We overindulge our children. Overindulgence isn't just about material things like toys, iPods and lucky dips, it also includes giving them too many activities and even too much attention! Seems surprising but it's true. We do things for our children that they can actually do themselves because we're trying to help, but in doing this we deny them the opportunity to incidentally learn a whole bunch of lifetime skills like time management, planning, communicating effectively, refining motor skills etc. If we have a very honest reflection on our own behaviour with our children, most of us have overindulged our child at some time in some way.
Too many of us either have too few rules or we don't enforce the rules that we have. Children and teenagers thrive under consistent rules. They might appear to dislike rules and boundaries but without them life can be quite frightening for children. They feel much more secure and respectful of you for giving loving and consistent boundaries.
We also protect our children from consequences of their behaviour but this is not doing them any long-term favours. They fail to learn how to deal with negative emotions effectively. It is a learnt skill to know how to be angry without lashing out, how to be sad but know the pain will eventually subside and how to feel disappointed but lift yourself back up again. It is incumbent on us as parents to teach our children these skills, so when they are adults, and you are no longer there to make everything right for them, they have the skills to deal with it themselves. Sometimes this feels like tough love. I know, I have four children and it's not easy to let them face the consequences of their actions. For example, on the way to a school drop-off one day, my teenage daughter shrieked with despair that she accidently left her homework at home and she would fail if she didn't hand it in. I had two choices - return home to get it (and be late for work myself), or let her fail......tough choice! Although it was incredibly difficult for me, I didn't go home and get it. If I had, she would have learnt nothing. She wouldn't have learnt to stop before you walk out the door to make sure you have everything you need for the day. She wouldn't have understood the consequences for not planning ahead - a very important life-skill. Sure, she would have been thankful to me if I had got it but no life lesson would have been learnt to prepare her for being a robust adult. That story actually happened years ago and my beautiful daughter turned 21 last Saturday. I am so proud to see a highly functioning, robust and emotionally resilient adult. I have the evidence that this type of approach works. Not just this one incident but this type of parenting for her whole life. She was never in any doubt about how much I love her but I always believed in allowing my children to experience the consequences of their decisions or actions (within safety reasons, of course).
I'm observing an epidemic of parents who seem to find it impossible to say no. We often give too much of our time, money and attention, with few boundaries, and it's misguided love. Try this instead - "No, you can't do dancing as well as netball, please chose the one you most want to do". "No, I won't call the teacher to say you're sick just because you didn't do your homework" or "No, we agreed to three last pushes on the swing and now it's time to hop off". Boundaries - clear and consistent. There's every likelihood that they'll complain when you say no, even throw a tantrum. Please know that this is all a part of the childhood journey. Children are genetically coded to test boundaries to help them understand life, and we, as parents, are responsible for delivering those boundaries - clearly, consistently and from a place of love. It's no good saying no and then backing down, they will simply learn that all they need to do is complain and they get their way.
Here's the message to take away most of all - they will still love you even when you say no. It's a calm but firm "no", delivered from a place of love. Know that you're responsible to teach your children how to function best in life and overindulging is actually making life difficult for them in the long run. And if you have been a "yes" parent but decide to change, your children won't like it at first but it will get easier as they realise that you're serious and not backing down.
As a parent, I know it's not easy. I have agonised over watching them face their consequences that I could have spared them from. But I also now get to see the long term benefits when I observe my 21 year old daughter and my friendly, thoughtful, caring and resilient 16 and 17 year old boys.....and the 10 year old is still learning those skills. For me it's beyond hoping that it works, I get to live with the wonderful results every day. Wishing the same for you!