The following column is adapted from an article by Dr. Sheryl Zeigler, a counselor and therapist at the Child and Family Therapy Clinic in Denver, Colorado. In her practice she often sees middle and upper class families struggling with wanting to raise “grateful and unspoiled children,” despite having a comfortable lifestyle, going on nice vacations, having lovely homes; and owning the latest gadgets, toys and cars. These parents ask if it is really possible, and the answer is “Yes, but you are going to have to work at it.” She calls it intentional parenting and it takes self discipline to pull it off.
So, here is her list of the top 10 things around which you need to have clarity and consistent follow through in order to raise unspoiled children whether you are wealthy or not.
1. Say no. Practice delayed gratification and simply not always giving your children what they want, even if you can easily afford it.
2. Expect gratitude. Go beyond teaching your child to say please and thank you. Also teach them eye contact, a proper hand shake, affection and appreciation for the kind and generous things that are said and given to them. If this does not happen, have them return the gift (either to the person or to you for safe keeping) and explain that they aren’t yet ready to receive such a gift.
3. Practice altruism yourself. Donate clothes and toys to those in need (not just to your neighbors when it’s easy and they have younger children!) and have your kids be a part of that process. Do this regularly as a family and sort through, package and deliver the goods together so the kids really see where their things are going. Do this often and not just around the holidays.
4. Be mindful of the company you keep. Be sure family or friends you are spending significant time with have similar values to yours, otherwise you are going to feel defeated after a while.
5. Write thank you cards. Yes, handwritten on paper with a pen! Kids these days generally have shorter attention spans, are easily distracted and aren’t taught to take careful time and attention to express their appreciation. This simple yet important act can go a long way as a skill to teach expression of feelings and thoughtfulness.
6. Don’t catch every fall. Practice natural consequences from an early age — share some of your own experiences and teach them lessons such as “life is not fair.” In addition, don’t over-protect them from disappointments. You have to really understand and believe that failing and falling are a part of successful childhood development.
7. Resist the urge to buy multiples of things. Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should! Don’t buy four American Girl Dolls—buy just one and have your child love and appreciate what they have.
8. Talk to their grandparents and explain your intentions to them. Share with them your desires to have respectful, appreciative, kind and responsible children and the ways in which you are going to achieve that goal. You will need their help in doing this if they are like most grandparents who want to spoil their grandkids! Ask them to spoil them with love, time, affection and attention—not toys, treats and money.
9. Teach them the value of money. Have your child manage their money through saving, giving to charity/others, and then spending. If you do this from an early age you are truly setting a foundation of responsible wealth management.
10. Share your story. Last but not least, you should tell your kids the legacy of your family’s good fortune. If you come from wealth tell the story of how that was earned and created. If you are self-made, tell that story too—just don’t forget that “giving your kids everything that you didn’t have” is not always a good thing. There is probably a lot that you learned along the way by stumbling to make you the person you are today.
And at the end of the day, if you have a spoiled child—one who relentlessly nags, cries and throws a huge fit when they do not get what they want—you only have yourself to blame! Stop giving in and start applying most if not all of these values and approaches. You will have greater enjoyment in being a parent, your child will be happier and better adjusted and there will be greater peace and love in your home. And that is something money cannot buy.