FEATURE — Now comes the season of eager and anxious planning for the holidays when many of us can’t help but search for new ways and things to really wow our children, our loved ones and even ourselves. But what if our efforts are actually producing the opposite effect – diminishing appreciation, leading to boredom? It all boils down to too much of a good thing.
It is indisputably a season of excess, overindulgence and overscheduling, but many of us have to admit there is a general trend toward excess in our lives no matter the time of year.
What messages we are sending to our children? When is enough, enough for them … and for us?
Before we get to four simple rules that can make all the difference, let’s run through a three-point checklist:
- Are we spending a disproportionate amount of family income on any one category? Examples might be clothing, entertainment, child enrichment, such as lessons or sports.
- Are we spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy in any one or two activities? Examples might be sports, screen time, cellphones, social media. (Author William Doherty, in his book “The Intentional Family” warns that many families are overscheduled outside the family and underscheduled inside the family.)
- As a parent, are we keeping our children from learning age-appropriate developmental tasks by doing things for them or taking care of things for them that they should be learning to do themselves? Some examples of things they can do: pick up their own toys; do their own laundry; pay for some things with their own money; learn to cook.
Overindulgence can be harmful.
A few signs of overindulgence: trouble learning to delay gratification; trouble giving up being the center of attention; trouble being competent in everyday life skills, including self-care and relationship skills; trouble taking personal responsibility; feeling like it’s always someone else’s fault; and trouble knowing what is normal.
When kids are overindulged, they come to regard overload as normal and anything less as boring.
In contrast, parents employing what is now termed “creative deprivation” are coming to understand that kids can have too much of a good thing, so they place limitations on it.
An anecdote from an article in “The Tightwad Gazette” outlines this concept nicely: On a recent trip to the mall, children ordered junior ice cream cones and consumed them in complete silence, savoring every bite. Many parents, seeing their children appreciate junior cones, would start buying them cones on every trip to the mall. Then, seeing their kids’ enthusiasm waning, the same parents would assume they must “wow” them with banana splits. When those no longer produced the desired effect, they would move up to the jumbo deluxe sundaes, and on and on until the kids become impossible to please.
When there is diminished appreciation, it is a sign that children have had too much of something.
So, instead of moving up to the banana splits, we need to instead decrease the frequency of the junior cone. We have habituated a certain level of expectation without appreciation.
Another example of this is how frequently we go out to eat – it doesn’t take long before it is no longer a treat but the norm.
Here are four rules of creative deprivation to consider as we move forward in the holiday season:
- Limit things our kids don’t need; but do not limit the things they do need, such as good nutrition and parental attention.
- Provide our kids creative alternatives to substitute for passive entertainment and “no-brainer” play.
- Limit screen time, including cellphones, TV/video time and gaming. This will decrease the stimulation overload in their lives.
- Set boundaries, and provide rules and limits in all aspects of our children’s lives.
Maybe it is time for all of us to take a step back and evaluate our own lives. Do we find ourselves needing increasingly more expensive gadgets, clothing, vacations, foods or other stimulating events to keep us happy? Maybe it’s time to hit the pause button.
Creative deprivation may be just the ticket.
Not only can creative deprivation save us money, but the simplification will also reduce our stress levels and increase our quality of life.