 Also, overindulged children are not as challenged as children with fewer playthings to be more creative in their play. [0607:50] They have fewer opportunities to learn the value of money, and have less experience in learning to deal with a delay in gratification, if every requested object is given on demand.
10 The real purpose of this discussion is not to tell parents how much or how little to give to their children. Rather, my intent is to help those parents who have already sensed that they might be overindulging their children but don't know how to stop.
11 Parents who are fortunate enough not to have a problem with feelings of guilt don't need to respond crossly to their children when denying a specific request which is thought to be unreasonable. They can explain, cheerfully, that it's too expensive - except perhaps as a birthday or holiday gift - or that the child will have to contribute to its purchase from an allowance or from the earnings of an outside job. [0310:43]
12 It's the cheerfulness and lack of hesitation that impress upon the child that parents mean what they say. A cross response signals that the parents are in inner conflict.[0410:42] In fact, I'll make a rash statement that I believe is true, by and large: Children will abide by what their parents sincerely believe is right. They only begin arguing and pestering when they detect uncertainty or guilt, and sense that their parents can be pushed to give them what they want, if they just keep at it. But the truth is that a child really wants parents to be in control - even if it