Too Much of a Good Thing?
by Dr. Connie Dawson
Dr. Jean Illsley Clarke and Dr. David Bredehoft
This is the second in a series of articles based on three research studies on overindulgence conducted by Drs. David Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson in 1998, 2000, and 2001.
Also see the researchers' Overindulgence.Info website!
Cuts meat into small pieces for a 12 year old
Dresses a 9 year old for school
Nurturing, however, becomes overindulgence when it involves doing things for children they are able to do, and should be expected to do, for themselves. Then it becomes over-nurturing.
According to the studies on overindulgence, two of the statistically significant responses by college students (Study 2) and a mixed group of adults (Study 3) correlating with having been overindulged were:
For the usual child, beginning about eleven months of age, the adult’s job is to teach, step-by-step, the skills she needs in order to accept responsibility for herself. The child's increasing abilities, along with her desire to do things her own way, sometimes puts her in conflict with adults. This is as it should be. The young child must learn to deal with the frustration of not always having things go her way while retaining her self-confidence in the process. When her experiences with adult authority tell her that their control is in her best interest, even though she doesn't particularly agree, she learns to trust in their competence. Getting angry with the youngster who wants her own way isn't helpful. Neither is giving in.
One Example of Over-Nurturing
( Consider the story of Sam, who is four, and this recent interaction with his mother. )
Sam sat on the couch, carefully arranging his toy farm animals in their storage box. Mom told Sam she needed to run an errand and asked Sam to put on his shoes, shoes which were five feet away and in plain sight. His shoes had Velcro closures and putting them on was old hat for Sam.
Sam acted as if he hadn't heard Mom. She knew he had heard, however, and again asked him with a more forceful voice to put his shoes on. For his part, Sam drooped helplessly and looked as if he hadn't a bone in his body. "What do I do now?" Mom asked herself. First she tried encouragement. "C'mon Sam. You know how to do this." Then cajoling. "We won't be gone long. P-l-e-a-s-e put your shoes on. C'mon, Sam." She was conscious of a hint of whine in her voice.
Still nothing from Sam. Mom found herself getting mad, but, wishing to avoid an out and out confrontation with Sam, retrieved her son's shoes and plunked them down on the couch next to him. "Please put your shoes on," she said with a scowl and a little louder voice.
"Just put your foot in a shoe," she said with separate emphasis on each and every word.
(Still no response.)
Worn out, Mom grabbed the shoes, jerked his feet into her lap, and put his shoes on him. Sammy wore an expression on his face which said, "Ha! I won! See. I am the boss." Mom's expression was one of exasperation and disappointment.
Disturbed by Sam's skill at wearing her down, Mom asked one of the parent educators at the local school for advice. The educator said:
"Don't do for him what he can do for himself. Your life with him will not be so great if he gets the message he can manipulate you to do what he knows very well how to do for himself. If you overwork on his behalf, he will 'under-work'. He may not learn how to be clear about communicating what he wants and needs and will expect others to read his mind and do things for him without having to ask. You're likely to see more and more helplessness to get you to do things for him.”
Mom said, with a twinkle in her eye, "Good job, Sam! Let's get going!"
Of course the same method doesn't work with all children. Sam was accustomed to going on errands so Mom's directive came as no surprise. However, a child whose natural temperament was being slow to adapt might need more transition time.
Children must learn they are not the center of the universe. Mom gives Sam no choice about accompanying her because she chooses not to leave Sam home alone. Sam does not need to understand why he must go because it's Mom's job to do what keeps Sam safe. By her matter-of-fact demand that he come with her, she conveys her trustworthiness.
Reasons Parents Over-function
In Sam's case, Mom realized the pitfall of over-functioning to "win" desirable behavior from a child. There are many reasons we over-function. Some of them are:
Learning What to Support and What to Discourage
Another aspect of over-nurturing can be seen in a variety of situations and environments where adults, not wanting to frustrate their child’s offensive behavior, end up accepting any and all behaviors of their children. Adults make these noninstructive choices out of:
When is Help Helpful to the Child?
Another of the three types of overindulgence identified by several recent studies by Bredehoft, Clarke and Dawson was having been given too many things or having too much of something. This way of overindulging was the subject of the previous article entitled "What's in the Closet?"
The topic of the next article in this series will be the third way of overindulging children, having soft structures (lax rules and lax consequences), and not expecting children to contribute to the overall functioning of the family.
Too Many Things
|Home||Top of Page|ABOUT US