As a mom of three children, I know that parenting is a difficult job. One of the hardest parts is figuring out how to say no to your kids.
“Parents feel really guilty when they say ‘no’ because they don’t want to see their kids unhappy,” said Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of “The Book of NO.” But you’re not doing your kids — or yourself — any favors by always saying “yes.” “By giving them everything they want when they want it, you’re giving them the license to come back to you and ask for more,” she said.
“When you say ‘no’ to your child, you’re teaching them how to cope with disappointment,” said Newman. You’re also teaching them the value of money and the importance of making choices. “You don’t want your child to think everything comes easily and money is no object,” she said. “The real world doesn’t work that way.”
If your children are used to hearing “yes,” they’ll be in for a rude awakening when they enter the real world. Plus, it doesn’t help your financial picture if you’re buying your kids things you can’t afford. So, here’s how to say “no” to your kids, improve your parenting skills and even head off some meltdowns.
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The longer you wait to start teaching your children that they can’t get everything they want, the harder it is to instill good habits, said Steve Repak, a certified financial planner (CFP) who is the father of three and author of “6 Week Money Challenge: For Your Personal Finances.” However, if you’re not used to saying “no” to your child, it’s not too late to explain to them that you’ve made a mistake by always saying “yes,” he said.
A good way to prevent your kids from developing a sense of entitlement is to avoid overwhelming them with gifts, Newman said. “You don’t have 12 presents sitting under the Christmas tree,” she said. “You start small, and keep it small.”
Once they start understanding the concept of money, then you can start talking to them about what sort of things fit within your family’s budget, why it’s important not to spend all of your money and why you have to make choices about what you buy.
Establish Ground Rules
Even with small children, you need to let them know before you enter a store with them whether they’ll be getting anything, Newman said. I’ve found that I experience much less resistance from my kids when I tell them “no” if I’ve warned them in advance that they won’t be getting anything during a shopping trip.
You might still get the occasional meltdown, however. “There is no such thing as the perfect child shopper,” Newman said. The key, though, is not to give in because the meltdowns will only increase as your child realizes you’re a pushover, she said.
As your children get older, you can set dollar limits for purchases you’re willing to make. For example, giving your kids a gift card when they need to buy new clothes will help them stick to a budget and prioritize what they really want, Repak said.
During the holidays, ask your children to write a gift wish list, and rank the items based on how much they want them, Newman said. But, be clear that they won’t get everything they want.
Give Your Kids Choices
When you say “no” to your child, give them a little sense of power by offering them another choice, Repak said. For example, if you’re in the supermarket and your kid wants candy, you can say, “Not now, but you can have dessert tonight if you eat your supper.”
Or, if they want an expensive item, offer to get them a cheaper alternative if it fits within your budget, said Repak. Giving them another option helps take some of the sting out of saying “no” to their original request and teaches them the importance of compromising.
Make Them Pay for Some Things
It’s amazing how quickly kids lose interest in something when you tell them they can have it if they pay for it. So, ask them to pony up their own money to buy things they really want. Not only will this give you an easy way to say “no,” but is will also teach them to save their money for things they really want and encourage them to find ways to earn more money.
If your children receive an allowance, you should agree on how they’re expected to use it. If they’re young, you might decide that they’ll have to use their own money to buy candy or small items.
If their allowance increases as they get older or they earn money on their own, they should have to pay for more, Repack said. “You can pay for some things, but you can’t pay for everything,” he said. Consider encouraging them to save 10 percent of what they earn, give 10 percent to charity and then use the remaining 80 percent for spending.
Set a Good Example
Children model what their parents do, even at a young age. “If you’re walking in the house with four or five shopping bags, your child is noticing,” Newman said. “You can’t expect a child not to want more if, as parents, you’re indulging yourself when you’re shopping.”
If you want your child to accept “no” for an answer, you need to set an example for them by spending less and not always buying the latest and greatest, Repak said. “Practice what you preach,” he said.
And, talk with relatives who are prone to indulging your children to let them know that you don’t want your children to get everything they want. “You need to explain your position to those family members and ask them to stop,” Newman said.
Show Them How Much They Already Have
Often, kids ask for things because they see that their peers have it. Be sure to explain that every family’s situation is different and that their friends’ families might have different priorities for their money. My husband and I tell our young children that if we spent all of our money buying them toys or gadgets, we wouldn’t have any left to do fun things like family trips (or food, electricity and all those other things that are necessary but not necessarily high on the priority list for kids).
Keep reading: 8 Great Books That Teach Kids About Money
You also can help them curb materialistic instincts by giving them an opportunity to volunteer to help others who are less fortunate, Repak said. If they’re still young, help them clean out their closet to find toys they don’t play with to give to others. “It lets them understand they have more than others and become appreciative of what they have,” Newman said.