Overindulgence in Children: Over-Nurturing

Our first blog on overindulgence talked about too much “stuff.” Based on the book “How Much is Enough: Overindulgence in Children” by Jean Clarke, Connie Dawson and David Bredehoft, the blog talked about kids who have too many things and have too much money spent on them.

Let’s talk about the second category of overindulgence: over-nurturing. Over-nurturing does not mean giving too much love. You can never give too much love. But true love should not prevent a child from learning important skills, developing independence, feeling the rush of doing something well, experiencing the consequences of messing up or contemplating the sting of defeat. If we love our children, we should stop doing things for them when they reach an age when they can do it themselves.

Examples of Over-Nurturing

Joey goes to preschool, happy and excited. His dad carries him into the classroom, takes his coat off for him and hangs it up. Later, when it’s time for recess, Joey can’t get his coat on by himself. After recess, he manages to take his coat off and throws it on the floor. When it’s time to go to gym, Joey wants the teacher to carry him. The other children are looking at him. Joey is not as happy and excited now.

Shelly heads for college, happy and excited. After two weeks, she is running low on clean laundry. At home, a housekeeper did her laundry for her. In fact, the housekeeper picked the clothes up off the floor. Now Shelly is not even sure which is the washer and which is the dryer, much less how to use them. Her roommates jokingly make fun of her, but they refuse to help her. She ends up ruining some of her expensive clothing. Shelly is not as happy and excited now.

What happened here? The adults in Joey’s and Shelly’s lives failed to recognize when they became developmentally able to do new things on their own. And the adults failed to teach them how to do these things.

Applying the authors’ “Test of Four”

1.  Does the situation hinder the child from learning tasks that support his or her development? Yes!

  • Joey has not learned basic self-help skills like taking off his coat. He sometimes relies on adults to carry him when he doesn’t feel like walking.
  • Shelly has not learned basic survival skills for living on her own.

2.  Does the situation give a disproportionate amount of the family resources to one or more children? Yes!

  • Joey’s parents have to spend extra time and energy doing things for him that he is able to do himself.
  • Shelly’s lack of skills will cause her to spend extra money on new clothes.

3.  Does the situation exist to benefit the adult more than the child? Yes!

  • Joey’s parents may subconsciously want to keep him a “baby.”
  • We could speculate that Shelly’s parents don’t want to invest the time to teach her to do her laundry; it may just be easier to have the housekeeper do it.

4.  Does the child’s behavior potentially harm others, society, or the planet in some way? Yes!

  • The teacher is going to have to spend extra time teaching Joey some basic skills, which will take time away from other children.
  • Ruining perfectly good clothing is a waste of resources.

When you think about your own child’s skill development, apply the Test of Four. If you are answering yes to any of those questions, you may need to rethink how much you are doing for your child. Children who learn developmentally appropriate tasks, such as self-help skills, survival skills, social skills or cognitive skills, are more confident, have higher self esteem, and are better able to navigate the path to responsible adulthood.

Next time, look for information on the third category of overindulgence: Soft Structure


(The names and scenarios used as examples were created for the purpose of this blog post.)

By Betty and Doniese

Family Life Instructors at Avera McKennan

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