What is The Harm in Overindulging Anyway? by David Bredehoft

Here is a sample of the responses I hear from parents and grandparents after telling them I do research on overindulging children and how it affects them when they grow up to be adults:


She’s my favorite grandchild. I have a right to spoil her if I want to! I don’t see a problem with that!

I can see that overindulgence might be bad for them, but what I am doing is indulging them, not overindulging them. So, what if I do it every day!

I am a recent immigrant to the U.S. and that’s what I thought you were supposed to do – give them everything they want! Isn’t that your secret for making children happy?

Why shouldn’t I give my kid everything he wants? I have the money to do it, and besides, I enjoy it and he really likes it! What’s the harm in overindulging anyway?

I admit, it is a fair question to ask – so what is the harm in it? After reading about the harm that overindulgence really does, many parents may want to consider doing things a little differently.

What is the harm in overindulging a child? And why should parents and grandparents be concerned?

First, our participants said they had a huge hole in their daily lives because they lacked many adult life skills which are important for being a capable person. This skill deficiency resulted from a type of overindulgence called over-nurture. Over-nurturing is not about giving to much love. Over-nurturing is providing too much care – care that may look loving, but that keeps a child from achieving his or her full potential (to read more about over-nurture go to www.Overindulgence.org or read about it in How Much Is Too Much?).

The most common missing skills were:

·      communication, interpersonal, and relationship skills,

·      domestic and home skills,

·      mental and personal health skills,

·      decision making skills,

·      money and time management skills, and

·      the ability to be responsible.

Second, the participants from our study, who were overindulged as children, said they now have difficulties with:

·      food,

·      spending money and buying gifts,

·      parenting/child-rearing,

·      feelings of what’s normal,

·      conflict with interpersonal boundaries and relationships,

·      decision making, and

·      engaging in excessive activities (such as working, going to school, exercising, playing, and

       having fun).

Third, our research clearly shows that the impact of childhood overindulgences lasts well into adulthood. Listen to the pain in these direct quotes of what they felt are results of being overindulged as children:

·       “I have extreme difficulty making decisions.”

·      “I need praise and material reward to feel worthy.”

·      “I don’t have to grow up because other people will take care of me.”

·      “I feel like I need lots of things to feel good about myself.”

·      “I’m unlovable.”

·      “I have to buy gifts to be loved.”

·      “I constantly need outside affirmation from my friends.”

Why do we overindulge our children?

Brent and Daddy

Overindulgence starts from a good heart. Parents try to shield their children from the pains and difficulties they had to endure while growing up. Sometimes parents are responding to their own feelings of guilt and anxiety.

I grew up in poverty. It was terrible and I don’t want my children to experience that same thing, that’s why I give them everything.

Both of us work. We feel guilty that we don’t have as much time to spend with our children as our parents did. Besides, we are beat when we get home and don’t have the energy. That’s why we give in.

My parents were extremely rigid and I hated that! That’s why I don’t have rules or make them follow rules!

Now that you are aware of the hazards of overindulgence, consider doing things differently. Choose one of the tips for avoiding overindulgence listed below and try in the up-coming week.

Tips for avoiding overindulgence:

  • Ask yourself, “Am I doing this for my child, or am I really doing it for me?”
  • Ask, “Am I doing something for my children that they really are old enough to be doing for themselves?
  • Let your children make decisions that are appropriate for their age.
  • Hold your children accountable for their behaviors.
  • Practice saying, “You have had enough for now.”

There is more help about avoiding overindulgence in How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence (2014, DaCapo Press Lifelong Books).

All photos from MorgueFile free photo.

© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2024;  bredehoft@csp.edu