Is overindulgence robbing your child of happiness?

It’s first important to realize that overindulgence is a normal part of life. It is usually a wonderful experience. Overindulgence occurs when families allow themselves to step outside their norms and enjoy an extra special treat. Examples could be when a family splurges on beautiful clothing for a special event, an expensive meal to celebrate an important award, or an exotic vacation to reconnect after an exceptionally stressful year.

The important thing to note in the above examples is that overindulgence usually occurs related to occasional, important events. The overindulgence helps mark the specialness of the occasion because it doesn’t happen very often. And, that overindulgence is recognized and creates a feeling of excitement and elation because the action is out of the ordinary.

It can be easy to get caught up in those feelings of excitement and elation. It is even easier to get caught up in watching children show that excitement and emotional change. As parents, that burst of pure joy and bliss from a child can be highly addictive. It can make any parent feel like a super star. Unfortunately, this giddiness from watching a child enjoy something may lead some parents to continue trying to elicit this reaction frequently from their child.

Sadly, humans become tolerant quickly. If one level of overindulgence becomes the new norm, it’s no longer overindulgent. Therefore, the level needs to be increased to elicit the same reaction. And again, if the new level of overindulgence becomes commonplace, it too will lose its specialness. Then it will take even more to get the same response.

So when a child is overindulged on a regular basis, it no longer feels like overindulgence to the child. Instead it seems normal. Therefore, the child will have an unquenchable desire for more that keeps increasing and increasing. Simply put, it means the child is never really content or satisfied. The temporary enjoyment of the new level of overindulgence will fade quickly and the child will again be searching for more.

Parents do not want their child to be in a constant state of dissatisfaction. When consistent overindulgence happens in families, it’s always based in good intentions. Parents think they are doing what is best for their child because the child appears so happy. Yet the happiness is short-lived and the child returns to a place of want and desire. The short term gain is cancelled out by the increasing desire for more.

Luckily, the approach to avoid constant overindulgence or to correct it is the same. The only difference will be that a child who is currently overindulged will resist change more than a child who has never been consistently overindulged.

Strategies parents can use to avoid continuous overindulgence or correct continuous overindulgence include

  • Avoid judging your parenting based on your child’s response to you. Give your child what you think they need.
    • You are the parent with life experience. Your child has very little life experience and does not know what they need or how much is too much.
  • Make adjustments towards less (less food, less activities, less attention, etc.) when you see your child not recognizing and valuing what is present, focusing on getting more, or looking for what is missing.
    • Teach your child the value of what is present in their life. Explain, in age-appropriate language, why they have everything they need.
  • Avoid competitive or comparative parenting and avoid allowing your child to compare your parenting to other parents.
    • When some parents are going over the top (i.e. birthday parties), it’s not your responsibility to try to outdo them. Explain to your child that different families have different rules. That is all the explanation that is needed.
  • Practice self-restraint in your own life to set an example.
    • It will be hard for a child to learn a skill that he or she can’t see in real life. If you practice occasional overindulgence and really enjoy it, your child will see how exciting, but infrequent, overabundance is.

Teaching children how to appreciate and enjoy the everyday life is an important task of parenthood. Sometimes there is scarcity, sometimes there is overindulgence, but most of the time there is simply enough. Letting children get sidetracked by desire and greed only takes away happiness in childhood. Teaching them the importance of valuing what they have and letting them experience the great pleasure of occasional overindulgence will set them up for a sweet memory of childhood.

Knowledge is power

  • Try to think back to an experience you had that played out differently that you desired.
  • What were your actions in that situation?
  • Using the strategies listed above, how could you reimagine that interaction today?
  • Would you try anything different?

    Share your thoughts and any other strategies you have developed to manage anxiety and doubt.

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