Cornucopia Kids: too much or too little?


On the surface, it seems that all is well in suburbia. Although the economy has restricted some spending in many homes, there are recreational “toys” for almost everyone, including mom & dad.

Although modern parents are typically self-sacrificing achievers, today’s children are not learning the direct relationship between effort and reward. Listen to what we are actually saying: “I’ve tried and tried to get Jason to do some work around the yard. I’ll even pay him, but he isn’t interested.” “Michelle did it again—lost her shoes at the park. She just isn’t responsible and doesn’t seem to care about anything.” “These kids have everything. I don’t understand why their grades are so poor.”

The cornucopia is the mythical horn of a plentiful harvest, always full to overflowing. What if the very plentitude you offer your children is imbalanced and has not led them to an appreciation of it? Consider the following:
Are you giving (and giving in) too much? Which of the following fits?

Your child’s room is literally filled with toys and fun things that he or she had to have, but rarely enjoys. He or she has a cavalier attitude toward his own and others’ property.

Does your child lack depth and follow-through on projects or hobbies once the novelty and fun wear off? He or she can’t seem to complete even the simplest homework task?

Do you give “things” to reduce guilt for not spending quality time with your child or to compensate for your own strict upbringing? “I’m never going to do to my children what my parents did to me.”

Is your child’s capacity for compassion and sensitivity to the needs and feelings of others immature and superficial?

Does your child have a constant need for stimulation from outside sources? Can he or she creatively occupy himself or herself or do you often hear loud complaints of boredom?

It might help you to examine this partial list of indulgent parental behaviors from a child’s point of view: Life is secure. Life is good. What is demanded from me can usually be avoided. Little personal accountability is necessary.

Parents, who give or give in too much, communicate a powerful message:
“I can get whatever I want from my parents. I don’t have to listen to anybody. I am in control. Good things will come if I just demand them or make a scene.” When these messages are internalized, the stage is set for the child to remain immature and to encounter difficulties later with others and at work.

After the Christmas holidays a few years ago, the parents of a seven year old boy with “Cornucopia Complex” brought him in for therapy. The boy was crying and withdrawn, while his parents loudly yelled at him in anger. They told me that Ricky was selfish, spoiled and never satisfied, that he had been hostile and crying for two weeks, and that they “didn’t know how to discipline his belligerence and aggression.”

After giving Ricky and each parent a turn to describe the situation as he or she perceived it, I made an intuitive guess and asked Ricky if he was disappointed with the things he had received. His mother jumped in with further impatience, so I redirected the question to Ricky. “Yes,” he said quietly. “They promised me that Santa Claus would bring the special Star Wars sets and figures I wanted, and that they would give me legos and things like that. When I complained that Santa didn’t bring me most of the things I really wanted, they told me he wasn’t even real, and when I cried, they said I was acting like a baby.”

I wanted Ricky to stay in the play room and over-hear the conversation I had with his parents. He began setting up some props and figures from Clone Wars while I asked the parents how they dealt with disappointment, eventually suggesting that Ricky had simply not yet learned how to handle it. The session ended with apologies and forgiveness, and with hugs and expressions of love.

The next week, when Ricky came back, some of the tension between he and his parents had been resolved, but there were still too many times when Ricky tried to talk about his feelings that he either wasn’t heard or was unwittingly put down for being vulnerable. We worked as a family on reflective listening, good communication skills and values clarification for several sessions. An incident at school revealed a difficulty with accepting failure and became an important focus. By helping Ricky deal adaptively with failing, even after doing his best, Ricky learned that he had certain strengths and weaknesses, and that each setback could be turned into a learning experience.

Sometimes old patterns repeat and create “stuckness” in our primary relationships. That is when we need to seek help. And what an important lesson that is, in itself, to teach your children. Part of the responsibility of parenting is closely examining the values you are transmitting to your children through your example, responses and interactions. It is critical to instill integrity instead of indulgence; to create character not conformity; to build motivation rather than materialism; and sensitivity rather than selfishness.

Lynn Vaughn, PhD

If your child does not seem to appreciate the “good life” and you can relate to this article, call me at 248-921-7922. I can help your child become more responsible and show you where you might be excessively giving.


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