When your child is having a meltdown in the grocery store aisle or at the restaurant dinner table, it can be hard to not appease them.

However, overindulgence can have consequences down the line, Lauren Silvers, a child psychologist at FamilyWise Northwest, told NPR’s Life Kit. One of Silvers’ specialties is childhood social skills and behavioral problems 

“Sometimes you have to do what you need to do to get through the hard moments and long term that can backfire on us, and our kids,” she said. 

Overindulging is not the same thing as spoiling, Silvers said. Spoiling is about the child’s needs and wants, but overindulging is about making a parent’s life easier. 

“When we overindulge as parents it’s more about us and our discomfort with hearing our child be unhappy or watching them be uncomfortable,” she said. “That is uncomfortable for us as parents. So we do for them or give to them, whether or not it’s in their best interest.”

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Here’s how to know whether you’re overindulging your kids, and how to stop.

The Test of Four

“Material overindulgence,” or buying your child whatever they want, is the most recognizable form of overindulgence. But there is also “relational overindulgence,” where parents do more for their kid than is actually needed. This can look like doing your child’s laundry, because you know it will take longer or not be done correctly if they do it themselves. Lastly, there is “structural overindulgence,” which is where parents struggle to set or enforce rules. 

If you’re not sure whether you’re overindulging your child, you can take The Test of Four. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are my actions hindering my child from learning tasks that support their development?
  2. Am I giving a disproportionate amount of family resources to one or more of the children?
  3. Do the choices I make exist to benefit me, the adult, more than the child?
  4. Does the child’s behavior potentially harm others, society or the planet in some way?

If you answered yes to any of them, you are likely coddling your child to a potentially damaging degree.

When we overindulge as parents it’s more about us and our discomfort with hearing our child be unhappy or watching them be uncomfortable.

Lauren Silvers

Child Psychologist

‘I’m not going to write you checks. You don’t just get a credit card. You can’t just buy whatever you want’

It can be especially hard to not appease your child’s every request when you have the means to.

Self-made millionaire and “Shark Tank” host Barbara Corcoran told Farnoosh Torabi that what she cares about is that her kids “grow up and not be spoiled rotten.”

Corcoran encourages her kids to all get jobs if they want to buy something. “Getting a kid a job early on, versus another day camp or something, is more important than education in the schoolhouse, which parents are very willing to spend a ton of money on,” she said.

Mark Cuban, who is a self-made billionaire and also a judge on “Shark Tank,” has a similar approach to ensure his kids don’t become “entitled jerks” he told Steve Harvey on an episode of “STEVE on Watch.” He made it clear to them that, “I’m not going to write you checks. You don’t just get a credit card. You can’t just buy whatever you want,” he said.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan told CBS’ Gayle King that they require their kids to do chores. They also take their daughters to work sometimes. “Mark and I take both of them to work, to the office, to see sort of, like, what we do, how we contribute,” Chan said.

Silvers’ advice echoes many of these actions. Letting kids do developmentally appropriate tasks can teach them important life lessons, like how to problem solve to get through their struggles. Similarly, it helps to set specific rules and then stick to them.

If you’ve been overindulging your kids for sometime now, pulling back will elicit an unsavory response, Silvers warns. But, in the long term, it will help your child become a responsible, independent adult. 

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