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What Is Childhood Overindulgence?

Parents overindulge in three ways: Too Much, Overnurture, and Soft Structure.

Parents often ask me if they are overindulging their children. For example:

I recently bought my son a new pair of skis. The first time he used them he broke one in half-jumping moguls. I quickly ran out and bought him a replacement pair because we were flying to Colorado on a ski trip the very next day.

My ninth-grade daughter never remembers to bring home the assignment folder which lists each week’s assignments. So, I email her teacher two or three times a week just to find out what her assignments are, and if she is turning them in on time. I really want my child to succeed! I don’t think I am overindulging her when I do this. Am I?

I rarely ask my children to do chores around the house. I believe you only get to be a kid once in your life! After all, it is easier for me to do them, and I do them much faster. Furthermore, I don’t have to listen to all of their fussing! Am I overindulging my children?

Overindulgence comes from a good heart. Deep down, these parents want the best for their children. They want them to grow up to be happy, healthy, competent adults. They simply need to make a few course corrections.

Peter Heeling/Pexels/CCO License
Source: Peter Heeling/Pexels/CCO License

Defining Overindulgence

How Much is Too Much? Raising Likable, Responsible, Respectful Children—From Toddlers to Teens—In An Age of Overindulgence, a book based on ten research studies with 3,531 adults, describes overindulgence this way: “Overindulging children is giving them too much of what looks good, too soon, and for too long. It is giving them things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age or their interests and talents. It is the process of giving things to children to meet the adult’s needs, not the child’s.

Did These Parents Overindulge?

Yes. Even though their intentions were good, they gave too much, were over-nurturing, or didn’t provide the necessary structure for their children. Their decisions were more about what the parents needed than what their children did. Dad wanted to enjoy his ski trip without putting up with a pouting son who has to ski on his old equipment. Mom wanted her children to have a childhood because she was robbed of hers.

Three Ways of Overindulging

Most parents conclude that overindulgence is about too many toys, too many clothes, or too many activities. Our research found that overindulgence is more complex than “too much.” We found three types of overindulgence. Overindulgence can occur in one, two, or all three of these ways simultaneously:

  • Too Much (toys, clothes, privileges, entertainment, sports, camps, etc.)
  • Overnurture (over-loving, giving too much attention, doing things for children that they should be doing for themselves, etc.), and
  • Soft Structure (not requiring chores, not having rules, not enforcing rules you do have, or not expecting children to learn skills, etc.).

The father who bought the pair of skis to replace the new broken pair overindulged by giving too much, whereas the mother who emailed her child’s teacher was over-nurturing, and the mother who didn’t require chores was soft on structure and over-nurturing.

Why Should Parents Care If They Overindulge or Not?

Overindulging children can cause them pain in their adult lives. Our research found that those who were overindulged are at risk of having the following difficulties. They:

  • Need immediate gratification
  • Have poor self-control
  • Have an overblown sense of entitlement
  • Are ungrateful
  • Have poor boundaries
  • Are materialistic
  • Overspend
  • Overeat
  • Have goals of wealth, fame, and image
  • Are not interested in personal growth or making the community better
  • Have not learned valuable adult life skills
  • Are irresponsible
  • Don’t know what is enough
  • Have difficulty giving up being the center of attention

How You Can Help Your Child

  • Identify which of the three types of overindulgence you do most often and start to change that. After a time, address each of the other two types.
  • Insist that your child figures out how to replace belongings that were carelessly damaged or ruined.
  • Teach respect for people and things.
  • Decide which rules are negotiable and which rules are non-negotiable.
  • Enforce rules using reasonable consequences.
  • Teach children that every member of the family benefits by doing household chores.


Parents want the best for their children, but in doing so many parents overindulge their children. Parents overindulge their children in one, two, or three different ways; Too Much, Overnurture, or Soft Structure. Parents need to recognize that overindulgence comes from a good heart and it can be avoided. Overindulgence puts children at risk for pain and difficulty well into adulthood.


Bredehoft, D. J., Mennicke, S. A., Potter, A. M., & Clarke, J. I. 1998. Perceptions attributed by adults to parental overindulgence during childhood. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education, 16(2), 3-17.

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