Why Parents Indulge
Spoil-proof Your Kids: How to Raise a Child of Character: Lesson 1
by Dr. Dan Kindlon
Today’s parents are doing a great job. Compared to earlier generations, we are emotionally closer to our kids, they confide in us more, we have more fun with them, and we know more about the science of child development. But we are also too indulgent. We give our kids too much and expect too little of them. Why? Because we want our children to be happy.
In our eagerness to spare our children pain, we often fail to realize that their happiness as adults is largely dependent on the tools we give them – tools that will allow them to develop emotional maturity, to be honest with themselves, to be empathetic, to take initiatives, to delay gratification, to learn from failure and move on, to accept their flaws, and to face the consequences when they’ve done something wrong. We need to prepare our kids for the time when they will be responsible for themselves, by helping them develop the healthy attitudes and good habits that are character’s foundation. And to do that, we must stop over indulging them both materialistically and emotionally.
This four-step workshop will not only teach you how to raise children of character, it will help you gain back control of your family and your home. You’ll discover why you may be indulging your child, and learn you how to make important and significant changes in your parenting behavior – set limits without feeling guilty, teach your children self-control and fight back against greediness.
But don’t get the wrong idea: this workshop is not meant as a morality lesson. Rather, the goal of this workshop is to help you learn to combine the best of both worlds – emotional closeness with our kids and the ability to set limits.
What’s Wrong With Indulging Kids?
By protecting our children from failure, adversity, and pain, we deprive them of the opportunity to develop a realistic sense of their strengths and limitations, and to learn important coping skills. Indulged children are often less able to cope with stress, for example, because their parents have created an atmosphere where their whims are indulged, and where they have always assumed that life should be a bed of roses. The body cannot learn to adapt to stress unless it experiences it.
Indulged children can also be at risk of being self-centered, angry, depressed, spoiled, envious, overly competitive and driven or, on the flip side, unmotivated. They may lack self-control, and thus be more likely to get into trouble with drugs, alcohol and risky sex.
Understanding Why We Indulge
For today’s parents, mostly Baby Boomers, our children are at the core of what gives meaning to our lives. We are the generation who didn’t get married to have sex. Many of us waited to have children. After losing faith in our leaders, we came up with the bumper sticker “Question Authority”. As a result, when we became parents, we were often uncomfortable setting strict limits and exerting authority over our children.
In addition, families tend to be smaller now than in the past, making each child all the more precious. And so we may be overprotective to a fault, denying our children the growing experience a little pain can bring. Also, we indulge our children at least partially because we can afford to. We want to share the good things in life with our kids; and we know that money can protect us from at least some of life’s problems. But money can’t protect our kids from the discomforts of maturation, and it can’t buy them character.
We indulge our children in non-materialistic ways, too. Too many of us seem to be seeking our children’s approval, an affirmation of ourselves and our worth. Rather than impose authoritarian punishments when our children misbehave, we want to talk things out with them, reason with them. We want open and honest communication, not dictatorial rule. We want to be emotionally close to our kids, to have fun with them, to be, to some extent, their friends. This blurring of the line between being a friend and being a parent is one of the most significant trends in parenting today, and it most often results in confusion for us and for our kids. The good news is that parents can set limits and still have fun with the kids. I’ve heard from kids who said their moms or dads were “pretty strict” or “too strict” who also said that they had fun with their parents most or all of the time.
With the skills you learn in these four steps, you’ll be able to have the best of both worlds. You’ll be able to do what’s right for your children by setting necessary limits, without sacrificing the close bond that is one of the great strengths of parent-child relationships today.
Stopping the Spoil-Cycle
Now take some time to think more specifically about how you may overindulge your children by asking yourself how often you “give in” and do something for your child that is her responsibility as well as how often you let your child have something that she hasn’t earned or shouldn’t have in the first place? If making lists helps you organize your thoughts, be sure to write your examples down. Over the next four weeks, you will learn how to stop yourself from this behavior – and gain back control of your household.
Here are some common examples:
• Picking up used bath towels off the floor
• Putting away toys/straightening room
• Feeding/walking pet
• Cleaning up after dinner
• Coming in past curfew
• Going out without finishing homework
• Staying up past bedtime
Consider your list and think about the reasons why you give in. Common reasons include the following:
• Too tired/easier to do yourself
• Don’t want to start a fight
• Don’t want to interrupt child’s activity (playing with friend, watching favorite TV show)
• Feel guilty about something (yelling at child, being away from home too much)
• Only want your child to be happy
Think about your motivations for giving in and ask yourself whether they are justified. However you indulge your children, and whatever your reasons are, it’s guaranteed you’re not alone. Move on to Step Two to learn loving ways to set firm limits with your kids. Making a real change is easier than you think!