By Amy Johnson, MSW
Personal Life and Parent Coach
Here’s a tool that has helped countless parents look at that uncomfortable issue called Overindulgence. Ever wonder why so many young people these days act so entitled? In How Much Is Enough? my friend and mentor, Jean Illsley Clarke, talks about three ways parents can overindulge their children:
1. Giving them too much stuff (material overindulgence)
2. Doing too much for them (relational overindulgence)
3. Not setting enough limits or boundaries (structural overindulgence)
No parent I know starts out deciding they want to harm their child by overindulging them, but the research is clear that overindulged children are harmed. Adults who were overindulged as children are more likely to be self-indulgent as adults, resulting in being overweight, feeling guilty, lower self-esteem, poor health, and loneliness. (Clarke, et. al) Now, I can’t speak for anyone else, but those aren’t the goals I have for my children when they are adults!
Overindulgence, in one of its forms, occurs at some level at some time in almost every family system. The key here is to become aware of what we are doing, and to think more about why we are doing it and what is best for everyone in the long run. Here is The Test of Four, a tool developed by Jean Clarke and her colleagues, to discern whether or not a particular action in your particular family with your particular child and under your particular circumstances is overindulging. It’s not black and white—it requires some thinking on our part, and can be affected by age, temperament, ability level, illness, etc. For instance, it’s not overindulging to tie a 2-year-old’s shoes. But if you’re still doing it at 10, and you have a capable, typically developing child, you might want to re-think what’s best.
The Test of Four:
Four common clues that overindulgence may be happening
- Does the situation hinder the child from learning the tasks that support his or her development and learning at this stage?
- Does the situation give a disproportionate amount of family resources to one or more of the children? (Resources can include time, money, space, energy, attention, etc)
- Does this situation exist to benefit the adult more than the child?
- Does the child’s behavior potentially harm others, society or the planet in some way?
If any one of these four clues is clearly present, overindulgence is likely an issue. Beware! Only use this tool for yourself and your situation. It’s dangerous to use it to try to determine what another parent is or isn’t doing. You may not have all the information necessary to make the decision. This tool is best used for you to think about your own behavior.
For more information about the Test of Four, overindulgence and developmental expectations, see How Much Is Enough? by Jean Clarke, Connie Dawson, and David Bredehoft. To schedule a workshop or class based on this material, or for a consultation about a specific situation, contact Amy Johnson.
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Amy Johnson, MSW,is a Personal Parent Coach who is passionate about working with parents regarding balance, self-care and faith and sexuality. She is co-author of the book, Parenting by Strengths: A Parent's Guide to Challenging Situations. Amy is also a member of the Best Parent Coaching Directory. Click here to contact Amy.