Why pampering your child is setting them up for failure 2 years ago

Why pampering your child is setting them up for failure

In an extreme statement, intended to underscore his concern, the imminent psychiatrist Alfred Adler once stated:

“I believe [pampering children] is one of the greatest evils of mankind.”

Adler knew that children who are pampered grow up to live in a different world than all other people. Adler also stated that the pampered child is like a parasite, living off the indulgences of the parents. Let’s take a look at this interesting dynamic and unpack it for a more in-depth understanding.

There are several terms in common usage that describe pampering. Sometimes it is called spoiling, sometimes it's being overindulged. The psychological terminology is “overgratifiction”. Whatever we call it, the end result is usually the same: the erosion of one’s ability to link up cause and effect.

The pampered child soon becomes the demanding child and a tyrant in the family. Wanting everything, the pampered child will stop at nothing to get what they want. Tantrums, pouting, sulking, refusal to do school work, refusal get out of bed and countless other tactics are used to dominate parents into giving in to their endless needs and demands. Pampering, ultimately, leads to tyranny.

In a misguided attempt to be “loving” to their children, some parents will sacrifice everything to give them what they think the children need. How often have you heard a parent say 'I haven’t bought myself any new clothes in two years because my son or daughter needs a new outfit for school and dances every week?'

This sort of permissive, self-abasing parenting is not helpful to the parents or to the children. Since children learn by what we do and not what we say, the pampered child becomes so accustomed to receiving everything that they develop a huge sense of entitlement that is controlling and ultimately self-defeating.

When we give children everything they want, or everything we think they want, we disable them. We do this by making it impossible for their brain to feel the intrinsic reward between working for something and achieving a successful result. When the brain is starved of this connection it becomes “reward weary” and no longer feels anything positive when work and effort is involved. The reward fatigue is carried along as the child grows older. The child becomes numb to receiving things. Anything the child wants loses its value and soon becomes useless to the child. He or she wants more and more, gets more and more and soon enough nothing has any value except the act of receiving what is wanted. School work suffers because they child can’t link effort with results. They stop putting effort into study because study takes time and does not yield instant rewards...

This is a destructive lifestyle. It creates an inability to work hard, postpone gratification and control impulses. The value of saving money is lost on these children. The ability to control spending is lost as well and often leads to financial problems. The pampered child grows up to be an adult who parents their own children selfishly. These are parents who give more to themselves than they give to their children – the ultimate paradox of pampering – it leads to narcissistic parenting in which the children lose out.

All this is a destructive cycle in which everyone loses. So what's the answer?

The following tips are a good start: 

  • Teach your children they can’t have everything they want at the exact time they want it.
  • Teach them to save pocket money to buy things they want.
  • Refuse to give in to the tyranny of tantrums or the sulking, demanding teenager (or threenager).

You are doing your children a big favour when you refuse to pamper. You are teaching them to grow to be responsible adults.

David Carey, our resident child psychologist, has over 25 years experience in both clinical and educational settings. The author of several books, he's also a regular contributor to the Moncrieff show on Newstalk 106-108FM and on TV3.