SCHOOL SHOPPING: Less is better for your wallet and your kids
by Pauline Wallin, Ph.D.
Attention parents: It's back-to-school shopping time. This year, do your kids a favor by NOT buying them everything they claim they need. Of course, you will probably purchase some clothes, shoes, and school supplies.
But when it comes to expensive name brands, sports logos, celebrity-licensed items and electronic equipment, it's better to set limits -- not only for the sake of your wallet, but also because it is psychologically healthier for your children. Here's why:
- Kids who get everything they want develop expectations that this will always be the case. This leaves them ill prepared to deal with the world later, as adults.
- Kids who get everything they want develop a sense of entitlement, with the assumption that things should come easily and on demand. Not only is this unrealistic, but such a sense of entitlement fosters a very self-centered view of life, which can lead to relationship problems as adults.
- Kids who don't have to work for things are deprived of the opportunity to develop self-esteem. Self-esteem doesn't come from the brand of sneakers they wear. Nor does it come from merely being told that they're a good person. It comes from a sense of competence, which develops through sustained effort toward a goal (e.g., saving up for those special sneakers.)
- Research shows that kids who don't learn to postpone gratification may not develop the "emotional intelligence" that is important for long-term success in life. Emotional intelligence includes skills such as self-control, confidence, empathy and communication.
So, to help both your wallet and your kids, here are some tips for setting limits on back-to-school expenditures:
1. Decide in advance how much you plan to spend. Divide your list into two categories: Necessities and Want-to-haves. Concentrate on the former.
2. If your children are of middle-school age or older, involve them in the planning. Give them a budget and show them the sale flyers. See what they can come up with. When kids are involved in all stages of a decision-making process, they are more cooperative.
3. For younger children who demand a cartoon logo on every article of clothing, tell them how many such items you will allow, and let them pick the specific items. For example, if you allow two, they might pick a sweatshirt and a backpack, or a jacket and a notebook. You can also set a dollar limit on items with licensed characters. Allowing some degree of choice helps younger children feel a sense of mastery and control.
4. When you go on the shopping trip, don't rush through it. Allow time for lunch or videogame breaks. In this way, the shopping trip becomes a shared family experience, not just a mad rush to acquire things.
5. Set limits not just on the dollar amount you'll be spending, but also on what is acceptable. Your teenager may insist on certain clothing styles that you don't approve of. If she starts arguing with you at the store, calmly tell her it's time to go home. If she continues arguing in the car, don't try to reason with her; she's too angry to listen to logic at that time. However, you can offer to take her shopping on another day when she has settled down.
6. If your child insists that he absolutely needs something that is not in your budget, make a deal with him to allow him to earn money toward it by doing extra chores. However, don't buy the item until he has earned the money. This is very important, because it helps your child learn to plan and to work toward a goal. He will also appreciate more an item that he had to work for.
7. If you're like many parents, you try to set limits or to say "No", but the kids whine and complain so much that you eventually give in. Try your best not to succumb. If you give in, you are inadvertently teaching your children that if they whine long enough, they will eventually get their way.
Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Camp Hill, and author of "Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-defeating Behavior" (Wildcat Canyon Press, 2004)
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