How can my husband and I make sure that we don't overindulge our cute little girl? She has a wonderful sweet personality and everyone in the family has been doting on her since she was born. But now that she's four years old, I'm wondering if she'll ever grow out of this "cute baby" phase. She loves being the center of attention and will "perform" on cue if given the opportunity. Is this normal, healthy behavior? Should we be concerned? What, if anything, should we be doing differently?
It's no wonder your daughter will "perform on cue." She's been receiving positive reinforcement for that kind of behavior for as long as she can remember. At this stage of the game it's all a lot of fun for everyone, but the danger is that she'll grow up believing that her value as a person is based on her cuteness and her performance, not on her character. The good news is that it's not too late to prevent that from happening. You've told us that she still has a sweet personality, and that seems to indicate that, thus far, the attention she's been receiving hasn't spoiled her or made her selfish and defiant.
While she's still small, impressionable, and teachable, you need to start helping her develop solid, godly character traits. Nowadays our culture tells us that "cuteness," physical attractiveness, popularity, power, and success are the really important things in life. But the Bible says, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). God calls us to a much higher standard. In His economy, what truly matters is a humble, loving heart, a Christ-like character, and a life that displays the "Fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22, 23) – qualities such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
How can you encourage your little girl to grow in this direction rather than becoming spoiled and self-centered? We suggest you make a conscious effort to praise her whenever she displays the positive traits listed above. You should also try to model these kinds of qualities for her and look for "teachable moments" to talk about the things that matter to God. It would also be a good idea to teach her how to serve others, whether that means caring for a neighbor's pet when they're on vacation or donating some of her toys to a local homeless shelter.
As a footnote, it's worth mentioning that the "misplaced values" syndrome can easily extend beyond the toddler years. In fact, it only seems to become more damaging as a child moves into the elementary grades, junior high, and high school. Far too many Christian parents today drive their kids to make the honor roll, play on the championship soccer team, make the cheerleading squad, or get into a top college. These things aren't bad in and of themselves, of course. The problem is when they become our chief goal in life. Without God, the promise of happiness they seem to offer is hollow. As we see it, this is one of the biggest reasons so many modern teens are abusing alcohol, drugs, and experiencing record levels of depression and anxiety. Many kids describe themselves as feeling stressed out just trying to keep up.
If you feel it would be helpful to discuss your concerns at a greater length, we invite you to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department. They'd be pleased to assist you in any way they can.
Spiritual Growth for Kids