“Please mama! Pllllleeeeaaaase! But I want to watch Magic School Bus!”
And things would go on like that and escalate, often into a full-blown meltdown, if my son were to be told no. It would be over anything. The want. Wanting this, that or the other. The instant gratification that both of my toddlers were becoming accustomed to — often in the form of things (even though we thought we were focusing intrinsically).
It crept in slowly, like a spider, weaving its sticky web. One might call it bad behavior — which, sure, in part it was — but, really, when I dug in deep and acknowledged what was going on, it was our fault. All of the things we thought we needed to parent better. All of the things I thought I needed to buy my kids, give my kids, reward my kids with in order for them to have a happy, magical childhood.
Apparently, it’s not just Trev and me experiencing this sense of entitlement that our kids have developed under our loving watch. Suanne Collins, a registered psychologist who works with children, youth and their families, wrote an article that resonated with me on so many levels. She states, “I have become increasingly alarmed at the numbers of children coming into my office struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and poor behavior. How are these two ideas related? One word. Overindulgence.”
Even we, a couple of parents who thought we weren’t spoiling our kids, can admit how all of the technological conveniences became a part of how we parent (I’m talking about you, oh, coveted Netflix and tablet “learning” appery — yes, that’s a term). When I was a kid, flicking on the TV in the morning was the norm. But was it always the norm? I remember that we didn’t even own a TV until I was 5 and I even more vaguely remember my grandfather showing up on our doorstep with a TV for us and my mom being mad. At first. Then, it quickly became an everyday part of our lives. Like so many.
It’s just that now, as a parent in this high-powered, digital age where everything is right at our fingertips, it can all become too much, too fast — and we don’t even notice it. (Or we ignore it for the sake of convenience — conveniences that can be more damaging than we may realize.) That is, until our child becomes a heaving, sobbing, kicking, hot-mess of hysterically wanting, and we think they need that screen (or whatever else) or the world may very well explode into a million little pieces.
And it’s not even the screens. It’s all of the organized activities, the grandiose birthday parties, the award-winning toys and the hippest clothes. Everything I do and provide for my children I do because I want them to have a magical childhood. I want to give them what I didn’t have.
Yet, this slow dawning is creeping in on my conscience. One that whispers to me that perhaps I’m trying to make up for something that has nothing to do with my kids and that maybe, just maybe, I’m giving them too much.
According to Suanne, the term overindulgence as it relates to parenting can be broken down into three categories, and it’s not all about spoiled rotten kids who get anything and everything they want:
1) Too Much Stuff
This idea goes beyond just material things, but includes all things that cost money. This can include 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. Children who are overindulged in this way often fail to learn the skill of knowing what is enough.
It is not possible to give too much love to a child, but it is possible to do things for children that they could or should be doing for themselves. A child as young as 2 can help set the table or help clean up the mess that they make with their toys. When the parent takes away the opportunity for a child to do some age-appropriate things for themselves, it deprives them of the experience of doing things on his or her own. It denies the child from feeling the thrill of achievement or experiencing consequences. How can a child learn from their own mistakes if the parent never lets the mistakes happen? If we don’t fail, how will we ever learn to get back up?
3) Soft Structure
Does Johnny set his own bedtime? Does Sarah open the presents at another child’s birthday party? Does Shannon decide when to go to school? Soft structure means parenting without limits or boundaries. Children are able to make decisions that are not age-appropriate, do not follow the rules set by the parents, and they are allowed to make decisions that should be made by the adults.
Does any of this sound familiar? To be honest, I feel pretty good about where we’re at within these categories. On the whole. Dang straight, my kids are already doing some chores around the house. I definitely don’t prescribe to the old adage that “kids will be kids,” and there are consequences for aggressive behavior, rudeness with peers or other adults and boundaries around how much they can demand from us on a day-to-day basis. And screen time is something we constantly reevaluate, and we are fully aware of its addictive and mind-numbing, behavior-manipulating influence.
In fact, we’ve cut our screen time in all forms, for almost a week now, and mornings have been screen-free for the past two. Something that seemed so small was clearly a big thing after all. No more fighting over shows and games. Our kids’ sense of happiness no longer revolves around a screen and we hope to keep it that way. I’ll admit to being a little worried about how to keep the screen time tamed, to trust in my parenting skills enough to not let it creep back in as one of my tools. I’m more aware now more than ever that providing for my children can be a slippery slope to raising self-entitled kids.
The effects of indulgence are hard to ignore and have nothing to do with me being less affectionate or less doting on my kids. I want them to be able to distinguish between want and need in life. I want to keep saying yes to them regarding all that they can do or learn to do on their own, even when it takes longer and makes more mess. I want to keeping saying no to them, knowing that it has nothing to do with being a hard-ass and all to do with conditioning them to experience limits, know challenge and develop the tools necessary to get on in life without my guidance (when that time comes).
There’s one thing that I disagree with Suanne about though. I do think that it’s my job to make magic and happiness for my kids, just as much as I think it’s my responsibility to prepare them to succeed in this crazy world. After all, being happy is, to me, one of the biggest, most defining factors in how we are successful and what we perceive our own success in life to be. Emotionally, mentally, physically, academically, professionally, financially… all of it.
I’m making it my daily mantra, as Suanne says, to ask myself, “What am I teaching my child?”
More Babbles From Selena…
- 10 Things I Hope To Teach My Kids About Being Happy
- The Single Most Important Thing I’ve Done to Help Build My Toddlers’ Self Confidence…
- Kids Will Be Kids?
- No-Cook, DIY Valentine’s Themed, Scented Playdough!
Selena is a crafty, culinary mom. Regular writer here and on Disney Baby. Part-time mischief maker, all-time geek. Elsewhere on the Internets… via her humble beginnings, mastering in general mayhem: le petit rêve