A significant worry for parents-to-be is how many childen they can afford to look after well.  It is a noble concern.  Yet, it is also worth remembering that modelling a ‘keeping up with the Jones” mentality and providing your children with too much is actually detrimental to them – so maybe at least some of your worry is needless.  

Presents somehow sneak their way into being a significant focus for adults and children alike at Christmas time especially.  I’m not overly enjoying watching television at the moment because of the constant advertisements about another “one day only sale” (which is actually on again in two days time!) that blare their way into our living room and our family consciousness.  You might want to re-consider your focus this Christmas season in light of this expert research:

Habitual overindulgence by parents in the long term can have a detrimental effect on children, their expectations and how they relate to others, experts say.  Parents may think that they’re treating their children well, but overindulgence is likely to cause resentment and difficulties later in life, said Dr. David Bredehoft, professor emeritus of psychology at Concordia University in St. Paul, who retired last year after 37 years in teaching and research.

Dr Bredehoft and Dr. Jean Illsley Clarke have published their research in the book “How Much Is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children — From Toddlers to Teens — in an Age of Overindulgence,”.  They conclude that there are three types of overindulgence: “too much” (parents giving children too much stuff, toys, clothes, games, sports), “over-nurture” (you do things for your kids that they should be doing themselves) and “soft structure” (not having rules, not enforcing rules or not requiring kids to do chores).

To provide you with some food for thought, they summarise the risks of over-indulgence, based on their years of research, as follows:


– Center of the universe syndrome: A child should understand early on that the world will not solely focus on them.

– Disrespectful attitude: Having disrespect for one’s own things easily leads to disrespect for other people’s things.

– Helplessness: Doing for children what they should be learning to do themselves takes away the opportunity for them to learn how to be competent.

– Confusing wants and needs: Young children can’t tell the difference between wants and needs and have to be carefully taught.

– Overblown sense of entitlement: Adults who were overindulged as children often feel that they are entitled to more of everything and that they deserve more than others.

– Irresponsibility: Constantly protecting children from experiencing the consequences of their actions and not holding them accountable for completing tasks leads to irresponsibility. 

– Ungratefulness: Soft structure in the home can lead to individuals being less likely to be grateful for things and to others. (“Soft structure” refers to such things as: having no rules, not enforcing rules and not requiring kids to do chores.)

– Poor self-control: Parents need to insist the child learn self-management skills.

– Relationship problems: Issues that result from overindulgence — such as poor conflict-resolution skills and expectation of immediate gratification — spill over into all other relationship forms, from friends, to family, to workplace.

– Personal goals distortion: Studies show that the more an individual was overindulged as a child, the more likely it is that their personal life goals are externally motivated — fame, fortune, vanity — as opposed to internal aspirations such as developing character and cultivating meaningful relationships.


All good reasons to gain some perspective on how many presents and material things your children really need.  If you are Christian, what traditions, other than presents, can you incorporate into your family to make the Christmas season extra special and fun, and help to share with your children the values of joy, peace, giving and sacrifice that Christmas celebrates?

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...