The Indulged Child

Could you be guilty of overprotection? Saying "no" to your child occasionally will be better for them in the long run.

"Overprotection" can include buying too many unnecessary things for your child

Maria had been an enthusiastic member of the community swim team since she was eight years old. By age 12, she was one of the top swimmers in her age group. But she wasn’t the best.

Not being the best was hard for Maria, especially since her parents relished her successes. Each year, at the end-of-season banquet, Maria sat on the edge of her seat, hoping to take home one of the trophies awarded to the top swimmers. Each year, she was disappointed. Other girls, who spent more time at the pool, walked off with the gold. Maria was inconsolable.

Her mother, concerned that her daughter was so upset, spoke with the coach. “Can’t you hand out more trophies? My daughter’s so disappointed.”

A Pain-free Childhood

Harvard psychologist Dan Kindlon would call the mother’s reaction classic overprotection. All parents want the best for their children, says Kindlon in his new book, Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age.

But many parents are too indulgent — they don’t require their kids to do chores, they buy them too many toys, they protect them too much from disappointment.

“What we want for our children is a perfect life devoid of hardship and pain,” Kindlon writes. “But their happiness as adults is largely dependent on the tools we give them, tools that will allow them to develop emotional maturity — to be honest with themselves, to take initiative, to delay gratification, to learn from failure, to accept their flaws, and to face the consequences when they’ve done something wrong.”

Maria is the only child of older parents. Could this explain their behavior? “If parents indulge their kids because they feel they’re so precious,” says Kindlon, “that inclination is even greater for adoptive parents, many of whom have passed through long years of infertility.”

Under pressure from parents who want them to be achievers, many children grow up valuing success more than experiences that build character. As a result, indulged children become indulged teenagers, prone to depression, anxiety, and self-absorption.

Discovering Your Inner Parent

Why do parents indulge their children? Kindlon believes they’re remembering their own childhoods. Each of us recalls a parent who went the extra mile — the mother who always made pancakes for breakfast, the father who sat up with you when you were sick.

Parents feel guilty when they don’t live up to their memories, says Kindlon, and often overcompensate. Or they remember when a parent let them down, and they don’t want their child to suffer the sadness they felt. They’re determined never to fail their kids.

Setting Limits

How do parents overcome the tendency to overindulge? By setting limits, says Kindlon. A set of firm house rules combined with those constants of good parenting — time and caring — can make all the difference. The result will be children who become the strong, resilient adults we know they can be.


Copyright © 1999-2024 Adoptive Families Magazine®. All rights reserved. For personal use only. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

More articles like this