by Debbie Stovall
Raising kids is sometimes a guessing game. You do something one day and it works, but the next day you do the same thing and it doesn’t. As grandparents now, Randy and I are able to look back and evaluate our parenting. Here are a few of the things we did that turned out to have more value than we realized at the time. All three deal with managing our money or possessions, and all have paid off in my children’s attitude toward possessions. So just in time for the holidays, here is my gift to you! Hope it helps in your mommy-journey or spurs you to think of new ideas of your own!
#1 – The “Less is More” Trick
No one in my family is a picker eater. We love food! So from the time they could toddle around, my children all wanted more snack than I thought was best. I found a little trick with my first child one day when I was impatient. I offered him a cookie, only one, because it was almost supper time. He immediately said, “No. Two.” In my impatience, I respond testily, “Ok, you can have zero then.” He promptly decided one was better than none, took his cookie, and was fine.
The light bulb went on for me! From that day on in negotiating with my kids I used that same trick; if they started asking for more, I began to retreat on what I was willing to give. If I offered two marshmallows, they would want three, so I would drop back to 1 which made the original offer of two very satisfying to them. If I told them I would buy them a toy at Wal-Mart, they would see two and want both. When I let them know that if they couldn’t decide on one they wouldn’t get any, they would find a way to choose one. When I told my 16-year-old to be home by 10:00 and he responded that everyone else was staying out until 11:00, I would pull my offer back to 9:00. Then 10:00 suddenly looked pretty good.
The trick is saying it kindly with a tender expression on your face. If you get mad and shout “No you only get one now!” or “Well Bud, just for that you have to be home at 9:00!” you bring yourself down to the child’s level and he keeps arguing. But if you stay calm and unruffled, he realizes he has a choice to make. If he wants anything, he has to play by your rules. He may not always be happy about it, but battles will de-escalate.
#2 – Keep-Give
From the time that sweet baby is born every parent longs to give that child every good gift we can, just like our Father in Heaven does for us. But somewhere between 9 months and 3-years-old the toys begin to take over. As a parent it’s a struggle to know how to get rid of some of this abundance, because after all Grandma gave them this, and that is recommended by Parents magazine, and all the cool moms say every child needs those. So what is a mom to do to get the mess under control and be a good steward of the family’s possessions?
We came up with a solution. We called it “Keep-Give.” I would plan a day to do nothing else. I would take into the children’s room a large garbage can with several extra garbage bags and some boxes labeled “Give.” Then I would sit in the middle of the room and dump out a toy box or bin, one at a time, in front of me. I would hold up one toy at a time and ask, “Keep? Give? Or throw away?” If someone said keep it went back into the toy basket. If they all said, “Give” it went into the cardboard box to be given away. If it was broken or had missing parts or was beyond being used it went into the trash. Each of the children could have his or her say, and if even one of them said, “Keep,” I would honor that. (However, many times the lone person saying “Keep” would later change his mind and pass the treasure on.)
It was a very fun and revealing experience. (And it still has a hearty affirmation from everyone in the family, parent and child alike.) It usually took most of the day, but it was worth it. I was always shocked at what they gave to others that I thought they would be unwilling to part with. I actually heard wisdom coming from them like, “We don’t play with that much anymore, but some other kid might like it.” It gave them a chance to make wise choices about their possessions without me controlling it. And it gave them a chance to be generous. The revelation for me was that some of the things they were willing to get rid of, I was not! I would remember the high cost of the toy or think that a certain toy “should have” sentimental value to them because of who gave it, and therefore would not want them to give it away. So this exercise helped me with my own greed issues. I did make a few exceptions. The one-of-a-kind toy Aunt Joyce had sent them from Bahrain, the American Girls doll they’d outgrown that I wanted to save for my grandchild, those sorts of things I put aside and stored in the attic at the end of the day.
It was a character forming procedure, too. I always explained first what we were doing and how the procedure worked because the little ones had to learn how. We would talk about how blessed we were with all these great toys and how some kids didn’t have as much as we did. We would discuss how it’s good to give things and not to hoard everything. As they got older we incorporated Bible verses on giving and generosity, always including my favorite from the time I was 6 years old, “God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7 “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”)
This task is well worth the time spent. We did it twice a year, usually before Christmas and sometime in late spring. Sometimes we still ended up with too many toys, so I would divide them up into laundry baskets. I would leave one basket down for the kids to play with and put one basket in the top of the closet and swap the baskets out every month or so. This was refreshing to the kids when they got bored with the toys they were used to.
#3 – Three Bowls
As the kids got old enough to do chores we decided we needed to teach them about money. So we gave each child assigned chores and a set allowance each week. It’s never too early to start this. Even 2-year-olds can start to fold wash cloths! And DO make a game of it! By 5 years of age they had to put away their own toys and could wipe down sinks & counters with a cloth and spray bottle containing only water. At 6 they were setting the table, putting their laundry away, and dusting. By 8 they could load the dishwasher, help cook dinner, and make their bed (messily). At 10 they learned to do their own laundry, iron, vacuum, and mow grass. So they earned money every week doing their chores.
Of course we did not want them wasting it all on candy or cheap toys each week. So here’s what we did. We saved 3 of the small-sized empty margarine spread bowls for each child. (If you can find plain colored ones or ones without the brand name written on it, they are cuter.) We wrote with a permanent marker on each bowl either “Spend,” “Save,” or “Give.” Dad cut a neat little coin slit in each lid. We chose to have them put 10% into the “Give” bowl (their tithe), 20% into the “Save” bowl (to teach them to save up for bigger things they wanted to buy/do later) and the other 70% into “Spend.” We always made sure we gave the allowance money to them in a way that was easy to divide. ($1.00 would be given in 10 dimes, or $10.00 given in 10 ones.) Every Saturday evening as we were laying out clothes for church, we’d help the ones who were school age fill out their offering envelopes and put their “Give” money in to take to church the next day.
I highly recommend this “trick.” It teaches kids the value of money as they take their spend money to the store and see what they can afford to purchase. It teaches them delayed gratification as they build up money in the “Save” bowl for something special down the road. And it builds the habit of tithing in them from the time they are little children. You may want to change the ratios, 33-33-33% is the easiest. Or some people add a 4th bowl labeled “Taxes” and the money from all the children is then pooled together down the road and used for a family vacation or outing (promoting the concept of paying taxes to the Government which should use it for our corporate good).
A few other things to consider:
- Do I overdo presents on birthdays and Christmas or do I celebrate within my means?
- Do I give in at the grocery store or Wal-Mart and buy something for the child because they have put up such a fit to get it?
- Am I personally satisfied with what I have, or do my children see and hear me lamenting over what I don’t have or what I wish we could do?
- Is our family tithing (10% to God) and living joyfully within our means?
- Do I view everything we own as belonging to God? Leaving God’s broken down vehicle on the side of the road is much easier than leaving Mine. Live with an open hand toward possessions.
- A favorite children’s book of ours on the subject of greed is an old one, Gimme by Stephen Cosgrove and Charles Reasoner.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the tips. I’m sure other moms would love to hear your special tips and tricks if you’d like to share them in the comments below!