Raising Financially Conscious Kids: Q&A With New York Time’s Bestseller Ron Lieber

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I first found Ron Lieber’s book about a year and a half ago while wandering through my local book store.  At that time my children were 4 and 2 and I was just curious by the title of his book.  What he articulates with practicality, wisdom, and humor, is that the teaching about money is fundamentally the teaching of values, and just like directly teaching values, it cannot be done in a vacuum with kids being taught a few rare times and with expectation to “get it” without some higher level conversations and processing. If parents want to be intentional about giving their kids certain attitudes and values about life in general, money must be a part of the equation.

Ron Lieber is the “Your Money” columnist for the New York Times.  Before joining the Times he wrote the Wall Street Journal‘s “Green Thumb” personal finance column, was part of the start-up teams at the paper’s “Personal Journal” section, and worked at Fortune and Fast Company magazines.  He is the autor or coauthor of three books, including the New York Times bestseller Taking Time Off.

 

Why do parents need to talk to their kids about money and what is the appropriate age to begin talking about money?

RL: You don’t get to choose when. Kids just start asking, often as early as two years old. (No kidding — a two-year old asked a mom I know why she goes to work when lots of other mommies don’t.) If kids aren’t asking about money or asking for things, start around the time the tooth fairy comes (if yours is a money fairy) with three jars. Even if they don’t spend anything in the spend/save jars, at least you’ll get them in the giving habit.

As for why, money is a powerful force in the world, and kids who have no practice with it then make bad decisions when it comes time to figure out where to go to college and how much to borrow to be there. Plus, talking about money is a great way to teach and reinforce the values you hold dear, since what we save, spend and give says a lot about what we stand for. 

 

In an ideal world, what is the role of the parents in teaching about money and what is the role of the school?

RL:  I’d just as soon the school stay out of it, since to me, money conversations are values conversations, and I want to be in charge of the values conversation in my family. 

Two exceptions though: Not every family has the privilege to be able to have money conversations. The parents are absent or ignorant or have bad habits or can’t bring themselves to talk about it. So in certain communities, a basic financial literacy curriculum on an as-needed basis late in high school makes sense.

Also, late in high school, every child should get a crash course in our nation’s hopelessly complex college financing system. Applying for financial aid is complicated, taking out and repaying loans are absurdly so. And we ask teenagers to make five and six-figure decisions about their futures when they have no earthly idea what they want to do with their lives (nor should they know). Professional adults can be helpful here in explaining the system and mapping the pitfalls. 

 

Do you think the way parents talk about money is learned from how they were taught about money?  How do we break that cycle?

RL:  Quite often, money isn’t talked about at all, so that is it’s own form of learning that needs unlearning. It starts with the recognition that talking about money is not impolite or impolitic or inappropriate — it’s a natural outgrowth of the curiosity that we want our kids to have. Money is powerful, whether we like it or not, so of course our kids are going to have questions and should have opportunities to practice using ever-larger amounts of money. But silence creates mystery and shame, so telling children and teens that money is none of their business is profoundly unhelpful. Of course it’s their business — the family’s revenues and expenses have a direct impact on them. 

 

As the holidays approach, what is the best way to deal with the onslaught of presents that our children get?  Let the child open them all at once? Stash them and let them have one a day? Donate half? Other ideas???

RL:  Set some limits. Maybe they can ask for one big thing they want, three things they need and then pick some charities they want to support. Or they get one big want, one need and one experience. Or all experiences and no things. Or you give them money and let them figure it out, with some of it going to charity. 

 

How do you suggest grandparents can contribute to the conversation about money or should they stay out of the whole equation?

RL:  Tough one. Grandparents can be judge-y about how their adult kids are spoiling the grandchildren. Or they may be determined to spoil the grandchildren themselves, since that’s what they think they were put on the earth to do. I’d be careful and ask first before making any outsized gesture or gift. Yes, you want your grandkids to love you. But mostly, you want to be remembered after you’re gone (which hopefully won’t be for a while). The best way to make that happen is to do amazing things with your grandkids, not buy them stuff that will break or be outgrown before long. 

The pressure to spend money on our children for sports, music, and other extra-curriculars is intense and starts at a young age.  You suggest that kids feel pressure to perform when we spend more and more money on them.  How do we create a balance of giving them enriching experiences and not overspending?

RL:  This is very hard. One important thing is to remind them as they go along that you are not spending money on their activities because you expect them to use their skill to get into college or compete on some kind of national level. You’re doing it because you know there’s real joy and pride to be found in working in a group or mastering a skill or sport. So you only want them doing it if it truly brings them joy. Also, try to remember one of the primary questions of this and all parental areas — how much is enough? How pricey of a violin? Or a baseball bat? Is the tutor and the private coaching for them or for you?


What is the current going rate for the tooth fairy? 🙂

RL:  I’ve heard stories of kids in Westchester County NY getting $100 bills. I like the more creative approaches though, like the family in my book that gives their kids a different animal tooth each time they lose one of their own human teeth…

The Louis S. Wolk Rochester JCC will be hosting Ron Lieber,  Author of “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who are Grounded, Generous, and Smart about Money” on November 16, 2016 as part of the Rochester Jewish Book Festival. Tickets are available (585) 461-2000 or at rjbf.org.

In this book, he recommends showing your older children this video:

 

 

(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance

 

Parenting with Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation

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Behavior.  Ah. There is so much noise out there on the internet about how to get your children to behave better.  The commonly accepted way of getting your children to do something usually comes back to what social scientists refer to as Behaviorism.  Behaviorism means conditioning someone to alter certain behavior patterns in spite of thought or feeling.  There is an entire branch of social science devoted to exactly how this can be done called Applied Behavior Analysis.  It is fascinating because used specifically and scientifically, you actually can get your child–or dog, for that matter–to complete any task you want.  But it is not a perfect answer for parenting a child (with average non-pathological behaviors) for a number of reasons.

A part of behaviorism that parenting literature is ripe with is the idea of positive reinforcement.  A simple explanation is: “Do this and get that“.  This can be very valuable to use as a parent but should not be the model of shaping behavior for one to use in the long-term.  I will explain further but first lets look at how is this different that a bribe.

Bribes are when you give the reward before the behavior is completed.  (ex.  Your child asks for a new toy when you are walking through the store.  You oblige and give them the toy but tell them that you expect they are going to clean their room when you get home).

Positive reinforcement is when you complete the behavior and then get the reward.  (ex. Your child asks for a new toy when you are walking through the store.  You oblige and tell them that AFTER they clean their room, they can have the toy).

Bribes are ineffective because the child has no motivation to complete the desired task because they already have the reward.  Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, gets the behavior completed and is therefore considered effective.

While positive reinforcement does get the behavior completed, the problem lies in giving rewards for completing behavior.  Implicit in positive reinforcement is a power dynamic that tells kids that they are less than the adults.  The problem with having this belief is that you are trying to raise individuals with thoughts, feelings, and hearts and a controlling paradigm does not teach kids to act responsibility, it only elicits compliance. Simply stated by Alfie Kohn in his book “Punished By Rewards” he asks: “Do rewards motivate? Yes, they motivate to get more rewards”.  So yes, you will get the behavior completed, but only because their was a reward.  There have been scientific experiments that actually prove that “children whose parents believe in using rewards to motivate them are LESS COOPERATIVE AND GENEROUS than their peers” (Kohn, p.174)

So what about punishment? How does that fit into this equation?  Punishment reinforces the power dynamic between parent and child to an even greater extent and this can be detrimental to a positive parent-child relationship where your child sees you as someone to be turned to and trusted with the good and the bad that they need help sorting through as they mature.   While a parents ego might feel good for having power, a child will feel unimportant, incompetent, impaired, weak, and unable which are exactly the traits you do not want someone who is learning about how to function as an individual in the world to have.   Your relationship with your baby might be a matter of providing for mostly physiological needs but as children develop they need parents to guide them through the higher level needs as shown below on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

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So the question becomes, if we are not supposed to use rewards to get our children to behave in a certain way, how can we elicit compliance when we want something to get done?  It is time to talk about intrinsic motivation.

“There is a difference between forgiving ourselves an occasional blunder and refusing to admit that certain approaches are blunders” (Kohn, p.233)

Instead of using your power to exert control or manipulation over your child, try tap into their innate desire to solve problems positively.  Think about the content, collaboration, and choice.  Content refers to whether the behavior you are trying to elicit is necessary and developmentally appropriate.  Then, work with your child to collaborate on possible ways to get the behavior done.  This problem-solving technique views the child as a parter who has equal power in coming up with solutions, not merely a droid who will do as we say.  Give your child practice in problem solving and they will learn how to solve problems.  Tell your child what to do all the time and they will always be looking for direction to follow.  And finally, the final part in how to improve our child’s intrinsic motivation will be to give them choice.  Let the kids be a part of choosing how the desired action will be done.  Empowerment for a child does not have to mean disempowerment for a parent–it means you are doing your child (and yourself) a favor to unfold this human into their full potential instead of forcing your will on them.

I encourage you to process this information and come back to me with questions and comments. I am available to meet privately or speak publicly on this topic.   Please contact me for further information.

Sources:

Kohn, Alfie. Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Print.

Tsabary, Shefali. The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting. New York: Viking, 2016. Print.

(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance

3 Foundational Parenting Principles

The Parenting Philosophy of Rochester Parenting Coach can be summed up in 3 basic foundational parenting principles: KISS, set yourself up for success, and there is hope.  Essential to these principles is my mission is to empower parents with reflection, intention, and improved communication.  While my hope that your family dynamic improves, my intention is that is comes from the parents trying new approaches as a result of our work together not the kids simply learning new behaviors.  This will create confidence in parents and lasting change in their family.

The first principle is KISS–keep it simple, stupid!

So much of modern-day parenting is a bunch of stuff that gives parents anxiety that they aren’t (insert verb here) for their children.  While kids can be confusing for adults, they aren’t really too complex if you understand their emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development.  All kids (really, all people!) want attention, love, and to be cherished.  Yes, obviously you need some ‘stuff’ to raise a child but don’t be confused by what you want to give your child and what they actually need.  Needs are: a place to sleep, healthy food to eat, toys to keep them stimulated, a safe environment, a good sleep schedule, medical attention when necessary.  Wants are: lots of toys, vacations, added sugar, new almost-anything.

Behaviorally, your kids–no matter their age–need boundaries and love.  They need to know what is allowed of them and what is not tolerated (like violence of any sort, for example).  Boundaries give them comfort because it lets them know your expectations and what they need to do to fulfill those expectations.  Love is a nonnegotiable need for all people.  Different kids accept love in different ways.  Some may want quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch (See 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman).   Give your kids lots of positive reinforcement when they do something you want them to do and give them love unconditionally–no matter what they do.

A simple environment will more likely translate in to a home of more emotional calmness.  When your child is quietly engaged in an activity allow them the peace and quiet to focus on what has captured their attention, no matter how trivial it may seem to you.  Too many toys in a playroom usually results in the kids playing with none of them.  Little children (5 and under) don’t care about expensive experiences–they care about attention from their parents.  If you do take them on an expensive experience (ex. far-away vacation, live theatre, fancy dinner) be honest with yourself that it is more about fulfilling your needs than theirs.   Overstimulation–in activities or environment–will cause anxiety for you and/or your young children–so try hard to keep it simple and have developmentally appropriate expectations!  And remember: the best things in life aren’t things.

It is important to understand your childs cognitive development so that your keep your expectations relative to their abilities.  Cognitive development refers to how they think, problem solve, and learn.  You want to push them just enough so they are interested to learn but not too much that they are overwhelmed and give up.  You want to clarify and simplify your expectations relative to your child’s development and try hard not to compare them to other kids.  Carol Dweck, well celebrated researcher on mindset, reminds us to celebrate the process of learning (which includes mistakes), not just focus on the outcome.  Being labeled “good” or “bad” (fixed mindset) can have detrimental effects on your child’s self-efficacy but being positively reinforced for their growth, hard work, and effort (growth mindset) will give them the encouragement and knowledge that continually learning is the optimal outcome whether they are 2 or 22.

The second principle is: Set yourself up for success.  Parenting is already a hard job–don’t make it harder by bringing your child into a situation that you know will not work out well for them (or you) and expect a miracle.  By adjusting your expectations–making them more realistic and honest with what their needs are–you will make your child and yourself happier, saner, and more relaxed.  Now, obviously there are times when we know we are bringing them into a situation that will be tough for them.  If this is the case, allow them to feel those feelings and recognize your needs versus their needs.  Are they/you upset because they/you are tired/bored/hungry? Are they/you upset because your plans changed? Are they/you angry because you are missing out on a fun time? Are they/you sad that you didn’t get to do what you wanted?  Do you have unreasonably high expectations for yourself?  When I had my first child, my only goal for the first 6 weeks of his life was to keep him alive and to shower everyday.  Seriously those were my life’s goals and some days, that was really hard.  As kids get older, you grow with them and learn to anticipate their needs.  Listen to that voice inside of you–it is the cultivation of a parental instinct and is gets better with the more experience you have as a parent.    

There is hope is the final foundational parenting principle of the Rochester Parenting Coach.  It simply refers to the fact that no matter how poorly behaved your kids are, how challenging they may be, how stressful parenting is, it can get better.  Ask for help early and often.  Don’t wait for little problems (my cute little 2-year-old won’t listen, ha ha!) turn into big problems (why won’t my teenager listen?!!?!).  I started this business after finding that my son was remarkably responsive to a well planned behavioral intervention and thought that everyone deserves to have some experienced eyes on their children and thus their parenting.  Be honest with yourself if you need help–this is a journey and even a slight adjustment can have wide-reaching positive or negative consequences.  You decide.