Signs of Over-Indulgent Parents: Consequences and Dangers to the Growing Child

What do over-indulgent parents mistakenly do?

Over-indulgent parents miss out especially in the first three crucial years to help their children learn limits to their wants when they want them met.

The parent wants to please the child and forgets that saying, “No” or “Wait” or “We have to delay” is helpful to the child in supporting their development of learning to tolerate frustration, disappointment, and how to consider others’ needs before their own.

Learning skills

If the parent thinks of these as skills to be taught rather than letting their child miss out, then it is evident how important these abilities are as the child progresses in development.

If by the age of three, the child is successfully waiting patiently for a reasonable amount of time unless something is urgent, tolerating disappointments and then trying again to achieve what their aims are, and considering others’ needs before their own, they will learn to share, socialize, and relate easily with their peers and adults. Such children are generable resilient, agreeable, and well-liked.

Tolerating emotions

These children also gain at the same time the ability to tolerate periods of anxiety or other emotions that come with waiting—learning they can withstand more anxiety, for example, than they might have imagined. This is a life-long ability that leads to mental health and well-being in the child.

The over-indulgent parent may mistakenly believe they can read their children’s minds and know their emotions and so quickly respond, most likely over-reacting without full understanding.

Creating the language of emotions early on by teaching kids words such as sad, mad, glad, tired and later frustrated, annoyed, irritated, overwhelmed gives kids the means of communicating their actual feelings so parents can learn to listen attentively to their child’s feelings and intentions forming close bonds and trust. That is certainly not over-indulgence, but wonderful care.

Why are parents over-indulgent?

Parents who don’t set reasonable limits on their child’s wants may be quite loving and devoted, making their child the center of their life. These parents enjoy giving to their children and are pleased with their child’s joy in receiving from generous parents.

What these devoted parents discover however, over time, is that life circumstances prevent parents from naturally fulfilling this constant supply of what the child seeks, and parents needlessly begin to feel overwhelmed. The parent incorrectly blames themself for not meeting their child’s wishes, not realizing they are actually stalling their child’s development.

If the parent is self-blaming because they misinterpret their role, they may feel tremendous unwarranted guilt for not giving their child what they ask for all the time according to the child’s designated time schedule.

Some parents may leap into this kind of parenting to make up for earlier neglect in their lives that they want to prevent their children from having.

Ironically, however, by not setting reasonable limits, they in fact are neglecting their child’s developmental progress. Most likely the neglect the parent received growing up was insufficient love, a lack of merited praise, a lack of empathy, and insufficient attention to their feelings. Those would be instances of neglect.

But just indulging a child with all their wants all the time, is off the mark in correcting such errors of actual neglect the parent may have suffered through in their early life. Neglect refers to insufficient care not the giving of immediate demands and wishes.

Developmental milestones

To love and be devoted without over-indulgence, it is important to understand milestones from infancy, early childhood, late childhood, and adolescence.

Milestones such as increased mobility, language development, skills in school (reading, writing, mathematics, socializing), sharing with others, working independently and with a team, all require the capacity to tolerate frustration and disappointment, as well as, empathize with other’s wishes and needs.

The child of an over-indulgent parent misses out on the natural development of these milestones and may lag behind their peers significantly.

Indulgence is not actually equivalent to generous giving! It’s a form of withholding skill-building.

Viewed in this way, the parent, even one who was indeed actually neglected in their early care, discovers how they are helping not thwarting their child by setting reasonable limits at different developmental stages.

I want to emphasize that limit-setting needs to match specific developmental stages.

  • It is not over-indulgent to let a baby cry instead of figuring out what the infant is trying to communicate.
  • It is not over-indulgent to pick up a toddler’s toys when he doesn’t have the organizational ability to think in categories that would lead to knowing where or how to put things away.
  • It is not over-indulgent to help your child with their homework or teach them how to organize their backpack by doing it for them several times until they get the hang of it.
  • It’s not even over-indulgent to help a disorganized teenager clean their rooms—they may need to watch you and learn first.
  • It’s not even over-indulgent to help an ambitious overloaded high school junior to fill out college applications and edit his or her essays.

All those examples aren’t over-indulgence but normal, everyday, supporting our kids as we demonstrate by example how to wend one’s way through schoolwork, household chore sharing, and even deciding upon one’s ambitions and career goals. This is simply great parenting!

Consequences and dangers to the growing child

Hopefully, it is now evident that over-indulging is actually depriving the child you adore from learning the needed skills for getting along well and relating to others. This is one major significant consequence.

Additionally, children who are over-indulged

  • do not learn to enjoy their own company,
  • do not build skills of independence,
  • do not find learning for its own sake is extremely rewarding—even more than good grades,
  • and do not consequently in these ways develop self-confidence

When over-indulgence leads to the tendency to narcissism in adulthood

Parents who do not set limits for “typical normal” children or those inclined to overextend privileges to gifted children or child prodigies who may indeed have special needs, may discover they are not actually preparing their children for getting along well with others empathically in life as they grow into adulthood.

The child prodigy may need to have their education carefully orchestrated but in so doing, if the parents’ expectations do correctly match the child’s intellectual abilities, they may forget to also take in consideration the child’s social needs for play and making friends.

Inadvertently, the parents may create “outliers” who are viewed as “misfits” by their peers instead of being welcomed in social groups with their exceptional differences that their peers can not only learn from but appropriately admire.

Furthermore, the over-indulged gifted child may not learn empathy for others because of the over-emphasis on his remarkable memory and intellectual abilities, and thus not learn how to treat others kindly. This leads to potential narcissistic traits in adulthood.


In other words, over-indulgence deprives our children of life skills that help them feel secure, capable, and caring for others and themselves. Those are developmental dangers we surely want to avoid.

We do want to set the example of how to be generous and therefore give to our children, but the way to do so is with actual loving support that includes, emphasizes, and teaches

  • developmentally appropriate limits along with encouragement along the way so they can feel
  • it’s fine to make mistakes
  • it’s progressing to learn from failures
  • it’s acceptable to redress inevitable social errors
  • it’s great to be kind and giving to others in a reasonable way and
  • it’s also essential not to deny their own self-respect or capacity to stand up for themselves, have their voices heard, and share their points of view, opinions, feelings, beliefs, and intentions.

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Website: Laurie Hollman, Ph. D.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with specialized clinical training in infant-parent, child adolescent, and adult psychotherapy and is an expert on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

She is an authority on modern parent-child relationships who has published six award-winning parenting books and her book on narcissism. Her newest book in 2021 is Playing with Baby: Research-Based Play to Bond with Your Baby from Birth to One Year.

She has been on the faculties of New York University and the Society for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, among others.