Overindulgence in Children: Too Much Stuff

Do you ever stop and think about how much “stuff” your kids or grandkids have today compared to when you were a child? A new term that has surfaced in child development recently is “overindulgence,” which means “excessive” or “too much.”

A book we have been recommending is How Much is Enough: Overindulgence in Children by Jean Clarke, Connie Dawson and David Bredehoft.  The authors identify three categories where parents and adults can give “too much.”

  • Too Much Stuff: too many things, too much money spent on the kids
  • Over Nurturing: doing things for kids that they can do for themselves
  • Soft Structure:  giving kids too much freedom control

In this first blog of a series of three, we will talk about the first category—Too Much Stuff

Too Much Stuff

We all understand about too many toys and clothes. But too much stuff includes anything that costs money, such as sports equipment, activities, lessons, entertainment, junk food and vacations. It sometimes means that too much of the family’s income is spent on the kids. Mom and Dad decide they can’t save money or afford life insurance because they have to give the children all these things. Sometimes it means the family goes into debt to provide all of the “stuff.”

In Family A, Christmas morning is a frenzy. The children rip wrapping paper off gift after gift, look at them briefly, then toss them aside. They didn’t ask for most of these things, and they don’t look at who the gift is from.

In family B, each child receives one large and one small gift on Christmas morning from Santa. The children have thought carefully about what to request, knowing they can’t have everything they see on TV or in the stores. Family gifts are opened later, or the night before. Family members take turns opening, so everyone can admire the gift and know who the gift is from. Older children make a list of gifts so thank yous can be written. Before the gift opening, young children practice ways to say thank you for a gift.

In family A, Mom and Dad are very stressed the month after Christmas when the credit card bills come. There is a lot of yelling going on. Some of the toys are already broken and some have never even been played with.

Family B made a budget before the holidays and stuck to it. The toys their children received were things they really wanted, and they are usually things that will be played with a lot. There may be room in the budget in a month or two for another toy the children really want, even though it’s not a holiday.

Who is Better Off?

Children in Family A have so many things that it’s hard to remember what they received, much less who gave it to them. It’s hard to show appreciation or to feel thankfulness in this situation. These children did not learn to think critically about what they really want. They didn’t have the opportunity to make a decision. As they grow older, it will likely be difficult for them to ever feel like they have “enough.”

Family B’s children have learned to prioritize what is most important to them. They also are learning to “delay gratification,” or wait for other wants. It is more likely that they will appreciate the things they have to wait for and probably will take better care of them. As they grow older, they will have an understanding of the family budget and decisions that are made about the family’s resources. They will be able to know when they have “enough.”

How to Prevent Raising a Self-Centered Child

Children are given “stuff” that they didn’t really want, didn’t ask for, didn’t wish for and didn’t have to wait for. Some children get everything and anything they ask for. When this happens, kids don’t learn the difference between wants and needs. They don’t learn to postpone their wants until an appropriate time. They become self-centered. When they become adults, they never know when they have enough, so they have difficulty being happy and managing their resources.

So how do parents know when children have too much stuff? Try using the authors’ “Test of Four.”

  1. Does the situation hinder the child from learning the tasks that support his or her development?
  2. Does the situation give a disproportionate amount of the family resources to one or more children? (Remember, resources can include money, space, time, energy or attention.)
  3. Does the situation exist to benefit the adult more than the child?
  4. Does the child’s behavior potentially harm others, society, or the planet in some way?

If you are answering “yes” to these questions, it is time to rethink the amount of stuff in your child’s life. Knowing what is ENOUGH will help a child manage resources, gauge happiness, develop empathy and navigate the path to responsible adulthood.

Next time, look for information on the second category: Over-Nurturing.

By Betty and Doniese

Family Life Instructors at Avera McKennan

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