November 9, 2009 in Features

Mr. Dad: Give child more time than things

Armin Brott

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are relatively well off and can give our kids whatever they want. But how can we be generous without spoiling them rotten?

A: First of all, change your perspective: think in terms of giving them what they need instead of what they want. That said, if by “generous” you mean giving your time and love to your children, there’s no need to limit your generosity.

The kids will benefit from spending time with you and your wife (and you will too), whether you’re just hanging out, taking walks, talking or doing something more structured – none of which needs to cost anything at all.

If, on the other hand, you’re talking about financial or material generosity, be careful about how much money you give or how many big-ticket items you buy for your children.

Children who get everything they ask for quickly develop a sense of entitlement and a need for instant gratification. They grow up expecting their every whim to be quickly satisfied and will probably become frustrated and unhappy when all their desires are not immediately met.

There’s also a social component to think about. If your kids’ friends or schoolmates aren’t as well off and don’t have as many material things, your children may find themselves not fitting in, especially if they brag about that new gadget you bought them, or the expensive cruise they went on.

Regardless of your financial situation, I strongly urge you to practice moderation and good sense when it comes to showering your children with material things.

If they’re too young to have an after-school job but are begging you for a new toy, give them some household duties to perform so they can work their way toward that reward.

If they are old enough for a real job (including baby-sitting, lawn mowing, tutoring, or anything else that brings in a few bucks), have them earn enough to pay for that new iPod or those concert tickets.

Giving them the opportunity to make their own spending money teaches them valuable lessons in work ethics, getting along with others, and following directions

I’m also a big believer in doing volunteer work. With the holidays just around the corner, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to volunteer in soup kitchens and other places.

Teach your children about money. Get them involved in managing the money in their 529 college savings plans, have them sit with you while you pay household bills, and have them calculate the interest payments on hypothetical (or real) credit card balances.

Armin Brott is an Oakland, Calif.-based author of six best-selling books on fatherhood. Find resources for fathers at

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