QUESTION: I worry about raising a child in the Palisades because of all the privileges. In fact, I’m so worried that my three-year-old already has a 6-point, daily chore chart that is non-negotiable. What steps would you recommend I take to avoid raising a spoiled and self-entitled child? I feel so lucky to raise my little girl in this beautiful and family-focused town, but I need your advice.
BBB: You are not alone in worrying about raising your children in an age of affluence. But it is not just in the Palisades that there is an epidemic of Affluenza. Solidly middle-class families are struggling with the same issues as upper-class families. Families who may live in a middle-of-the-road suburb have children who are exposed to activities that connote wealth and emphasize values that scream Gimme Gimme Gimme!
First of all, I urge you to read Chapter 9, Gimme Gimme Gimme: Eliminating Spoilage in your Child in my book, “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” You’ll be glad you did.
In the meantime, I assure you that this epidemic of Affluenza, contagious though it is, is not necessarily caught by all children living in the Palisades. Parents hold the magic elixir for immunity. While materialism, consumerism and well, money are some of the germs of Affluenza, standing alone they are not the problem. It is when these are unaccompanied by clear, strong values that they are problematic.
Keep in mind that children will only absorb their parents’ values if they spend time with their parents. They need to see your values in action because actions are more powerful than words. Children of all ages need your presence and not your presents.
There are many steps you can take to avoid spoiling your children. You are already onboard with teaching your children the value of work and contributing to the well-being of the whole family, certainly a critical value. (Please be careful not to go way overboard in the chores department. Chores must be age appropriate.)
Here are a few tips to think about:
1. Make the well-being of the whole family (the whole class, the whole team) more important that the happiness of one member.
2. Teach your child to delay gratification. S/he need not have everything s/he wants right away and sometimes not at all.
3. Help your child to tolerate disappointment. Don’t “fix” everything, whether it is replacing a broken toy or offering a substitute activity when another doesn’t pan out.
4. Cultivate and model an attitude of gratitude.
5. Reward your child in non-monetary ways. Time with you is more valuable than any material object. And never reward with food.
6. Institute an allowance program for children 7 years and older. (See my book “You’re Not the Boss of Me.”)
7. Practice saying “No” to your children…without feeling guilty. Then stick to it.
8. Provide clear, firm limits and boundaries.
9. Have appropriate, logical consequences for limit violations and be sure to follow through.
10. Do not feel angry at your child for his wanting. Validate his feelings. Longing for stuff and for privileges is common to all children, and it is not at all necessarily bad. It’s normal and can be highly motivating.
11. Don’t fall prey to “But everyone has one.”
12. Teach the difference between “need” and “want.”
13. Refuse to “keep up with the Joneses.” Tone down birthday parties, birthday gifts, etc. Let your celebrations reflect your values.
14. Make your children your top priority and behave as if they are.
15. Be the person you want your child to be.
As the sign in my kitchen reads, “The surest way to make life hard for your children is to make it too easy for them.”
Betsy Brown Braun, bestselling author of the award-winning book Just Tell Me What to Say and You’re Not the Boss of Me is a child development and behavior specialist, parenting expert and multiple birth parenting consultant. She consults with parents privately and runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is a frequent guest on radio and television – including the Today Show, Good Morning America and The Rachael Ray Show – and her parenting expertise has been featured in numerous print publications, websites and blogs. She and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have three grandchildren, so far.