Raising Self-Reliant Children

It’s natural for parents to want to give their children the best of everything. Unfortunately, in the long run, this is not good for children. It causes them to become materialistic and to feel they deserve the best. Since many of them will face financial struggles at some point in their lives, even possibly in childhood if family fortunes change, they must learn to be content with less than everything and to find life’s pleasures in something other than material possessions. Being too focused on material things throws a life out of balance and interferes with spirituality.

Mormon familyWe want children to need fewer things and to know how to work for what they want. This means everything from earning and saving money for things they want to learning to make things themselves or even learning to do without.

The process begins when children are young. Often, parents who are trying to train children to behave will reward them with material things. “Clean your room and you can have an ice cream.” “Do a good job on your school project and I’ll buy you a new toy.” This might be a somewhat easy way to train a child, but it leads to the expectation that the reason for doing things is to receive an external reward.

The first day I homeschooled my two youngest children, they proudly brought me their math worksheets and demanded their candy. I was startled and told them there was no candy. They explained that in their school, whenever you did anything good, you had to be given a candy for it. When I refused, they pushed for a sticker, a star, a smiley face or at the very least a grade. I decided on the spot to issue no grades, not for self-esteem reasons but because I wanted my children to seek internal, not external rewards for their learning experiences. Today, they happily tackle all sorts of learning projects in their adult lives without thought of reward, but it took a full year before they began to seek internal rewards.

As adults, we do not always receive instant rewards for a job well-done. We don’t always have someone to hand us everything we want. We work, we save, we do without and eventually we get some of the things we want, but few of us get everything we want. It is cruel not to prepare our children for this reality.

Children can learn to delay gratification. The allowance battle is one that can help you decide how to help children learn to work for what they want. Some parents give an allowance that is tied to certain chores; others give it no strings attached. I gave my children chores to do each week, but they were not tied to allowances. I wanted them to learn that people must contribute to any society to which they belong, including their families. They do this without reward. They also received an allowance and this had no strings attached. It was their share of the family wealth, so to speak. We had only one consistent wage earner, but all our efforts contributed to his success and so we all benefitted from it. I felt this prepared them to be parents themselves, and possibly the sole wage earner. However you choose to work chores and allowances, it is important children learn to manage money.

When I was in seventh grade, my parents handed me an allowance, the first I’d ever received. They explained I was to buy my school lunch each day and could keep what was left over—a small amount, but enough to save up for things. The first day I rushed out and purchased a music album I wanted, using all the money. I told my mother I would need more lunch money. She said I could fix a single peanut butter sandwich at home and fill a glass with water at school for the week, but that was all. If I’d decided I wanted the music more than I wanted a good lunch, that was my choice, but there would be no extra money. I never made that mistake again. From that week on, I bought lunch all week and did my shopping over the weekend. Soon, I realized I could buy even better things if I saved my money and shopped less often. When I decided my small allowance was insufficient I was given opportunities to take on extra work at home to earn money and learned to babysit for others. Soon afterwards, my father began issuing a modest clothing allowance twice a year. We were instructed to buy everything we needed for the coming season. He said we could blow it all on expensive item or go to a thrift store and buy a great many things, but anything else we wanted to wear would come from our allowances or earnings. Having learned my lesson with lunch, I became an expert thrift store shopper. Other students in my wealthy high school paraded around in designer jeans, but I had them only if I found them in a thrift store or outlet store, or when I received them as gifts. I soon realized designer jeans were meaningless to me and that I preferred to spend my money on books.

When your children don’t get everything they want, they will be forced to prioritize. One of my children once asked me to buy her a certain toy. I told her to use her allowance. She said, “I don’t want it that much.” Having an allowance had taught her to use it only for those things she most wanted. Knowing she didn’t want it that much made it very easy for me to choose not to buy it, even though I did occasionally buy extra things for my children.

In time, your children will decide what they most enjoy spending money on. They will learn to budget for it. If they want it sooner, they’ll learn to take on extra work. They will not be expensive fads unless those fads have personal meaning to them. They will decide some things are important to them and they will always want the best in those items, but they’ll decide other items need only be functional. They will also learn what they can live without.

Don’t give your children too much money. They should have to stretch to buy the things they want. They should have to prioritize and do without some things they’d like to have so they have the opportunity to learn what matters to them. They should have to work to bring in extra money.

Be certain you are setting the proper example. If you’re using your credit card to get everything you want, you’re teaching your children there is no need to save. They need to see you doing without things you want, delaying gratification, and prioritizing. They need to see you doing things that have no immediate reward and things that have no tangible reward at all.

You can help your children learn to recognize the non-tangible rewards through your own actions. “I love tutoring at the community center. It makes me feel good to know I’m helping people learn how to read.” “I’ve always wanted to learn more about the Revolutionary War. It really helps me understand my country better.”

Show them how to reward themselves, sometimes tangibly, and sometimes in other ways. “I really hate mopping, but if I mop all the floors today, I think I’ll treat myself to a new book. I have enough money in the budget and it would be nice to have something new to read during my break.” “Working out isn’t my favorite thing, but I do like the results.” “Gardening is hard, but it makes me feel good knowing you kids have fresh, healthy foods to eat.” They will learn, from your comments, what really matters to you and that some rewards are in the form of showing love to others.

In the next article, we’ll talk about serving others.

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