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Published February 09, 2014, 08:47 PM

Teaching ‘enough’: Parents work to avoid overindulging children

FARGO - Ricardo and Sheila Ochoa took their two sons ice fishing earlier this winter. They packed a lunch, built a fire, and pulled sleds through the snow. No electronics were allowed, Sheila says. It was a day to enjoy the elements and each other’s company, and to stay within their budget.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

FARGO – Ricardo and Sheila Ochoa took their two sons ice fishing earlier this winter.

They packed a lunch, built a fire, and pulled sleds through the snow.

No electronics were allowed, Sheila says. It was a day to enjoy the elements and each other’s company, and to stay within their budget.

The day was one example of how the Ochoas have changed their ways lately, since becoming more conscious about not spoiling 10-year-old Angelo and 14-year-old Zack.

“We’d fallen into that mode of giving them a lot of things, just because when we grew up, we didn’t have as much,” Ricardo says. “We wanted to change that so it wouldn’t be an issue when they grow up.”

It can be difficult for parents to teach economic values to kids in our consumer-driven society. Today’s parents often feel more pressure to keep up with the little Johnnys and Janes.

The myriad choices available to kids today make it more difficult to limit consumption, says Kelly Olson, a family therapist with The Village Family Service Center in Fargo.

For example, there’s not just one video game system to covet, there are at least five, she says.

“We as parents feel the pressure of trying to keep up with the Joneses, but I feel like it’s more (for kids) because there are more options,” Olson says.

And today’s constant information age means they are flooded with images and ideas.

“It makes it even more important for us to really take a look at what do I need to censor,” Olson says. “They don’t have the executive functioning to be able to say ‘no.’ They need us to help filter and select things.”

Getting over overindulgence

The Ochoas recently took a class through the North Dakota State University Extension’s Parenting Resource Center titled “How Much is Enough?” As foster parents, they take many parenting classes, but this one especially spoke to them.

Through information in the class and ideas from other parents, they started encouraging their sons to give away excess toys.

They’ve taken a firm line against buying when just browsing at a toy store.

They also limited Christmas presents to four, based on a popular giving guideline: something that they want, that they need, to wear and to read.

“We set up those expectations upfront so they weren’t going to be wanting, wanting, wanting,” Sheila says.

Linda Bass, a parent facilitator, led the class that focused on overindulgence.

“Overindulgence comes from good intentions,” Bass says. “It’s our good intentions that are getting us in trouble.”

It takes three forms: giving our kids too much, doing too much for them (that they’re capable of doing themselves), and having too few rules or boundaries.

Occasional overindulgence is OK, Bass says. “It’s when it’s chronic that it is a problem,” she says.

Bass says research shows that overindulging children affects them into adulthood. They may be embarrassed if they don’t know how to do the chores or jobs that were always done for them. They can feel like other people resent them because they were always given everything.

The lack of limits is showing up in other areas, including obesity rates, Bass says.

“They had so much of everything, they can’t get enough of anything,” she says.

Value of a dollar

Bass said it’s up to each family to determine where the line crosses to overindulgence, and set limits.

“Are we depriving our child of learning something they need to learn developmentally? Is this taking away from the rest of the family? Are we spending too much of our resources on this one thing?” she says.

Bass also encourages parents to have their children work for what they get.

“When we are constantly giving, giving, giving, they don’t value anything,” she says. “If something breaks or if they destroy something, they know we’re going to buy them another.”

On the flip side, parents shouldn’t burden their children with worries that there isn’t enough money.

“You never want your child to think you can’t purchase bread or milk or are at a point you can’t survive,” Olson says.

Olson says parents should hear their children out when they’re asking for something, and validate their feelings.

Then, the parent needs to explain why the answer is no, or not now.

They can also provide context, without getting into specific financial realities, Olson says. While it’s cool your child’s friends are going to Disney, explain that the same amount of money could fund multiple camping trips for their family.

To teach kids the value of money, Fargo’s Nancy Kvamme of In the Black Money Coaching suggests a strategy from “The Money Smart Family System,” in which children are paid for chores, and are responsible for certain expenses. The children get paid once a month.

The book tells one story of a child spending all the money on the first day.

“It was difficult for them to not give them more money for other things throughout the month, but they did and the child learned to make better decisions to make their money last,” Kvamme says.

Kvamme has also heard of parents giving their teens a set amount to spend on clothing quarterly or twice a year, to help them learn to budget.

“With the constant barrage of advertising, it is difficult for many adults to resist the temptation of purchasing items, so I feel it is important to teach wants versus needs to kids when they are younger,” Kvamme says. “But it is OK to spend money on some items.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556

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