Dear Mrs. Riches:
My husband and I have two kids whom we're afraid we've spoiled. It's not that they're out-and-out brats. But on the continuum, they're a little closer to bratty behavior than we'd like. Don't get us wrong: They don't get big, lavish gifts, catered birthday parties, and expensive vacations. But I do find myself saying yes to small gifts every time we go to the store, yes to treats anytime we're at a grocery store, gas station, or 7-Eleven, and OK to their requests to always do "something special." Rather than being grateful, our kids are now upping the ante, asking for bigger and better things.
My husband says the trouble is that I never say no; I think he should be around more to help enforce the rules, instead of expecting me to always be the disciplinarian. Fortunately, both of us want what's best for the kids. Please help us before it is too late.
-- The Spoiler
It sounds like almost anywhere you go with your children, they'are asking for something and getting it. That's an awful lot of saying "yes." The size of the desired object isn't the issue. Whatever it is -- a candy bar at 6 or a convertible at 16 -- your children don't seem to have to do anything to earn it. They request it, and magically, it becomes theirs.
It doesn't matter to your children that you have to pull out your wallet and pay for it. It means nothing to them that in so doing, you have made a financial choice that could have a ripple effect to the rest of your finances. This isn't because they were born brats. Well-mannered, emotionally mature people have learned some of their best lessons from the word "no."
There's no time to waste. Rather than finger-pointing, you and your husband need to start fresh with a goal. Perhaps "Teach our children the value of money" might be a good start. Brainstorm all of the ways you might go about teaching them the importance of saving, delaying gratification, budgeting, and making good money choices.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Talk about your own money choices. When you're considering a purchase, do your thinking out loud. If you think, "I'm not sure I really need this. The price seems awfully high. I wonder if I can get it somewhere else for less," say it. Your children will learn a lot from simply hearing how you go about making a money decision.
Require chores. As members of the household, your children should be expected to help out. Tasks like setting and clearing the table, unloading the dishwasher, washing windows, and tidying up their rooms are all possibilities. Don't pay them for completing this basic set of jobs; it's important for them to learn that there are some things people do just out of a sense of responsibility. Whatever the specific assignments you give to the kids, both parents must follow through on setting expectations and enforcing them.
- Establish an allowance. Giving a sky-high allowance will do little to teach them responsible money management; be sure to check with other parents to determine a reasonable allowance given to children of your child's age. Both parents should decide what children must pay for using their allowance money and stick to it. Given your situation, I would suggest that you make no extra purchases for your kids beyond the basics, plus birthdays and holidays. You and your children might fare better with the "cold turkey" approach, rather than standing at the store counter and waffling.
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