I asked some kids at our local school the other day to find out why Easter eggs are hollow? Why don’t they have anything inside?
They looked at me with puzzled faces. Was this a test? A trick question?
I remembered back to a clown in my church. She took a huge bite out of the top of a chocolate egg. She looked inside it. She tipped it up and shook it so anything inside could fall out. She looked inside again, almost getting her eye covered in chocolate.
Then she looked at the person who had given her the egg, pointed to the egg, then shook her head. She pouted and stomped her feet. She threw up her hands and turned towards the exit.
But a little girl sitting near the front shouted,
‘An empty egg is the best surprise of all!’
The clown stopped. She turned around to the little girl.
The little girl continued. ‘An empty egg reminds us that the tomb was empty. It says ‘Jesus is not here. He is risen’. Jesus is ALIVE!’
Some of us take this news for granted.
We accept that this is what Easter is about: That Easter is when we remember that Jesus died on the cross, taking on himself everything bad that has ever happened, or ever will happen. We celebrate on Easter Sunday that Jesus defeated death. He came to life again – because He had never, ever done anything in His life to deserve to die.
But sometimes we get so caught up in remembering Easter and its traditions, that we protect our days off, or prevent others from watching the football, or going to the pub, or going to the races.
We forget that Easter isn’t about a particular day or weekend. It’s about the difference that Jesus’ death and resurrection makes in our lives every day.
This Easter, let’s not keep the wonderful news to ourselves. Let’s celebrate in the way we speak to people, in the way we behave, that Jesus is alive and lives in us everyday.
And let’s get others to know that ‘An empty egg is the best surprise of all!’
There were no spiders on my garden chair when I sat down today.
The last time I went to sit on my garden chair, I used my hand to knock off a few dried up leaves from its cushions. But, as I went to brush a couple of leaves off the back of the chair, I noticed two big, beady eyes looking up at me.
I shrieked–evidently too quietly for my husband to hear me. But one of my sons yelled from inside the house
‘’You okay, mum?’
Bravely (I thought) I went inside to create the least fuss possible and sought out my daughter who had named the previous year ‘The Year of The Spiders’. That year she worked at an outdoor education camp and took it upon herself to transfer spiders from inside dormitories to outside, away from the screams of hysterical campers.
‘How big is it?’ she asked me as she proceeded to the pantry.
‘Oh, not too big,’ I said.
She raised an eyebrow at me, turned to me and held out her hands. In her left hand she held a square-round tupperware container, big enough for half a sandwich. In her right, a four-litre ice-cream carton.
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Medium-sized’.
She grabbed a different container and headed outside to my chair… and the spider.
‘Ooh! He’s a big guy isn’t he?’
My embarrassment dissolved. I felt vindicated.
I also realized how much I enjoy having my young adult kids close enough to me to have them rescue me.
The tables are turning. We rescue each other.
And I’m so glad of our investment in our relationship with them–or I’d be chasing my own spiders.
In a previous post, I wrote about how we changed from being No. Don’t! parents to Yes!parents.
Saying ‘Yes’ didn’t mean that we gave up discipline, but rather, it changed the way we disciplined.
We read lots of books and listened to people who had a much gentler and more enjoyable approach to parenting – with better results.
We discovered we had confused discipline with punishment. After lots of research, we learnt that they had little in common – especially when dealing with young children.
Show them how
To discipline means to ‘train’; that is, to show how.
Kids are much more co-operative when they know what they’re expected to do.
For example: We discovered we could show our children how to touch things ‘gently’ – placing their little fingers in ours and helping them to touch and feel things, such as baby brothers and sisters… gently.
When we began to respond with a ‘Yes, that’s right,’ instead of a ‘NO. DON’T!’ we found that desirable behaviour was usually repeated. If you think about it, ‘No. Don’t!’ doesn’t tell our child what to do next. It just breaks our communication with them, confuses them and leaves them with no options.
Learn more positive ways to communicate with our children
When the children wanted to change activity, instead of saying ‘No. The room is a mess; No, you haven’t finished your homework; No, your hands are filthy; No. No. NO!’ we learnt to answer
‘Yes, when the Lego has been put away; Yes, when you’ve washed your hands; Yes, after you’ve written two more sentences of your homework…Yes.’
Save NO’s for those times that are really, really necessary.
You can imagine our children’s surprise when we began to say ‘Yes!’ much more often than ‘No!’ But as they got used to it, they listened to our instructions much better. And on the rare occasions we did say ‘NO!’, they knew it was important and respected it.
At about the same time as we discovered this, our fourth child
joined our family. We named him 'Noah'. You suddenly become aware of how
often you inadvertently say 'No!' when you have a little one who
responds every time you say the beginning of his name.
Look through different eyes
We began to look at our children through eyes that looked for signs of discovery and wonderment rather than eyes looking out for trouble.
By observing our children we could follow their lead in learning new things, playing, seeking reassurance and rest. Our job was to provide a safe environment. Their job was to explore it.
Children whose needs are being met are much more eager to please their parents than to disappoint them.
When expectations of a child’s behaviour are consistent with the child’s development and ability, discipline becomes much more realistic and manageable, and parenting becomes enjoyable.
There is a little bottle that lives in my purse. It is not elegant. Its packaging is cheap plastic and it cost me about 25 cents. So I’m happy to give it away whenever the situation calls for it.
But the problems it solves, the moods it changes, and its power to transform the atmosphere wherever I am is almost miraculous.
It’s a bottle of bubbles.
I’ve been carrying bubbles with me for years—ever since somebody introduced me to the ABCs of parenting: A is for Atmosphere, B is for Boundaries and C is for Communication.
A is for Atmosphere.
Do you remember the last day that the kids were stuck inside? The television was on all day and the noise turned into a dull roar, with occasional explosions of screams and squawks. The children were initially a little irritable. But being stuck in the house aggravated them to the point that the whining and niggling behaviour turned into all-out war. Or perhaps that only ever happened in my house.
It was at this stage that I’d scream and yell in response. It would go something like, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you guys. There are lots of things to play with. Can’t you just play nicely for a change?’
Sometimes what I said wasn’t quite as nice.
Take control of the atmosphere
Eventually I was reminded that I was the adult and so ultimately I was the one who could take control of the atmosphere.
I know now that a change in atmosphere is literally as good as a holiday, and it’s really simple and inexpensive to achieve.
Nothing beats going outside to change the atmosphere.
Even little babies love to lie and watch the breeze moving the leaves on the trees. Why not take a picnic snack down to a local park? You could lay a rug on the ground, lie back and watch the clouds moving in the sky, and get some exercise and fresh air in the process.
But sometimes you have no choice but to stay inside.
Using My Senses
Some more experienced parents told me that by simply using my five senses—smelling, touching, tasting, seeing and hearing—I could figure out when and how to make small changes that would make a big difference in the atmosphere.
If the noise level is too loud, get the children to turn off all electrical gizmos (especially the television).
Perhaps you could play some beautiful music and dance or sway. Or get the kids to sing.
You could grab some cushions or pillows and a blanket and lie down to read a book or tell a story about what you did when you were growing up.
Or turn everything off, close your eyes and listen to all the noises that happen when everybody in the house is quiet.
You could even practise being blobs of butter melting into hot pieces of toast. Just see who goes to sleep first.
Open up windows to let in fresh air if you can. Grow herbs or carrot tops by the kitchen sink or on a window ledge. Display flowers (or neighbourhood weeds) in a glass. Make orange juice. Bake. They’re all pleasant ways to change the ‘smell’ atmosphere in our homes.
A less pleasant (but very practical) idea: Take the rubbish out to the big bin outside.(I found that our kitchen got smelly because our rubbish bin was too big. So I swapped it for a smaller bin that needed to be emptied daily. It got rid of the stinky problem, and was much more pleasant to empty.)
Feeling clammy, being hot and sweaty, and even sticking to the floor, are all touch sensations I experienced with lots of little kids in my home.
One of my favourite ways to change the ‘touch’ atmosphere has always been bath time. Water refreshes, cooling us in summer and warming us in winter. Children play and chat happily—and I used to find numerous things to do, such as reading magazines and even sewing on buttons as I sat within an arm’s reach of the kids, so there was no risk of tragic accidents.
Keeping a stack of face-washers or microfibre cloths close-by helps to quickly wipe sticky fingers and mouths, and to wipe off tables, chairs and everything else on which those little sticky fingers left their mark. I’ve seen parents teaching their children to do the same.
Tastebuds will be happier if the children work with you as you prepare their snacks or meals. They’re more likely to eat what they’ve prepared themselves. It’s an easy form of entertainment and it gives them life skills.
Make sure to do this before they are hungry, or it won’t be a good experience for anybody.
Encourage creativity. But too much clutter and unsorted toys tend to overwhelm children (and adults).
Sometimes it’s worthwhile keeping some toys packed away for a season while others are played with. Sometimes there’s just so much stuff you don’t even know where to begin.
Try using a kitchen timer and a clothes basket or a big box. And see if all of you can pick up all the toys and things from the floor and put them into the basket before the timer goes off.
If ‘team effort’ is somewhat lacking, give a challenge such as, ‘I’m going to pick up the red things. Which colour are you going to pick up? Ready, set … go!’ – Remember, you’re the adult. They’ll watch what you do and will learn from whatever you do next.
A hint: You may have to start first and ‘enjoy’ yourself before they’ll join in. Their enthusiasm may depend on your acting ability.
Include ‘clean-up’ as an important part of play–although it’s worthwhile to find a space for ‘works in progress’ too, especially as children grow older.
A message to generous grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents: if you give a present such as Lego or something with bits, consider also giving a container big enough to fit in all the pieces when children (or spatially-challenged parents) need to pack it all up—and make sure it’s stackable. Shoeboxes and ice-cream containers work really well.
Balls, balloons and bubbles
Balls, balloons and bubbles are inexpensive and easy to have on hand—at home and on trips.
Even if you’re in the car or on a plane, in a doctor’s waiting room, or a church pew or a schoolyard, remember that you can be in charge of the atmosphere. Packs of cards, a notebook and pencil—anything that gives the children something to concentrate on other than their discomfort—can contribute to a better atmosphere.
A note about electrical games: My own personal experience is that though some kids are fine with them, others (like me) get cranky while playing them. One of my kids couldn’t concentrate at school or focus on anything after they’d had a session on a screen. Simply changing their screen-time to later in the day or after school, before dinner time helped them to stay focused at school.
A lo-o-o-ng trip
I remember a lo-o-o-ng car trip from Adelaide to Brisbane. Somewhere along the way, the kids in the back seat began to moan and whine.
So we stopped by the side of the road, held the hands of our children, told them to be very quiet, and we all went ‘platypus hunting’.
It’s amazing how interesting a creek by the side of the road can become. Bushes that infrequently occur on the Hay Plain or little tracks at a local park can become the sites of great adventures. It’s also amazing how quiet six-year-old boys can be when platypus hunting!
Never too late
Oh, how I wish that I’d known about taking charge of the atmosphere much sooner. But even now, when young adults and their frequently visiting friends inhabit our house, that same principle works equally well.
It’s never too late to change a toxic atmosphere, no matter how old you are.
Perhaps we could all change the world—a bottle of bubbles at a time.
The first time I did it was months ago, when my beloved child was not contributing at all to the smooth-functioning of our household. Instead of doing his allocated chores, he spent his time and energy on playing x-box on our t.v.
When he went off to school one morning, I grabbed his x-box remote and put it away.
I can’t remember whether it was intentional or not. But after I put it away, I forgot where I put it.
Sometimes I’m blessed with a terrible memory.
To say that for a while I was not a popular mum would be the understatement of the year. However, I do remember telling him that, perhaps, if he did his chores, I might be prompted to remember.
Weeks went past.
Everyone in our house has their own chores to do. Everyone else had already taken on his job of feeding the dog.
Shelby the dog was a bundle of white fluff that you couldn’t actually see on her. Chris used to say that she shed more fluff than she could possibly produce. In the ensuing weeks white fluff carpeted the rugs, the floors and every surface in the house.
It was disgusting.
But we were at an impasse.
Stubborn mum refused to look for the remote until his jobs were done. And refused to do his jobs despite living in dog-fluff circumstances.
Son demonstrated that he can be equally stubborn. He inherited a double-dose of stubborn, with an added pinch of passive resistance.
Possibly prompted by an imminent houseful of guests I decided that, regardless of my intentions to stick to my guns, I needed to do the vacuuming. I went to the cupboard in the laundry, picked up the vacuum-cleaner…and there, behind the vacuum-cleaner, was the hidden remote.
I didn’t need to do the vacuuming that day.
I simply went to find the offending son and explained that I’d suddenly remembered where his treasure was. If he did his chores I could make sure they were reunited.
He looked at me with that look that asks ‘Should I believe you?’.
I walked away.
A few moments later, I heard chuckling coming from the laundry.
‘Fair call, mum. Fair call. I deserved that. That was well done.’
Phew! Not quite the reaction I anticipated. But it reaffirmed to me that logical consequences and ‘assisting’ our kids to take responsibility for their actions works – at least it did, that time.
I wonder if he’ll know where to look when he’s looking for his missing computer…
After my day in Kakadu yesterday, where my energy output exceeded my input and my willpower, I decided to give the others (Chris and Gabby) a day off. I volunteered to stay behind at our camping ground at Cooinda in Kakadu, while they went to Gumlom Falls, unheeded by me.
Good call, apparently.
That allowed my companions freedom to drive on bumpy roads, climb and swim while I had a personal retreat day.
My challenge: to be still and to simply be.
The car drove off with them in it, only a few moments before I realized I’d left my hat in the boot. That just meant that I must stay in the shade all day.
Aah…but…Chris had left his glasses in the tent.
So, very soon, the wanderers returned, we swapped the pair of glasses for my hat and they departed. Again.
Under the shade of my hat, I gathered my tools together; books, paper, pens, paints, plates, cups, drink, kleenex, esky, hand-bag. And I wandered through the park to find a shady table and bench.
As I strolled past the bistro directly between our tent and the pool, I noticed the queue of between 50 and 60 people lining up for breakfast.
I congratulated myself on our choice to camp, and took a photo to remind myself that camping is a good idea, for the next time I felt that I might prefer a few more luxuries than a tent and a camp-stretcher.
I wandered through the shaded area just beyond the perimeter of the pool fence, found the perfect spot, set out the tools of my trade and began to sit quietly.
Except for the buzz of mosquitoes…
S l o w . . . m o s q u i t o e s…
Julie: Five in one swoop
Then… the mozzies I missed called for reinforcements.
And I remembered the one tool I’d left at the tent…
. . . Insect repellent.
Dilemma 1: Do I need to pack up everything in order to return to the camp-site to retrieve the insect repellent?
I continued to sit for about three seconds, thinking I might be able to sit it out… until more of the mozzie-army invaded.
Julie: Nil – and 53 Mozzie bites.
Decided to leave most things as they were, but just take things of value with me.
Then sprinted (in a Julie-style-sprint) laden with my hand-bag, esky and books, across the park to pick up insect repellent, and Tea Tree Oil for the mozzies which had already got me.
Note to self: Always carry Tea Tree Oil.
Great for Mozzie bites, wasp stings, burns, infections: And especially soothing for bites from bugs that hitch a ride in your trousers while you’re on guided walks around the base of Uluru, and bite when they want to get out.
I returned to my spot.
And I sat.
And I wrote.
Dilemma 2: I get bored easily
Before I knew it, I was up and looking for some distraction. Any distraction.
Usually it’s food.
Today, I got frustrated with myself, knowing that at last I was all set up and had actually written something, yet I needed to wriggle.
I look at my phoned and jumped for joy that I’d been writing without distraction for eighty-three minutes. I got up, wriggled a little bit, and sat down again.
I deemed that I’d earned a coffee break…
The bistro-brekky-bunch had subsided. So I ordered a long-black coffee with soy milk on the side, sat at a bistro bench and sipped while I observed the people around me. But the patrons seemed intent on being peculiarly uninteresting. And the barramundi burger was less than inspiring: Not sure how the cook did that.
I returned to my reclusive table outside of the pool, right next to the playground. where a dad and his three little girls played together for the next hour.
I sat and I sat and I sat. And listened and smiled and wrote and remembered why I wanted to write to inspire parents. The little family was so full of happiness – enjoying each others’ discoveries, helping but not interrupting, encouraging but not demanding, allowing exploration without initiating fear. I wished I could bottle that love and spread it onto pages.
The afternoon grew warmer – and I edged closer to the pool, found a deck-chair and nestled in. Several families moved in close around me. I wondered if they knew they’d be observed.
A mum nearby read several new books to her children. Then she decided to read a book to herself while the three children shared TWO books.
Of course it was Little Mister Three who missed out. And everyone in the whole resort heard about it.
I love to keep bubbles in my hand-bag for such occasions. But with all the travelling we’d done, bubbles had not been on my list of what to pack.
But, as a writer and experimental painter/drawer, I had paper and pencils. So I wandered over to the family.
‘Excuse me, I’m trying to write a book and I need some pictures. Is there anyone here who might like to draw a picture?’
Mister Three’s eyes popped open. He jumped up and shouted.
‘I can. I can.’
Big brother and sister wanted to as well, but the mum said,
‘No, he was first’, so I left Mister Three with my pencil and some paper and went back to my deck-chair.
A few minutes later, little Mister Three was at the foot of my chair.
He held up his picture for me to admire and told me all about it, that his name was Jack, and that he was having a great holiday. And could he do some more, please.
My afternoon progressed with meeting other families who came to enjoy the pool. I talked with mums and dads and kids and aunties. We talked about where we were from, where we were going, places we recommend, things we’d seen, what we’d learnt along the way, and shared any news we’d heard.
‘Do we have a Prime Minister yet?’ I asked a dad, who had grown up in the town next to where I’d grown up.
But while we were talking, my grown-ups returned from their trip, excited at what they’d done, and not-so-secretly thankful that I hadn’t gone with them.
A great day of climbing and swimming for them.
And a day that reminded me of my vocation.
If the children asked for something, the answer was,
If the children reached out to touch something, they were reprimanded with a no!
If they stepped one metre outside of their mother’s reach — in the supermarket, in the shopping mall, in the playground — they were called back …
Even if Mum and Dad wanted something for themselves, they thought the ‘godly’ answer was no.
Where on earth Mum and Dad learnt this, they weren’t sure. They’d heard it on the radio in Southern USA. They’d read it in books about raising ‘godly’ children, and they’d certainly heard it over and over again from several older members of the community who had observed the three-year-old son’s mischief. Those people loudly disapproved and proclaimed his behaviour was due to a ‘lack of discipline’.
More often than not, that statement sounded something like: ‘What that child needs is a good smack!’
Smacks did not solve the problem.
It’s not entirely surprising that the joy of parenting had gone from the daily lives of this family.
The children each expressed in their own way that life was not as it should be. The four-year-old took control of everything — and everybody. The three-year-old bounced off walls and grabbed attention any way he could. The baby became an expert tantrum-thrower.
Mum appeared calm on the outside — most of the time — but on the inside she was screaming, stressed out and miserable.
Dad, devoted and meticulous, attended to all the needs that Mum did not have the energy or motivation for. His life revolved around working at his place of employment, then coming home to pick up everything that hadn’t been done in the home all day, every day.
If anybody had asked him, he may have answered that he could not remember the last time he had laughed with his family.
Thank God, the family had chosen a local church where they felt they would be cared for. It took a year or two, but the family was nurtured and loved by that congregation. The congregation tolerated the boisterous activities of the three-year-old boy and provided care for the one-year-old baby while Mum sang in the choir. The eldest was placed in a loving Sunday school class. And the whole family attended frequent Sunday school family days.
One day the Sunday school director, Miss Irene, (who also happened to be the three-year-old’s preschool teacher) took the mother aside and asked in her deepest, sweetest Southern USA accent,
‘Mizz Julie, is there a reason you never say yes to your children?’
That question was one of those moments that changed our family’s life path.
That day, when preschool ended, for the first time I squatted down and held my arms out as wide as I could, and my children came running. I’m glad they knew what to do — because it was new to me! But it restored that smile that had gone missing.
From then on, at every possible opportunity, I would watch people like Miss Irene in action — in the preschool, in the playground, in the supermarket, in the classroom. And then I’d go home and practise.
I didn’t make it obvious to anybody else what I was doing. I certainly did not ask questions. But I took everything in, and our house gradually became a Yes House.
Miss Irene and her helpers organised a parenting course — a video with Gary Chapman (author of The Five Love Languages) and Ross Campbell (author of How to Really Love your Children). While we watched a video and had discussion, Miss Irene and her helpers fed pizza to our kids and kept them occupied in the Sunday school classrooms.
So we became part of a group of parents who were also separated from their own parents. We formed our own little community to encourage, laugh and support each other.
If Miss Irene had criticised what I was doing wrong, I would probably have got in a huff and run off in the opposite direction.
Instead, she prayerfully, lovingly and gently came alongside me and trained me to love my children and my husband.
She invited me to pick up the children early from preschool and let me sit in the playground to observe — and to gradually learn how to join the children in their play, allowing them to sort out minor quibbles by themselves but intervening when necessary.
She taught me to sit with children and debrief with them after they’d had a moment or two of ‘thinking time’.
She taught me two very concise but brilliant rules which we were able to adapt to our home rules: ‘Please be gentle with the people here. Please be gentle with the things here.’
But most importantly, she taught me how to love in a very real way — unconditionally, practically, positively and with an element of fun.
Eighteen years later, our kids have grown into beautiful young adults — and our house is definitely a Yes House. Ironically, for a few years I was employed to stand alongside other parents to encourage them — just as I was mentored through that process all those years ago — and to facilitate parenting courses. And, for years, I wrote a column about family life called ‘Heart and Home’, in The Lutheranmagazine in Australia.
Frequently I am asked about smacking, discipline and many other hot topics. But among the most common comments I receive is,
‘It’s a shame that the parents who really need it won’t come to these courses’.
I reply that every family needs community.
Every family needs to know that they are not alone and that there are some tricks that can make parenting easier and even enjoyable.
As far as those parents who don’t come to the courses … there is plenty of evidence that says that for every family that goes to a course or receives parenting help, another 20 families in that community benefit.
Perhaps other families also watch other parents in supermarkets and playgrounds — just like I did!
First published in ‘The Lutheran’ , 2011, July edition. The Lutheran
Mum’s birthday was approaching. I decided to give her a surprise and buy her a present. On my way home from school, I took a slight detour—via the main street. Boldly I walked into Eudunda Farmers, chose a lovely perfume and took it to the shop assistant.
‘Book it up, please!’ I said as I signed my very grown-up eight-year-old signature in Mum’s ‘book-it-up’ book. The shop assistant was most helpful and gift-wrapped the lovely present. I went home, gift in hand. A few days later I gave the lovely gift to my mother.
As I remember, Mum was very gracious. She said ‘Thank you’ and then asked where the perfume had come from.
Then she explained that ‘booking it up’ wasn’t all there is to paying. She would have to go to pay the shop, and we would have to go without something else because we didn’t have enough money to just ‘book it up’ whenever we felt like it.
But she knew I’d done it with the best of intentions, so we would call it ‘squits!’ this time.
But I was not to book anything else up without arranging it with Mum first, or I would have to pay for it myself.
I learnt a big lesson that day, and I think Mum did too, because at around the same time she began to give us a weekly allowance, so we could actually learn to save, spend and learn the value of money.
These days I work in a church setting, where we regularly hand out emergency food parcels. Some people are in need of help because they are experiencing a tidal wave of circumstances beyond their control. We are privileged to be able to help them with food and refer them to other services.
But others have never learnt the skill of budgeting, problem-solving or having to plan beyond today.
In February, when the Christmas sales have been forgotten and the payments begin, these people are likely to return to us because they can’t pay for food, gas or electricity. We’ll be told that their payments to department or electronic stores have been due this week. And very often, those payments are more than their income.
They’ve simply never learnt the ‘book-it-up’ rule—that anything bought on credit is not really yours until it’s paid for, and that you have to pay for it somehow.
As parents and youth leaders over the past few decades, Chris and I have learnt that different kids, different personalities and different life experiences lead to different attitudes to money.
We’ve tried to enable our kids to learn about money in small, manageable amounts while they’re little. By the time they’re adults we hope they’ve learnt about managing money in a way that will protect them from the world’s lies, ‘You need this for your life to be fulfilling’, ‘Get this and you’ll be happy!’, ‘More is better!’
We want them to have experienced the consequences of handling (or mishandling) money before it means that their car is reclaimed or they get a bad credit report.
Where possible we’ve tried to relate kids’ money management to real life.
We’re not in favour of paying kids for jobs that simply need to be done in a family. In every family it’s important that we work as a team. If somebody doesn’t empty the bins or feed the dog, somebody else suffers.
So, rather than earning money to do ‘team’ jobs, our children have received a ‘salary’—an agreed fixed amount. But if they don’t pull their weight, they get charged.
It speaks pretty loudly to an eight-year-old when you hand him his allowance and then ask him to pay you back because you made his bed, emptied the bins or fed the dog, which were his jobs. It also helps teenagers to appreciate the value of reward for effort if they are expected to pay their sibling for doing the dishes, or pay for a takeaway meal for the family if they didn’t take their turn to cook.
Salespeople are taught the tactics of putting something in a customers’ hands for them to ‘feel’ ownership; the same principle works with allowances that have to be paid back.
Once our kids reached high school we gave them a debit card and transferred money into it regularly. To get the debit card they needed to present us with a budget which included clothes (except uniforms and sneakers), youth, Christian giving, savings, sports fees and phone credit (no going out if there is no credit on your phone; it’s a safety issue).They needed to demonstrate accountability.
We’ve also had a rule in our family for years that we don’t purchase on impulse. If somebody decides while we’re shopping that they simply ‘must have it’, they need to think about it for 24 hours before we buy it. Usually it is forgotten by the time we leave the shop. That rule has saved us making lots of poor decisions!
One of our children had her heart set on a game of Cluedo and had been saving for it. When she saw it advertised in the junk mail she asked me if we could go to buy it.
‘This is such a good sale. It’s 30 per cent off. Couldn’t you buy it and I’ll pay you back?’
Stored in my memory banks was the ‘book-it-up’ rule. So I came up with an alternative plan—lay-by. I explained how lay-by works, and we went to the shop to set up an account in her name. The shop assistants took time to explain all the details to our eight-year-old. For the next few weeks my daughter paid about 50 cents a fortnight, until she had paid in full.
What an accomplishment! She’d paid for an item herself, recognised its value, and only received it when it was really hers.
To have a real-life understanding of how money works is something that is important to children. It gives
them experience, teaches them problem-solving and risk assessment, and hopefully will prepare them for life in the big world where, unfortunately, money does matter.
Postscript: The author reserves the right to give a false impression of being a perfect parent. She’s not! Ask any of her kids!
Originally published in:
The Lutheran, 2010, February edition