Keeping Kids Healthy in a Land of Plenty

By: Gary W. Buffone, Ph.D.

Adapted from Choking on the Silver Spoon: Keeping Your Kids Healthy, Wealthy and Wise in a Land of Plenty by Dr. Gary Buffone

We live in a country of unprecedented wealth and prosperity; a land also filled with parents worried about how such abundance will negatively impact their children. Will it sap their motivation, twist their values, or turn them into spoiled brats? In my twenty-five years counseling families I’ve witnessed the difficult challenges parents face around their kids and money. And what I’ve learned I’ve put into The Five Immutable Laws of Financial Parenting. Just as there are definite laws of physics, consider these the “natural laws” for helping kids develop a healthy relationship with money, an anti-spoiling formula that works with kids of any age. But these prescriptions are based on the most basic principle of all: that our children’s non-material needs always take priority over their, and our material wants. So, here they are:

#1: The Law of Necessity: DON’T give kids more material comfort than they absolutely need!
Children develop a healthy motivational drive when they have some desire that compels them into action. Parents have a duty to provide their children with necessities, but it’s also their duty not to provide too many non-necessities. When children receive effortlessly whatever they desire, their natural motivational impulses are dampened, if not dissolved. Parents must give children the opportunity to want something badly enough to go after it themselves.

#2: The Law of Loving Limits: DO fulfill these nonmaterial needs—especially their need for “no.”
Material wealth can never replace firm, loving parenting. Children need to have their parents care for them and set appropriate limits on their behavior. They need to be told what is acceptable and what’s not, be taught to treat others with respect and learn to understand that they cannot always have things their way. In order to mature emotionally, children need to know both love and limits.

#3: The Law of Reciprocity: DO insist that they earn what they receive.
In order to develop a balanced sense of their place in the world, children must be taught the dynamics of give and take. Narcissistic entitlement occurs when children remain forever on the receiving end without being expected to give back in return. When parents teach their children to earn the things they receive, and to appreciate what they have, they help them to avoid developing a sense of entitlement

#4: The Law of Fiscal Responsibility: DO teach them money management!
Children cannot develop a healthy relationship to money unless they learn to handle it properly. Parents must teach their children the basics of money management, lest the children grow up thinking of money as an endlessly renewable resource.

#5: The Law of Example: DO practice what you preach!
Children gain their first and most enduring behaviors, and ultimately, their first set of values by observing their parents. If their parents judge others by what they have instead of who they are, their children will grow up to confusing self-worth with net worth. If they see their parents’ spending money carelessly, they may think little of the effort required to earn it. Monkey see, monkey do.

So do the hard things that strengthen your child’s character. Set and hold to reasonable expectations, gift them with opportunities to earn what they have, and make them accountable for their actions. Give them the chance to learn and grow from their experiences. And when you find yourself in doubt, use these guiding principles in your decisions when handling your kids and money, no matter what their age or stage in life.

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