For legacy families and financially successful business families thinking about having kids or actively raising them, there are almost always concerns about children becoming spoiled, lazy, self-absorbed and – the grand fear of all – entitled. Truth is, pretty much every parent wants to avoid these things -regardless of financial resources.
What poor, working-class and middle-class parents have on their side is the fact that there is simply not enough money for kids to do nothing at all. Wealthy families, on the other hand, have to deal with the reality that there is enough money, or family business opportunities, for kids to fall into some of these developmental traps around motivation, integrity and character.
The field of educating and consulting to these families about the healthy transition of wealth across generations has grown tremendously over the last 20 years, and many families are creatively communicating more openly with the next generation at younger ages, often in their early twenties and late teens.
I remain committed to the idea that younger is better – as long as the communication and life development efforts are developmentally appropriate.
How do you raise a Two-Year-Old Millionaire (to be)?
Please, Thank You, I’m Sorry and The Golden Sippy Cup Rule
“Please” and “Thank you” are often considered the magic words. When parents insist their children use them when asking for something they teach their children to be respectful of others. It teaches that the child is not the center of the world but is part of a larger community likely to be kind and helpful when treated with respect and that respect is essential in dealing with others. “Thank you” completes the cycle by showing gratitude, and acknowledging others are not required to help but do so voluntarily. When others are spontaneously generous, as opposed to responding to a request by the child, “Thank you” shows appreciation that another person would think of the child without being asked to do so. “Please” and “Thank you” should be instilled as soon as a child gains early language skills – this is the best foundation for inoculating against unhealthy entitlement. Instilling these terms to be automatic requires consistent effort on the part of parents, extended family and the community. Parents should walk-the-walk as well.
“I’m sorry” expresses remorse, which, along with respect and gratitude, completes a solid foundation of character upon which an enlightened and loving human can develop. Teaching children to apologize helps them learn that their behavior has an effect on other people, that they can hurt the feelings of others and that one must try to be respectful of others. When a person falls short in dealing with others, there is work to be done – acknowledging the hurtful behavior, accepting responsibility through a sincere “I’m sorry,” and making genuine efforts to not repeat the behavior.
The Golden Sippy Cup Rule dictates that any child that can walk and hold a sippy cup should be expected to carry it to the sink when empty. Since most sinks and counters are too high for kids this young to reach, a parent can stand by to accept the cup or a place can be designated for placing the cup when empty (with praise for a job well done). This teaches the child that while they are unconditionally loved they are still expected to contribute and help take care of themselves. Very young children love to contribute like adults do; putting the cup in a dishwasher comes with the added joy of pressing the power button which delights any young child every time.
It is not necessary to show your toddler your tax returns or financial statements. Teaching “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry” is an amazing and sufficient start to nurturing an independent, responsible and considerate little person especially when done with great consistency across the many situations when these are appropriate. Responsibility for personal space can go beyond the sippy-cup to include putting toys away (even a one-year-old can carry a toy or two back to its proper place) and helping parents place dirty clothes into a washing machine (another opportunity to press a button and watch a big machine lurch and hum – always a big winner!)
Ultimately, younger is better when starting to raise children of character. The consistent use of time tested and simple behaviors such as “Please,” “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and finding opportunities for kids to take personal responsibility is solid ground on which to build.