{Professional Insight} Empowering Your Preemie to be Capable, Responsible and Resilient

May 31, 2013

Lisa Green

A mom shares: “When Katelyn was born seven weeks early, it was tough. We just didn’t know how things would turn out. She has some delays and ongoing medical issues but, in the big picture, she is doing okay. The challenge now is how do we raise her to be strong and capable? Everyone does too much for her including teachers, grandparents, and neighbors. We have to be careful, too. We don’t want her growing up thinking she is fragile but it’s hard because, in some ways, she is.”

In the words of Tracy Trotter, MD: “Don’t disable a child with disabilities!” When a child gets a rough start in life, whether due to prematurity, illness or any other kind of special need, parents and other family members are at high risk of reacting in ways that can cause problems in the child’s development.

One of the most common mistakes loving caregivers make is overindulgence. In fact, this is so common that medical professionals have labeled it “fragile-child syndrome.”

Overindulgence is not just spoiling a child with material things. It can be expressed in many ways. According to David Bredehoft, PhD, there are three basic types: (1) Too much (2) Over-nurture, and (3) Soft structure.

What is overindulgence?

Giving too much is the typical view of spoiling and includes material things, vacations, lessons, and entertainment. How much is too much? Each family needs to answer this based on their own values and resources. However, if your child expects or demands things, responds with anger when things aren’t given, does not show appreciation, or can’t entertain him or herself for a reasonable period of time, then your child is being given “too much.”

Over-nurturing is another type of overindulgence. All kids need time, attention and nurturing, especially in the early years. However, over-nurturing is doing things for children that they can and should be doing for themselves, hovering, giving too much attention, and being overly focused on the child. Helicopter parents fall into this category.

And lastly, soft structure is not setting appropriate limits, a lack of effective discipline, allowing children to have too much freedom, and not requiring children to help with chores and family tasks. Permissive parents are a part of this category.

Children who are overindulged can have many difficulties both as children and later, as adults. They can be impulsive, greedy, blaming, demanding, manipulative, and “victimized” when things don’t go their way. They can struggle with self-control, taking responsibility, self-esteem, and relationships. Overindulgence can result in delayed psychosocial development and mental health problems. When children have medical issues or other special needs, these problems are magnified; often resulting in increased medical problems as well.

How can parents, family members and other caring adults avoid overindulgence?

The first step is to make the decision and commitment to stop overindulgence in its tracks. Then, make little changes over time in the following areas:

  1. Is it too much? Make a written inventory of the things you do for and give your child each week.  If you are focusing a disproportionately large amount of family time, energy, or money on your child, it is probably “too much.”
  2. Parental self-care: Parents and caregivers need to make sure their own needs are being met for exercise, nutrition, sleep, and social activity including date nights. You will be happier, healthier, less stressed, and more patient. You will be setting the example and creating habits which your kids will follow for a lifetime. And your children will learn that other people’s needs matter, too.
  3. Chores: Teach all children in the home including those with special needs to help out around the house including with cooking and cleaning. A developmentally-based chore chart will help adults set proper expectations. Post a family chore list or calendar in a spot where everyone can see it.
  4. Money: Give children a small amount of spending money each week so they can pay for the things they want as well as save, share, and buy things for others. Spending money should not be tied to everyday chores. Chores are done because kids are a part of the family, not a special guest. Provide ways for kids to earn extra money to help pay for special purchases like electronics.
  5. Serving Others: Teach your children to help and serve others with age-appropriate volunteering and service projects. Do these things as a family.
  6. Behavior: Model and teach manners, self-control, and courteous communication. Have developmentally-appropriate expectations for behavior. Have the same expectations for children with special needs as other children of the same developmental age. Do not make excuses for a child’s misbehavior; this is another one of the most common parenting mistakes when a child has special needs. Set firm limits, clearly communicate, and enforce the rules. Empower personal responsibility especially in the area of healthcare requirements.
  7. Child Discipline: Hold children accountable for their actions, mistakes, and behaviors in respectful, nonviolent ways. Teach and promote problem-solving skills instead of jumping in and solving the child’s problems yourself. Learn how to use natural and logical consequences effectively. And learn how to be a Consultant Parent at https://www.loveandlogic.com/pages/threetypes.html.

With awareness, commitment, and a handful of effective parenting skills, you can empower your preemie to be respectful, responsible, capable, and resilient.

Did this topic spark questions? Join us Wednesday, June 5th on Hand to Hold’s Facebook Wall from 11:30-12:30 CT for a chat with Lisa Greene. Read more. If you wish, send your questions in advance to Amy Carr who will make sure your questions get answers.

Guest Blogger

Lisa C. Greene is an author, national public speaker, and a mom of two children with special medical needs. She has been helping parents raise healthy, happy families since 2002 and is the co-author with Foster Cline, MD of the award-winning Love and Logic® book “Parenting Children with Health Issues.” Learn more at Parenting Children with Health Issues.  

For more information about overindulgence, visit this website.