Four Ways to Recognise an Overindulged Child

My Mr 7 wants a dog and Miss 9 wants an iPad. You (and they!) might think I’m evil and being unfair and mean-spirited because I’ve repeatedly told them in no uncertain terms that there’s no way either are getting what they’re after any time soon.

‘But everyone’s got one…’ says Miss 9.

‘I’ve always wanted a puppy…’ says Mr 7.

Bad luck kiddies, I love you – but no. And that’s the whole point. Not giving children what they want just because they want it (as well as me not being a dog person – I find dog slobber one of the most unbearable things on the planet) is called putting boundaries in place (aka not succumbing to a child’s every whim at the drop of a hat).

It’s an interesting age we live in. Thanks to prolific advertising and promotion, the perception that ‘whoever dies with the most toys wins’ is definitely a commonly held belief. Keeping up with the Jones’ has become part of the rat race we live in and without us even realising it its become the status quo.

My experience working in schools until the middle of last year has been working exclusively in the public system and mostly in disadvantaged schools. I’ve seen my fair share of neglect in the form of children not receiving their basic needs such as food, clothing and lack of supervision. What I’m hearing about from teachers I’ve worked with more recently is the relatively high incidence of what could be described as neglect in more advantaged circles. This has a different flavour to what I’m used to; kids who are well dressed and clean, cared for and safe, nit free and attending school but experiencing neglect on an emotional level, with laissez-faire parenting being the main contributing factor leading to student difficulty.

Let me tell you the children in these situations do not fare well. Despite having every toy, trinket and device on the market (Go-Pro AND an iPad for a six year old anyone?) these children struggle BIG TIME. I’m going to speculate that the two main causes of these difficulties are:

1. Lack of quality time with their parents – We know that 21st century lives are busy ones. Double income families means many children spend time in OSHC before and after school every day. The current generation of children are widely reported to be busier than any other that’ve come before them. I know many primary aged children scheduled to the eyeballs, with at least one activity(sport or otherwise) every night of the school week (many have before school activities too). Then of course there’s the weekend running around for games and competitions which leaves children and families exhausted and as a result of their out-of-home commitments disconnected from one another.

2. Lack of boundaries – Parents acquiescing to their child’s every want (not need). Perhaps this happens as a result of feeling guilty about point 1 above. What children need are boundaries around acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. If children aren’t given these boundaries, they don’t learn how to behave in ways that are socially acceptable. What evolves are tantrum throwing, mean spirited, petulant little people who run amok and cause chaos because they have never been taught social norms about how to get on with others. Frankly, that’s largely because many parents lack behaviour management skills and have never been taught how to put boundaries in place in their own lives.

We all love our children and we want them to be happy. As a parent I completely understand how giving children what they want may seem the right thing to do. However, as Jean Illsey Clarke explains in her book ‘How Much Is Too Much?’ the Test of Four is a useful way to assess if what parents are giving to their child is causing more harm than good. The four points to assess are:

1) Will giving this or letting my child do this hinder their development in any way?

2) Is there a disproportionate amount of family resources (such as time, space, energy) going towards one child?

3) Whose needs is the overindulgence really meeting? Is it the child’s or the parent’s? (***THIS IS A BIG ONE***)

4) Will this cause harm to someone else, the community or the environment? (and along a similar theme, if the child is causing harm, are parents active in teaching the child that their behaviour is not ok and supporting them to take responsibility for and learn from their mistake?)

It’s important to note here that what might be clearly overindulging a child from one family might not be the same for a child in another situation. An example of this might be buying a $5000 pony for a girl in one family because she wants one, as opposed to another family (who happen to run a Horse Riding School) getting their daughter a horse worth the same amount.

It’s an interesting position to be in when working with families who overindulge their children. I find it curious that most parents agree that their child’s behaviour is inappropriate but have no idea about their role in creating the problem. It can be a really tricky subject as a teacher to navigate a conversation around this issue, but I hope the information I’ve provided above will be helpful if this is ever a conversation you need to have with the parents of a child with whom you are working.

For more information, I recommend checking out the magnificent Carl Honore’s ‘Under Pressure’ and also this slightly dated but nevertheless relevant newspaper article from ‘The Age’ in 2009 which I think quite accurately identifies this issue as one that affects mainly middle class families (and I’m going to say also those classified as ‘new money’). ‘Loving Without Spoiling’ by Nancy Samalin also has some interesting perspectives on how to successfully address this issue.


‘Top 15 Ways to Improve Your Wellbeing These School Holidays’

I was very excited to have my article ‘Top 15 Ways to Improve Your Wellbeing These School Holidays’ that I wrote as guest contributor published in Australian Teachers Magazine last Monday.

I realise I left a big one out though! Remember to incorporate at some stage a digital detox. As much as our devices can be useful, even enjoyable, its important to have some time away from them. It helps us to re-group and recharge and also means we won’t be hassled by a school related issue when we’re trying very hard to not think about work!

Have you got any other suggestions about what people can do to improve their wellbeing over the school holidays? Remember this blog is intended to be a free resource to support teachers with their wellbeing so if you have any ideas, please add them below.