creative deprivationBy Teresa Hunsaker

We all know it is easy to get a little carried away with “decking our halls,” and the concepts of excess, overindulgence, and overscheduling come to mind during the holiday season more than ever. In general, however, there is a trend toward excess in our lives.

What messages are we sending to our children? When is enough enough for them and for us?

Here is a checklist of questions to ask ourselves.

Are we spending a disproportionate amount of family income on any one category, i.e. clothing, entertainment, child enrichment (lessons, sports, etc.)?

Are we spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy in any one or two activities, like sports, screen time, cell phones, or social media? 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 you keeping your child 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? Examples include picking up their own toys, doing their own laundry, paying for some things with their own money, learning to cook, etc.

A few signs of overindulgence include 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.

As a result of overindulgence, kids have come to regard overload as normal, and anything less is boring. In contrast to this is a term coming to the forefront called “creative deprivation.” Parents are coming to understand that kids can have too much of a good thing, so they place limitations on it.

An example 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, 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. 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 is no longer a treat but a norm.

Here are four rules of creative deprivation to consider as we move into the holiday season:

—Limit things your kids don’t need, but do not limit the things they do need, such as good nutrition and parental attention.

—Provide them with creative alternatives to substitute for passive entertainment and “no brainer” play.

—Limit screen time, including cell phones, TV or video time, and gaming. This will decrease the stimulation overload in their lives.

—Set boundaries and provide rules and limits in all aspects of your child’s life.

Maybe it is time for all of us to take a step back and evaluate our own lives. Are we needing increasingly more expensive gadgets, clothing, vacations, foods, or other stimulating events to keep us happy?

Creative deprivation may be just the ticket. Not only will it save money, but the simplification will also reduce stress levels and increase quality of life.

Teresa Hunsaker is a Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences educator.

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