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Extension Unveils New Online Overindulgence Course: Parenting with a Good Heart

By Hannah Jastram Aaberg, Communication Associate

This fall, a multidisciplinary team of University of Minnesota Extension educators launched a new online course about overindulgence in collaboration with author and researcher Jean Illsley Clarke and parent educator Lisa Krause.

“Overindulgence” is a term used to describe giving a child too much of anything — like money, food, space, time, energy, or attention — that can delay development. Parents and caregivers overindulge children from a "good heart," experts say, but the practice doesn't help children or families in the long run. As a result, Extension educators in family resiliency saw an opportunity to develop an online course about overindulgence that gives families tools to make informed decisions leading to better health and well-being for their children.

Extension’s Response

Last year, Extension formed a team to create a new course on overindulgence called Parenting with a Good Heart. The team included Ellie McCann and Becky Hagen Jokela, Extension educators in family resiliency; Kelly Kunkel, Extension educator in health and nutrition; Kate Welshons and Dung Mao, online learning specialists; and Mary Jo Katras, program leader of family resiliency.

In close collaboration with Jean and Lisa, the multidisciplinary Extension team developed a two-hour online course that requires no registration and is mobile-friendly. Team members say that Parenting with a Good Heart teaches parents and caregivers how to “wrap their good hearts” with the strength and skills it takes to resist overindulging their children. Then they can teach their children how to be accountable and responsible for themselves and toward others.

Extension’s focus on overindulgence has caught the attention of Extension agents in Arkansas. Early in September, more than 30 University of Arkansas Extension family and consumer science agents were trained in an all-day, in-person session on a related curriculum called How Much Is Too Much?

Everyone who attended the session said that their knowledge of effective parenting had increased as a result of the training. “I plan to use all of it in classes with prison inmates, Goodwill workers, and parents [of children] at schools and [in] Head Start [classes],” one agent said. “I plan to use it with 4-H volunteers,” said another. Thirty more Arkansas agents will be trained using a recorded version of the session.

One of the team’s goals for this course is that it will be used as a parent education tool for any parent or caregiver, including parents of military families, incarcerated parents, and couples who are divorcing or separated. This course is also for practitioners in the parenting field as an educational resource to build and support parenting skills through all stages of development. For more information about the course, visit

A Closer Look at Overindulgence

Overindulgence is not just a Minnesota problem. It’s not even confined to the United States. A 2014 book How Much Is Too Much?, which Clarke wrote in collaboration with Connie Dawson and David Bredehoft, was picked up for translation in nine languages. Here’s a passage from that book that describes overindulgence in more detail:
Overindulging children is giving them too much of what looks good, too soon, too long. It is giving them things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age or their interests and talents. It is the process of giving things to children to meet the adult's needs, not the child's. Overindulgence is giving a disproportionate amount of family resources to one or more children in a way that appears to meet the children's needs but does not, so children experience scarcity in the midst of plenty. Overindulgence is doing or having so much of something that it does active harm, or at least prevents a person from developing and deprives that person of achieving his or her full potential.

For more resources on overindulgence and what you can do about it, visit

Mary Jo Katras and Ellie McCann contributed to this blog post.
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