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When Overindulged Children Come to School

Overindulgence can affect children in the classroom. Here's what to do about it.

Key points

  • Parents want the best for their children, but sometimes they give too much, become over-involved, or don't provide enough structure.
  • As a result, children may be overindulged, which can have negative effects at school.
  • Teachers and administrators can take practical steps to curb overindulgence in the classroom and teach important life skills in the process.
Karolina Grabowska/Pexels
Source: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

Parents want the best for their children, but sometimes they give too much, and they overindulge. How does overindulgence affect children? What does overindulgence mean for teachers and their classrooms? How should they respond to overindulged students? If overindulgence has a negative impact on children and can affect the classroom, teachers need the ability to make effective and positive changes to deal with it. Let’s start by considering the following cases of overindulgence.

Case 1: The Failing Student

It is Friday afternoon, and after a long, difficult week teaching fifth grade, you are exhausted and ready to go home for the weekend. As you leave for home, you get a phone call from an angry parent. He feels you have been unfair in the way you are grading his daughter and wants you to change her grade. He threatens to take the matter to the administration if you do not comply. What should you do?

Case 2: The Over-involved Parent

You start each school day by checking your email. Recently, a mother of one of your second graders has been emailing and demanding that you report her son’s assignments and progress daily. If you do not respond to her immediately, she gets upset. Every day she wants to know in great detail how her son is doing in your class. What should you do?

Case 3: The Over-the-Top Prom

You are at a faculty meeting before the upcoming high school prom. One of your colleagues raises the concern that prom has ballooned into a lavish extravaganza of limos, tuxedos, dresses, dinners, and parties costing in some cases as much as $3,000 per student. She wonders aloud, “Should we do something to restrain students’ parents from spending more every year?”

3 Types of Overindulgence

The three types of overindulgence include giving too much, over-nurturing, and too little structure (Bredehoft & Leach, 2006; Clarke et al., 2014). Having too much can come not only in the form of material possessions but it can also be seen when parents schedule children for too many activities. Toys, clothes, privileges, entertainment, sports, and camps all fall under the category of giving too much. Over-nurture can involve over-loving (smothering), giving too much attention, or doing things for children that they should do for themselves. Having no chores, no rules, not enforcing the rules, and not expecting children to learn skills are all examples of soft structure. These three types of overindulgence can interact to affect child development.

Risks of Overindulgence

All three types of overindulgence were found to negatively affect children into adulthood. Research by Bredehoft et al. (1998), Bredehoft & Clarke (2006), and Bredehoft & Leach (2006) found that children who are overindulged grow up to be at risk for:

  • Not knowing the difference between needs and wants
  • Needing constant stimulation and entertainment from others
  • Being deficient in life skills, which interferes with performing daily tasks
  • Not taking responsibility for their own actions
  • Not learning important social skills, which can lead to interpersonal boundary issues and decision-making problems
  • Lower self-efficacy (a sense of feeling incapable of dealing effectively with life problems)
  • Overeating, overspending, and dysfunctional thinking (increased depressive thoughts)
  • Paradoxically, overindulged children can develop an overblown sense of self-importance, which can lead to problems at school, on the job, and/or in relationships
Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels
Source: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

Overindulgence and the Classroom Teacher

With more children being overindulged by parents and knowing that overindulgence poses risks to children, teachers and schools have an added responsibility for curbing overindulgence. There are changes that can be made, strategies teachers can use, and ways to respond to students who are overindulged.

Responding to Students in the Classroom

Classrooms should have rules, both posted and verbally told to students. Having rules in the classroom is a way to avoid discrepancies. Making rules clear and understandable to students ensures that everyone is on the same page. Effective classroom rules support and encourage learning.

Set Reasonable Rules

It is a teacher’s job to set and enforce reasonable, developmentally appropriate rules. At each developmental stage, it is a child’s job to test the rules. Kids are going to push, and it is the teacher who decides where “no” is and to keep it there.

Overindulged children not only test the rules, they push far beyond the limits. They believe the rules do not apply to them. The rules only apply to others because they believe they are privileged.

Decide Which Rules Are Negotiable and Which Are Not

When creating rules, teachers should decide which rules are negotiable and which are non-negotiable. Clear guidelines and rules provide for greater consistency and predictability.

With both negotiable and non-negotiable rules, students understand what is expected of them and learn to handle the consequence of breaking a rule or falling short of a standard. Further, they will learn appropriate compliance, personal responsibility, and thinking skills. Consequences should be reasonable and implemented in a timely fashion, which will ultimately help to enforce classroom rules.

Enforcing the Rules

Enforcing rules teaches students important life skills and good character traits. This includes teaching respect for people and things within the classroom (e.g., fellow students, toys, books, posters, desks, or other classroom objects). Teaching students to respect others and property encourages children to take responsibility for their own actions. For example, if a student breaks something, it should be the student’s responsibility to figure out how to replace it (e.g., paying for it out of their allowance).

Teachers may also consider having children do chores within the classroom. Having students complete a responsibility chart encourages pride in the classroom and fosters a sense of being a contributing member of the community. Once classroom rules and expectations are clear and respect is high among students, children can be gradually given more age-appropriate freedom.

Encourage Students to Solve Their Own Problems

It can be challenging not to intervene every time a disagreement arises in the classroom. One way to promote independence and satisfaction in relationships is to encourage students to solve their problems. Allowing students to come up with solutions helps them to develop good decision-making and conflict-resolution skills, both of which will be useful later in life. However, being over-involved in conflicts prohibits this from happening. It can become a form of overindulgence.

Helping students distinguish between needs and wants is another skill that is vital to their development. By learning to differentiate between the two, they will also come to understand why they cannot have what they want all the time.

This article was also published by the Lutheran Education Journal.

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

© 2022 David J. Bredehoft


Bredehoft, D. J., & Armao, C. K. (2008). What teachers can do when overindulged children come to school. Lutheran Education Journal, 142(1), 25-35.

Bredehoft, D. J., Clarke, J. I., Dawson, C., & Morgart, M. (2003). The relationship between childhood overindulgence and personality characteristics in college students. Study 2.

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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