The following is a report on the practical applications of Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy's new book, Loving Your Child Too Much: How to Keep a Close Relationship with Your Child without Overindulging, Overprotecting, or Overcontrolling, (Integrity Publishers, 2006).

It’s only natural to be passionately in love with your children, and all kids deserve that kind of love from their parents. But while you shouldn’t ever limit the amount of love you give your children, you do need to watch the ways you express that love. If your love leads you to overprotect, overindulge, or overcontrol your kids, that’s not healthy.

Here’s how you can love your kids in healthy ways that lead to positive relationships between you:

Embrace grace. Realize that everyone makes mistakes, and that all parents can sometimes be guilty of overprotecting, overindulging, or overcontrolling their children. Know that, in Jesus, there is no condemnation. As you examine your relationship with your kids, talk to God about the ways in which you need help, and accept the mercy and grace that He offers you. Rely on His strength to change, and trust Him to be with you along the way to better relationships with your kids.

Understand your motives. Reflect on what might be motivating you to express your love for your kids in unhealthy ways. Invite God to show you what issues from your past or present stresses may be affecting how you relate to them. Then release them to God, and pursue the healing He offers.

Stop overprotecting them. Don’t lie about tough, real-life issues; always tell the truth, in age-appropriate ways. Don’t rescue your kids from situations that can teach them more about accountability, responsibility, and the consequences of their decisions. Let your kids take care of tasks they should do themselves, and require them to help with household chores on a regular basis. Refuse to fight their battles for them; let them learn how to solve problems and deal effectively with conflict by working through their own issues. Encourage them to tackle challenges and gently push them keep going when situations get tough, even if they sometimes fail. Help them learn from disappointment.

Teach them that, even though life can be painful, they can find joy through God’s grace. Let them know that, even though the world can be a dangerous place, generally it’s not that dangerous. Assure your kids that they are fully capable of giving and receiving love. Encourage them to learn the valuable emotional and spiritual lessons that suffering can teach. Ask God to give you the wisdom to effectively balance freedoms and restrictions in your children’s lives during each stage of childhood and the teen years. Give your adult children complete autonomy, but always keep praying for them.

Stop overindulging them. Don’t give in to whatever your children want, no matter how much they beg, whine, or throw temper tantrums. Don’t bribe them to cooperate with you. Require your kids to make an effort to obtain desired items on their own, rather than simply giving the items to them. Help them understand the value of hard work and what it takes to earn money.

Be sure to supervise your kids well and set appropriate boundaries for them. When praising your kids, remember that praise should be earned so your children will have the motivation they need to work toward their goals. Don’t just defer to your kids when making decisions; consider your own feelings and work together to find compromises.

Teach them that it’s okay to feel strong emotions, but they have a responsibility to express their feelings in faithful ways and make good choices. Let them know that it’s fine to want things, but they don’t need to have everything they want. Show your kids that they are accountable for their actions. Teach them that there is joy in earning things instead of always being given things. Show them the importance of serving others, and join them in regular acts of service to people in need. Instead of trying to fix difficult situations for them are trying to rescue them from challenges, coach them through the issues so they can achieve the skills and confidence they’ll need later in life. Always follow through with consequences for misbehavior so your kids will know you’re serious.

Assign them regular household chores and work alongside them. Encourage them to tackle pursuits like sports or music, where they’ll need to develop the self-discipline necessary to practice. Reward their hard work. Limit their presents for holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions – and teach them that gifts are privileges instead of entitlements, and that they need to express appreciation to those who have given them gifts.

Stop overcontrolling them. Make sure you’re spending some time on a regular basis just enjoying and playing with your children – instead of constantly lecturing, critiquing, or pushing them. Don’t make all the decisions for your kids’ activities; give them opportunities to explore their own interests. Ask God to help you relax around your children. Allow your kids to express their thoughts and feelings – even when they disagree with you – in respectful ways. Teach them how to effectively negotiate and work together to solve problems. Respect your kids’ privacy and don’t pry unnecessarily into their conversations, mail, phone calls, or belongings.

Never use guilt to manipulate your children. Don’t withhold love from them when they’re disobedient; let them know that you will always love them, even when they’re not doing what you want. Abandon unreasonable expectations for your kids and focus on what’s reasonable for them to attain. Make sure your kids know their own likes and dislikes. Respect your children’s choices, even though you don’t always agree with them. Give your kids the freedom to learn who they are, and that they are responsible for their own decisions. Let them know that they, with God’s blessing, are in control of their own destinies. Show them that with God’s help, they can deal with difficult decisions. Affirm that your kids’ value is based on who they are – not what they do.

Examine your motives when you interact with your children and guard against relating to them as projects. Let your kids express their own opinions and tastes, and complete their own developmental milestones (such as first day of school or first time driving) without you hovering or giving them constant advice. Ask God to help you genuinely understand and accept your children – especially when their temperaments are different from your own. Surrender your own agenda for your kids and help each of them achieve their full potential to become the people God wants them to be.

Give your kids the same respect you want them to give you. Rather than treating your children poorly when they misbehave, provide discipline and consequences in calm and rational ways that respect their dignity and model the positive attitude you want them to have. Ask God to help you live the kind of life that provides a great example to your kids of faith in action. Ask Him to empower you to instruct them in biblical wisdom, and to give them firm structure and clear boundaries without sacrificing great love.

Spend as much time with them as possible. Understand that what your children need and want the most isn’t any type of toy or other material item – it’s you. Make time with your kids a top priority in your schedule. Know that it’s quantity time (not quality time) that leads to the unexpected, memorable moments that will strengthen your bond. Be there with them as often as possible to share life together, and be assured that they will treasure time with you far more than anything else you can give them.

Build your kids’ character. Help your children develop these virtues: A Christ-centered attitude, moral discernment, a sense of humor, patience, the ability to endure pain, personal and spiritual growth, the ability to forgive and accept forgiveness, problem-solving skills, an ability to be slow to anger, resilience, communication skills, respect for others, compassion, responsibility, courage, self-confidence, empathy, self-control, gratitude, self-discipline, integrity, self-respect, kindness, spiritual discernment, a love for life and learning, and tolerance.

Focus on relationship rather than rules. Realize that, while rules are important, they must be based on a positive relationship in order to be effective. Understand that, without a positive relationship with you, your kids will rebel against even the best rules. Build close relationships with each of your children by: showing empathy for their thoughts and feelings, assertively yet respectfully sharing your perspectives – focusing on specific facts rather than emotion, treating them with respect, expressing warmth toward them, and making adjustments in your parenting style to respond to each of your kids’ unique needs.

Strengthen your bond during stressful times. Whenever your family experiences stressful events such as a death, divorce, job loss, illness, relocation, or financial problems, keep close to your kids. Maintain stable mealtimes, bedtimes, and other everyday routines; clearly explain to your children what’s going on so they’re informed; focus on all that will remain unchanged in your lives for now; reassure them that your circumstances aren’t their fault; schedule fun activities together regularly; and give each of your kids some undivided attention every day.

Coach your kids through their emotions. Teach your kids how to wisely deal with all of their emotions – from anger and fear, to excitement and surprise. Get to know your own emotions so you can better understand the feelings your children experience. Try to see the world through your kids’ eyes. Display the emotions you want your children to exhibit. Share your feelings and experiences with them. Help them identify complex feelings. Help them discover where their feelings come from. Validate their feelings by acknowledging them and exploring them with patience and understanding. Work with them on dealing with situations that are making them upset. Encourage them to talk about their emotions; let them know you’re paying attention. Empathize before giving advice. Focus more on helping your kids become aware of their real emotions than on telling them what they ought to feel. Show them how to cope with negative feelings and focus on positive feelings, as God uses their pain to help them grow and mature.

Discipline them wisely. Remember to adapt your discipline methods to fit each of your kids’ personalities. Use praise to encourage positive behavior and ignoring to decrease negative behavior. Create an environment for moral growth. Establish clear rules and limits. Teach your children the reasons behind your rules. Discern between intentional defiance and childish irresponsibility, and don’t punish your kids for normal developmental accidents. Avoid making impossible demands. Teach virtues that strengthen and guide your kids’ behavior. Let love guide all you do.


Adapted from Loving Your Child Too Much: How to Keep a Close Relationship with Your Child without Overindulging, Overprotecting, or Overcontrolling, copyright 2006 by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibey. Published by Integrity Publishers, a division of Integrity Media, Inc., Franklin, Tn., www.integritypublishers.com.

Tim Clinton (Ed.D., Professional Counseling, LPC, LMFT) is President of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He is the author of numerous books and the publisher of the award-winning Christian Counseling Today magazine. Tim is the Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care and Executive Director of the Liberty University Center for Counseling and Family Studies. He lives with his wife and children in Virginia.

Dr. Gary Sibcy (Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, LCP, LPC, LMFT) is a licensed clinical psychologist, professional counselor, marriage and family therapist with Piedmont Psychiatric Center in Lynchburg, VA. He serves as an Associate Professor of Counseling at Liberty University and is a consultant for group homes with troubled children. Gary and his wife enjoy a vibrant home with their two children in Virginia.