Family

Do you buy too many things for the kids?

Author: Canadian Living

Family

Do you buy too many things for the kids?

We need to provide our children (rich or poor) with opportunities to grow through exposure to manageable amounts of risk and responsibility. For example, offering to pay a child's way to work at a summer camp for children with disabilities in the French Alps would be a far more generous offer by a parent than the week-long funfest most are willing to finance. Insisting a child use his or her car to deliver pizza or newspapers in order to pay their own insurance is one way to teach responsibility and to make a child value what he or she owns.

For parents who have the resources to provide for their children, it is important that they provide wisely. Here are a few suggestions based on my own work with families who have had to teach their children how to be their best selves in spite of their wealth and privilege:

1. Don't buy it unless they need it. Let children buy what they need themselves by providing them with an allowance or, when older, helping them find work.

2. Buy what they don't need (like a special designer piece of clothing, an expensive piece of sports equipment, or electronics item) only when you are confident that the child isn't using the purchase to say something about herself. Remember, when our possessions become crutches for self-definition, we quickly find ourselves forgetting who we really are.

3. Provide children opportunities to make a contribution. Communities have lots of space for young people who want to give something of themselves to others.

4. Provide opportunities for children to experience lots of different types of people. Remember, they need practise fitting in if they are going to acquire the skills they need to convince others they are worth knowing on their own terms.

5. Give of your time more than your pocketbook. When love is in short supply, children will always choose a parent's attention over something bought at the store.

It all comes back to finding something powerful to say about ourselves. The things we own will come and go, but the feeling of accomplishment that comes with earning something endures. Earning something means assuming responsibility. And it is only through experiences of risk and responsibility that children find ways to hear that they belong, are trustworthy, respected, and competent. Ironically, we need to reinvent risk in the lives of our most privileged children in order to provide them with the building blocks for success.

Page 1 of 3 -- Learn how to better understand your children on page 2

• What children hear
Benignly, we adults approach children, inviting them to talk to us about their lives. All too often they resist our invitations. So many parents tell me that even when they approach their children with forthright questions and an earnest desire to listen, it still feels like their children close down. Many a parent has come to me for advice, as if somehow I had a magic wand that could make their children speak.

If only it were so!

Instead I have to rely on some simple rules of engagement. Here are some examples of what parents and other caregivers say, and what child who is already angry might hear. A child who has a better relationship with these adults is likely to be less critical, more forgiving.

• What we say
I want the best for you. I want you to be happy.
• What the child hears
I want you to conform, to be just like me. Being happy is living like I do. What's wrong with that? Let me show you how to do things my way.

• What we say
I will try to give you whatever you want. Just tell me what you need.
• What the child hears
You need me. You can't get what you need on your own. You are still dependent on me.

• What we say
I'd like to get to know your friends better. Please bring them around sometime.
• What the child hears
I want to see what you and your friends are doing that takes you away from our home. Come home more so I can feel useful, a part of your life, and give you advice about your choice of friends.

• What we say
School is important. So is going to college or university. You have to pay attention to your studies. Don't you see that?
• What the child hears
You have to grow up and work just like me. You have to have an education or else you won't amount to anything.

• What we say
Your body is your own body. You need to respect it and not let anyone tell you what to do with it that makes you feel uncomfortable.
• What the child hears
You have no sexuality. You couldn't possibly handle an intimate relationship. You should wait until you are an adult like me to express yourself sexually. Your body must be yours, but I still want control over what you do with it.

Page 2 of 3 -- Learn expert tips on how to communicate with your child on page 3

Admittedly, adults are not going to like the way children hear what we have to say. "Damn it all," we insist, "I have the kid's best interest at heart! If I don't say those things, what should I say?" The problem is that each of the above adults' statements needs to be said. Each shows love, compassion, and the sincere desire to guide children into adulthood. And each can be helpful when the child really believes the adult means well. However, when there is tension in these relationships, a different way of expressing ourselves is going to be needed.

Getting a conversation going with our children is easier when we recognize their need to take risks and the advantage they get from doing so. For example:

• What we say
It means a lot to me when you are happy. What makes you happy? What about your life is working for you?
• What the child hears
I'm comfortable expressing myself. I want to understand your world and how it works. I want to avoid judgment. I don't really know much about your life. I need you to tell me how it works

• What we say
I know you have been good at finding what you need yourself. If there is anything that you need that you still can't find, please let me know and I'll help you get it.
• What the child hears
If you need me I'm here for you. Tell me how I can help. I know you are competent and can do things for yourself.

• What we say
What are your friends like? What about them has made you choose them as your friends? Do you think I'd like them if I met them?
• What the child hears
I want to hear about your friends and what in particular you like about them. I want to open up the possibility of meeting them, but you can decide if that's a good idea or not.

• What we say
School is important. So is going to college or university. It's meant a lot in my life getting or not getting enough education. Do you have an idea of how going to school, or not going to school, is going to make a difference in your life.
• What the child hears
You are growing up and making decisions that have long-term consequences, like they did for me. I have given education a lot of thought and hope you do to. But I also want to understand what education means to you. Is it important? Will it make a difference in your life at all?

• What we say
Your body is your own body. It can have a lot of different feelings. It's all right to express these. It's okay to have thoughts and feelings that are sexual. I hope you are able to find ways to express yourself in ways that make you feel comfortable. I also want you to know you can come and talk to me if something happens that makes you feel uncomfortable about your body or how others treat you.
• What the child hears
You have a sexuality. I know you will express that somehow. I want you to have a positive experience of those thoughts and feelings, and I'm there to help you if you get into trouble in your relationships.

Are you forgetting to teach the kids table manners? Take this quiz to see if you're accidentally raising a fussy eater.

Page 3 of 3



Excerpted from Too safe for their own good by Michael Ungar. Copyright 2007 by Michael Ungar. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

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Do you buy too many things for the kids?

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