THE BLOG
12/10/2014 11:07 am ET Updated Feb 09, 2015

Am I Overindulging My Children?

I find it very hard to say "no" to my kids. How does someone know if they are over-indulging their children? I want my son and daughter to have a healthy respect for their needs but I don't want them to have a sense of entitlement. Can you talk about how I can tell the difference?

When a baby is born, a fierce feeling of protectiveness is awakened in his parents, fueling a drive to protect and provide for their precious little one. As baby gets older, he needs to develop resilience -- which only happens when he lives through the disappointment of not getting everything he wants. But it isn't easy to deprive kids of the things that make them happy when our instinct is to do whatever we can to keep them smiling. Here are my thoughts:

• Live your values. When kids see their parents spending money excessively -- whether or not they can afford to do so -- they internalize the message that more (stuff) is better. Make sure your kids see you putting something back on the shelf after you've given it a fond look, so they understand that you can want or like something without having to own it.

• Be honest with yourself. What motivates you to shower your children with material things? Are you making up for the ways you were denied what you wanted as a child? Do you view it as a sign of success that your child has the latest and greatest clothes and gadgets? Do you buy things for your kids because you feel badly about not giving them more of your time and attention -- perhaps because you're working long hours so you can buy them lots of things? The more truthful you are about why it's difficult to say "No" to their requests, the easier it will be to do so.

• Lose the popularity contest. When you decide that you've been overspending on your children, or that buying them the latest iPad or smartphone is too indulgent, be prepared for some dirty looks or slammed doors. Kids develop a sense of entitlement when they become accustomed to getting what they want, expecting a Yes when they make a request with those puppy dog eyes or "Please, Mommy -- I promise I won't ask for anything else if you buy this for me!"

• Trust your instincts. There is no external indicator that will alert you to the fact that you have crossed the line from generously providing for your children and overindulging them. If only it were that easy! We have to be willing to trust our instincts, listening to that inner wisdom that does tell us when we're giving for the wrong reasons. 

Years ago a friend of mine told me that she spoiled her grandchildren shamelessly. I was a little surprised, knowing that she wasn't a very materialistic person. She went on to say, "I rub their feet while they relax in front of the fireplace after a night of card playing and board games. I tickle their backs. I bake with them and snuggle and they drink in all the love I lavish on them!" I smiled to myself; this grandma understood that while it's possible to be overindulgent with gadgets and toys, when it comes to genuinely expressing love, you can't overdo it.

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

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