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Q: My seven-year-old stepdaughter, an only child, is becoming increasingly demanding and materialistic. She has started asking "what do I get for that" when she gets a good report card or cleans her room. When we do something special for her, like taking her to dinner with a friend or spending money on games, she'll say, "Is that all I get?" What's the best way to teach children the value of a dollar and family responsibilities?
A: First, consider how you and your husband teach your daughter about money by how you use it and talk about it. Analyze your own relationship regarding how important it is to you to acquire and accumulate material things and status symbols. Modeling the role and value of money for her is the best way to teach her how to value it.
I do not subscribe to giving money or presents to children when they "do good," whether it's doing chores, getting a fine report card, or being the star of a sporting event. The rewards of all successes or tasks should be an intrinsic feeling of accomplishment and self-worth that's totally unattached to any external reward from others. You and her dad need to calmly talk with her, without blaming her, about your family values regarding her tasks and accomplishments. As for her expressions of ungratefulness, I would ask her where she gets her ideas about how much you should give or do for her. Maybe she's comparing herself to her friends' parents' special treats and experiences and thinks that she's "coming up short."
As a way of teaching her about the value of money, you might want to begin giving her a small weekly allowance, unconnected to any chores, family responsibilities, or academic grades. She could use this money as she chose. If she wanted to make money on her own, there are many ways a seven-year-old could do so. Your librarian can direct you to books with moneymaking ideas for young kids.
Teaching a child about money also means learning about gratitude. The best way that I know to teach a child about gratitude is to get them involved in doing for others. Perhaps your daughter could join you and/or your husband on a regular basis in volunteering your time for a worthy local charitable organization. I have witnessed many a child become far less greedy after they've begun helping others who are less fortunate than themselves.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.