“Indulge” has become a dirty word in parenting. It’s said that when we indulge our children, we’re spoiling them, effectively undermining our other parenting efforts and interventions. However, reverting from a constant “no” to a “yes” every now and then can have positive effects on your children and produce independent and respectful kids.
“I think it’s more than fine to indulge from time to time,” says Dr. John Duffy, Chicago-based psychotherapist and author of The Available Parent. “Once in awhile, I like the idea of parents indulging a child because she is special and loved. There are no strings attached to the occasional indulgence. It is, instead, simply a reflection of a parent’s love.”
When to Say “No”
In a society that has new gadgets hitting the market on a daily or hourly basis, it’s common for children to put their wants before their needs. However, you shouldn’t rush to the store just because your child wants a new toy or the latest iPod or tablet.
Rewards must have meaning for your child to appreciate his or her great fortune in life. Buying a $300 toy “just because” does not teach your child the significance of money, hard work and respectful behavior.
In addition, indulging a child after disrespectful or inappropriate behavior occurs can undermine the importance of consequences. “It fails to work when tied to a lack of performance,” says Duffy. “We have discipline for that.”
Teach your child that consequences for behavior do not include indulgences, extra privileges or rewards so she can learn to correct the behavior.
It’s important to check in with yourself about how often and in what ways you currently indulge your children, says Erica Curtis, California-based family therapist. “Indulgence doesn’t just have to do with things you buy, but your general parenting behavior as well,” she says. “Doing things for your children that they can do themselves, giving your children too much power to make choices for the family, not setting clear expectations for the way they treat you and others and fixing all of your children’s problems – these are all indulgences that promote the kinds of behaviors we don’t generally want.”
As a result, these types of indulgences promote the type of behaviors parents don’t generally want and can leave children ill-prepared for the real world. “In actuality, it often leaves children feeling uncared for by parents and they may not learn the value of things and not understand where money comes from or what it takes to earn it,” says Curtis.
When to Say “Yes”
When indulging your child, moderation is key. Indulgences do not have to be extravagant.
“It’s good to show children how to earn things and the reward of hard work,” says Tammy Gold, psychotherapist and parenting expert with Gold Parent Coaching.
For example, ask your child to help rake the lawn for a few days if he wants to earn a new game. “Children cannot just ‘get’ things all of the time for no reason,” says Gold. “It will mean less to them.”
Instead, tie indulgences to expected behavior. If your child has finished all of his chores or completed homework in a timely, consistent manner, host a family movie night to indulge. If your child eats a healthy meal, indulge with a small dessert occasionally to show that you are proud of his efforts.
Indulgences offer parents an opportunity to show appreciation for a child’s efforts, too. If your child helps a neighbor carry in the groceries or goes above and beyond with household chores without being asked to take on extra tasks, praise his efforts and reward him with a trip to get ice cream or a day at the amusement park.
It’s important to recognize and show your appreciation for these efforts, but the key to indulging is to make it random so your child does not begin to work hard just for the reward. Indulgences should be spontaneous rewards that a child does not expect.
During times of transition, it may also be appropriate to indulge. If your child or even the family is stressed about a move, financial stress or illness affecting family members, indulging can help all of you lean on each other for support. Instead of spending the day doing laundry and scrubbing floors, surprise the kids with an outdoor soccer or football game to relieve stress. Give your child a “pass” with a daily chore if he is overloaded with homework or order a pizza on a night when he or she is responsible for dinner.
When unexpected and sincere, indulgences can help children to see that parents understand the struggles they endure and appreciate their efforts they go above and beyond. Don’t forget to indulge yourself, too!← Parenting Fail: Regaining the Trust of Your Children | Is My Baby Normal? Evaluating Your 12-Month Old’s Development →