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Why Do Parents Overindulge Their Children?

These are some of the most common reasons why parents overindulge.

Key points

  • Research indicates that overindulgence affects children adversely.
  • Common reasons for parental overindulgence were chemical dependency, guilt from working too much, a family member's death, and illness.
  • To break the pattern, recognize and speak openly about the issue and open yourself to learning new parenting behaviors.
Kindel Media/Pexels
Source: Kindel Media/Pexels

Joy, happiness, a better life, fulfillment–that’s what parents want for their children. They also want them to use their talents to the fullest and become productive citizens of the world. If this is true, why do these "good-hearted" parents overindulge their children, especially when research indicates that childhood overindulgence affects children adversely?

When researchers asked, “Why do parents overindulge? Is it for the welfare of their children?” the answer was no. Of those who were overindulged, more than half (57 percent) felt that the overindulgence was related to a specific parental problem/life event and not to the children’s welfare. Parental issues such as chemical dependency, guilt from working too much, the death of a family member, and illness were among the most common reasons given as to why parents overindulge (Bredehoft et al., 1998). Here are some of the others:

  • They want their child to have what they didn't have.
  • To relieve feelings of guilt.
  • To compete with their spouse or partner, or the children's grandparents.
  • Because the child arrived after a miscarriage or infertility treatments.
  • Because this is an only child.
  • It is seen a way of controlling children.
  • Because they fear confrontation or rejection, and only want things to go smoothly.
  • To feel like they are good parents.
  • Because they lack the skills to set limits.
  • It is a way of competing with their spouse over control of the child.
  • It is the path of least resistance.
  • It is a quick fix for whining.
  • It is a way to avoid confronting a marriage problem.
  • To be popular with their children.
  • To compensate for an abusive parent.
  • To compensate for an absent parent.
  • As a way for an absent parent to buy love.
  • To buy favors from children.
  • To compete with a parent's peer group.
  • Because they don't know about child development.
  • To please grandparents or other adults.
  • To compensate for illness in the family.
  • Because they lack the knowledge or time, or energy, to teach children life skills (Clarke et al., 2014).
Source: Pixaby/Pexels

Overindulgence Stoppers

Patterns of behavior are not easy to change, especially patterns of overindulgence. A lot is holding us back and standing in the way of change, particularly these four stoppers (Clarke et al., 2014):

  1. The secret that they were overindulged, which they don't talk about to avoid ridicule and feelings of guilt.
  2. If they have not recognized overindulgence and named it, they may not know what they are wrestling with.
  3. They want to avoid hurting their parents, who had good intentions.
  4. They may have no clue whatsoever about what to do about it.

How to Move On

  1. Speak openly (about the secret) without blame when we talk about overindulgence.
  2. Name it. Once overindulgence has been named, we can talk about it, think about it, and gain insights into our beliefs and behaviors.
  3. Respect the good intent behind parental overindulging, but realize that good intention does not always have the impact one expected.
  4. Get a clue. Open yourself to learning new parenting behaviors.

Practice Aloha. Do all things with love, grace, and gratitude.

© 2022 David J. Bredehoft


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.

Clarke, J. I., Dawson, C., Bredehoft, D. J. (2014). How much is too much? Raising likeable, responsible, respectful children - from toddlers to teens - in an age of overindulgence. NY: Da Capo Lifelong press.

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