Born to Buy – The Explosion of Youth Spending


I recently purchased closet organizers in an attempt to address the stuffed animal issues in my daughters’ rooms. We gathered all the creatures we could find and piled on the floor. At which point, my oldest exclaimed, “We don’t need any more stuffed animals. That’s for sure.” While I was pleased Annabelle agreed with me, I figure the excess must have gotten pretty bad for a seven-year-old to acknowledge it.

“A recent poll by the Center for a New American Dream reveals that children are well aware, and even critical, of (advertisers) efforts,” reports Schor. “Among those aged nine to fourteen, 63 percent expressed concern that there is too much advertising that tries to get kids to buy things, 74 percent say ‘it’s too bad you have to buy certain things to be cool,’ and 81 percent believe that ‘lots of kids place way too much important on buying things.’” Still, as Born to Buy points out, “Companies are advertising because kids are buying. Every half-second, somewhere in the world another Barbie is sold.” Frightening, I know.

As I read this, I found myself asking, ‘How can this be?’ According to Schor, a big factor is parental time pressure; something like longer working hours has really driven this trend. “Guilt money,” as they call it, is one of the factors that accounts for the rise in children’s purchasing power. “Children aged four to twelve made $6.1 billion in purchases in 1989…and $30.0 billion in 2002, an increase of 400 percent.” Schor explains, the way time pressure operates parents have less time to cajole kids to eat products they don’t like or to return rejected purchases to stores. “This is part of why 89 percent of parents of tweens report that they ask their children’s opinions about products they are about to buy for them.”

While Born to Buy does an excellent job of explaining how kids are playing less and shopping more, a lot of Schor’s information was a review for me, as it was very similar to what Richard Louv shared in his book, Last Child in the Woods, which I blogged about in April, as well as the research I used on age compression for my RFM article on Kids and Media Culture, which you can read in December’s issue, now available online. Still, the chapter From Tony the Tiger to Slime Time Live made some disturbing points about the content of commercial messages.

Everyone knows cool is associated with being older but Schor enlightens parents as to how marketers and advertisers take common desire and play into it, putting a few older kids in ads that are targeted to younger kids. The fact that cool is also associated with an anti-adult sensibility – “kids with attitude, outwitting their teachers and tricking their parents” – is what gets so many of our youngsters into trouble. Donna Sabino, director for research and development at Nickelodeon’s Magazine Group, explained the thinking to Schor: “It’s hard to be a kid in an adult world. The adult world doesn’t respect kids. Everywhere else adults rule; at Nick kids rule.” While this us-versus-them mentality helps sales, it hinders relationships.

According to Schor, another strategy for reaching kids is trans-toying, turning an everyday item, like a toothbrush, into a toy. All you need to do is walk down the aisles of your grocery store to see the ingenious ways companies are transforming almost every product into a toy. It’d be one thing if the kids understood what was going on. While neither the government nor private foundations have been funding much research in this area, Schor has presented limited studies, as recent as 1992, which show only 32 percent of four to six year olds know that the purpose of an ad is to sell a product. While by the age of eight, kids can recognize that ads don’t always tell the truth, this knowledge doesn’t interfere with its persuasive powers.

“Nancy Shalek, president of the Shalek Agency, displayed a disarming level of candor when she argued that ‘advertising at its best is making people feel that without their product, you’re a loser. Kids are very sensitive to that. If you tell them to buy something, they are resistant. But if you tell them that they’ll be a dork if they don’t, you’ve got their attention. You open up emotional vulnerabilities and it’s very easy to do with kids because they’re the most emotionally vulnerable.”

Here’s the thing. I know I’m not a perfect parent. There are countless moments when I don’t realize I’m being hypocritical or closed-minded or insensitive. Even with all the parenting books I read, my daughters will undoubtedly end up having plenty of injustices to share. So I can’t help but feel like to consciously compound my child’s insecurities by buying into this consumer culture that preys on their emotional vulnerabilities is wrong. As American Marketers have proven time and time again, money has power, but reading Born to Buy confirms that I’d like my daughters to learn that choosing not to spend money can send the most powerful message of all.


Born to Buy – The Commercialization of Childhood


While walking down the grocery aisle last week, my four-year-old shouted, “Mom! Wait! I want princess soup.” I explained to my ever-fancy child that it wasn’t actually princess soup; it was just chicken noodle soup with a picture of the Disney Princesses on the label. “So?” she persisted. I reminded her that we don’t eat chicken since we’re vegetarian. And in typical Lily fashion, she replied, “Well, if that’s what I’ve got to do…” I left the store, minus the soup, worrying about my daughter’s moral fiber and knowing my nightmare was a marketer’s dream.

“The United States is the most consumer-oriented society in the world,” writes Juliet B. Schor, author of Born to Buy. “People work longer hours than in any other industrialized country. Savings rates are lower. Consumer credit has exploded, and roughly a million and a half households declare bankruptcy every year.” Why? One of the reasons, according to Schor, is that “kids and teens are now the epicenter of American consumer culture.”

Up until the mid-1970s, the Federal Government had a history of protecting our children. Then, despite the 1978 Federal Trade Commission finding that children do not have the cognitive ability to evaluate advertising, Congress began passing legislation that allowed children to become their own marketing group. As a result, advertisers no longer have to convince parents to buy a product. Schor explains, “Today, marketers create direct connections to kids, in isolation from parents and at times against them. The new norm is that kids and marketers join forces to convince adults to spend money.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see that this new approach is “working.” According to Schor, American children view an estimated 40,000 commercials annually, make an estimated 3,000 requests for products and services each year, and accumulate an average of seventy new toys in one year. The problem is Schor’s research also shows that “those who are more involved in consumer culture fare far worse in psychological and social terms.” Her research actually disputes conventional wisdom – dysfunctional kids are drawn to consumer culture – and argues “involvement in consumer culture causes dysfunction in forms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and psychosomatic complaints.” When people hear I boycott Barbie and shun Hannah Montana, they usually ask me if I’m worried about my kids fitting in; Schor’s research actually suggests, it’s me who should be asking them that question.

Originally, I selected Born to Buy for August because I thought it’d be appropriate given the Back-to-School buying craze that’s usually underway this time of year, but now I see this phenomenon extends way beyond what even a TV-and-advertising-wary parent like me thought. “We have become a nation that places a lower priority on teaching its children how to thrive socially, intellectually, even spiritually, than it does on training them to consume.” And unfortunately, I believe Schor to be correct, “The long-term consequences of this development are ominous.”


Unbeknownst to me, my husband, who is not a vegetarian, asked Lily if she wanted him to buy some princess soup; he was more than happy to eat the contents so she could have the can. Much to my relief, my daughter redeemed herself and declined his offer. Still, I worry that my girls will sell their souls for something else that shimmers so I’m going to dive into this debate and see for myself whether they are being empowered or seduced. What do you think? Are we teaching kids they are what they own?

To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First – Looking for the Problem in Yourself First


Psychologist Carl Jung said, “If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” More often than not, our children’s behavior is the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is why we worry so much about it in the first place. To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First argues, “We can spot our own faults more easily in others than in ourselves. What irritates us most about others is often a fault we actually possess in our own character.”

Code explains that parents need to stop overreacting or denying the problem’s existence; rather acknowledge and define its consequences. Start by tracing it back to its roots in your family history. Code provides this fabulous anecdote of martyrdom, which helps readers understand how we not only share our ancestors physical characteristics but also their knee-jerk reactions as well. “In essence, you’re retrenching the neuronal pathways that were carved into your brain as a child by your family’s imprinting process.” By noticing a pattern, researching its origin as many generations back as possible, and getting clear on how you play a role in your family, you will get a “chance to fix the cause of your life’s drama, rather than just flailing at the symptoms.”

The next step is to view your child’s problem as a sign of anxiety in you or your marriage. “Have you ever come home tense from work and snapped at your kid?” Code maintains that’s an obvious example of the phenomenon he’s describing. “There are a thousand subtle ways that we unknowingly spray our stress and anxiety onto our spouse and children.” In other words, it’s the reason why your kids have a crisis as soon as you get on the phone. Code claims, “The problems show up because it is the worst possible moment.” Until we take responsibility for our own drama, problems will persist.

Code believes the solution lies in the answers to the following questions: Who inspires us in life? Is it the people who were dealt a great hand and played it well? Or is it the people who were dealt a worse hand than you, and played their hands like a champ? “A poker player will tell you that any hand’s a winner and any hand’s a loser; it’s all about what you do with what you’ve got.”

The reality is that we all have excellent “reasons” why our life may not have turned out exactly as planned. But, as Code reminds us, wasting time and energy blaming others, recalling obstacles, and dwelling on unlucky breaks prevents us from making progress. Whether you want your kid to be more assertive, more social, or more focused, then Code argues you need to take Carl Jung’s words to heart. “Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk.”

To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First – Anxiety is Contagious


Even though we live 60 percent longer than we did only a hundred years ago, Code argues that we overreact to everything: “from road rage and helicopter parenting to insomnia, depression, and excessive medication. Therefore, it should be no surprise that we’re overreacting to our spouses more and getting divorced at an alarming rate.” How do we break this vicious cycle? To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First says we need to recognize that “when we’re anxious, we may see things exactly backward. Our anxiety causes us to have “issues,” rather than our issues causing us to have anxiety.”

While Eclipse, the most recent movie in the Twilight saga, has popularized the phrase imprinting, Code writes that it’s actually just a “fancy word for how families “train” their offspring to behave through relationships.” And it is not as simple as passing one role down from generation to another. It’s more like a “monkey see, monkey feel” situation, with our kids picking up on all our anxiety. Although this instinct kept us safe during life in the wild, the contagious anxiety isn’t conducive for modern living.

“In life, our family has dealt us the hand we are playing. Some cards are aces, and some are just deuces. The problem is that we sometimes beat ourselves up or blame others if our hand is crummy. In fact, most of your hand was dealt before you were old enough to have any say in the matter. Your family has its habitual ways of acting, reacting, and overreacting, and your family members began to subtly, unconsciously imprint the family’s behavior on you from the day you were born.”

Still, Code maintains it’s not too late to take charge. “Many people tend to see their relationships and conflicts as random and accidental, almost as if “fate” acted on them. In fact, many aspects of conflict in our relationships are predictable, repetitive, and within our control.” Therefore, Code doesn’t suggest going in search of greener pastures; rather To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First makes the case that “chemistry” ensures that we are attracted to someone that “has the same level of anxiety as us. So opposites may well attract, at least in terms of outward personality traits, but the level of inner anxiety is the same in both spouses.” According to Code, Mother Nature has already scoped out the perfect mate for you.

The key to stopping a good marriage from going bad is “to learn how anxiety controls so much of our behavi or. The reason your partner isn’t already perfect may be more about your perceptions rather than his or her actual flaws. Once you learn how to control and reduce your anxiety, you will increasingly accept what used to bug you about your partner (and about yourself).”

Face it. Whether your Team Edward or Team Jacob, deep down you know that these beautiful movie stars are just people, equally as capable of “protecting” you from the truth or becoming jealous of another. Sooner or later, even a vampire shows signs of being human. So why not rise above the ugly behaviors of your instincts, as Code suggests, and train yourself to recognize when anxiety is causing you to attack or avoid your parents, spouse, and children. The happily-ever-after you create just may be your own.

To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First – Hurting Those We Love the Most


Maybe, it’s because I’ve always been crazy for monkeys and I traveled to the Ecuadorian rainforest just to catch a glimpse of them in the wild, but I just love that Code avoids the same, tired anecdotes of families in crisis to make his point. These past few months, I’ve read enough hypothetical scenarios to last me a lifetime so when Code focused on our connection to the animal world and supported his claims by sharing examples from Jane Goodall’s revealing research on chimpanzees, I was hooked.

The first part of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First addresses how we hurt our kids without realizing it: we project our anxiety onto our kids, we kill our kids with kindness, and we hurt those we love the most. While we are doing none of these things intentionally, the behaviors, nonetheless, are detrimental to our children’s well-being. Code makes an extremely convincing case as to why so many kids today are suffering from emotional and health problems. Their parents.

“Projection onto Our Children is an unconscious defense mechanism, triggered by a well-intentioned but primitive part of the human brain. Our brain is trying to save us from pain by diverting our attention from our unpleasant anxiety (regarding our distant relationship) to a more pleasant and reassuring image (e.g., becoming best friends with our children or putting them first in our lives).” In other words, while blowing our child’s small problem out of proportion saves us from dealing with our pain, Code argues, it does so at the expense of our children’s well-being.

This is not entirely our fault. Since so many of us parent in isolation, far from family both literally and figuratively thanks to demanding careers, Code explains “we lack the reassuring wisdom and mentoring of the older generations. Instead, we face the disparate, demanding voices of experts who communicate via schools and the media.” Many parents feel like they are “doing it wrong” and will over-parent to compensate. “Giving our kids more attention may make us feel like good parents in the short term, but our gift of attention is tainted by neediness.”

Essentially, we need to take a lesson from the eagle, which pushes its child from a cliff-top nest to teach it how to fly for “weaning is a much more important transition than we realize. In fact, our emotional weaning as children affects our future personalities, our attitudes, and the way we interact in relationships.” Code argues that we need to stop worrying about minimizing our children’s emotional scars and teach them how to weather a storm instead because when we rescue our children from everything, including boredom, we set them up for failure as an adult.

Essentially, Code reminds us of what we already know – there has to be a balance between tending our marriages and nurturing our children. Then, why is it so hard to do? Because as child psychologist Madeline Levine observes, “When a marriage is cold, a child’s bed is warm.” Until our marriages meet our intimacy needs, Code argues, we will continue to marry our children; thereby preventing them from building their own identity, learning self-reliance, and becoming happy, independent adults.

Personally, I think To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First captivates me because it doesn’t follow the typical step-by-step approach of so many of these parenting books. It’s more about a state of mind. My girls know I’m a sucker for books so they often plead for just one more at bedtime. When I told them the other night that I wasn’t going to read any more because I wanted to go downstairs and spend some time with Daddy, they looked shocked. Usually, I tell them I have chores to do or work to finish and, since I suppose they can sense that I’d rather be there with them, they continue begging. But this time, there was silence. At least until my youngest started crying, “But I want to stay up and play with Daddy, too.” Thanks to a little nudge from Code, I insisted, “Tonight, Daddy is all mine.”



To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First – Myths Harming Families


When I told my husband that I was planning to blog about David Code’s book, To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First, in honor of our eleven year anniversary this month, he said, “That’s ridiculous. Who ever thought you weren’t going to put the kids first?” While his comment only made me love him more and I feared the book would contain June Cleaver lifestyle changes I couldn’t stomach, I proceeded out of sheer curiosity.

As it turns out, I am so fascinated by this book. I realize I’m supposed to read the parenting books so you don’t have to but I’m going to take the bold step of saying, read this one. To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First is that good. Code starts by establishing the harsh reality: “Your children’s problems are much more connected to your marriage than you probably realize.” And it just keeps getting better from there.

While it’s no secret that American marriages are in trouble – a couple getting married these days has less than a 30 percent chance of staying together, Code presents the information on emotional divorce in such a way that it feels like a revelation. He claims, “We like to kid ourselves that we have a good marriage and would never divorce,” when in actuality most of us commit emotional divorce from our spouse every day.

Code’s Three Myths Harming Families:

·The More Attention We Give Our Kids, The Better They’ll Turn Out. Ask yourself – If your child has a problem at school or on the playground, is your first impulse to intervene? Do you find it difficult to see your kid struggling or upset? Do you strive to be best friends with your child?

·Arguing Leads to Divorce. Consider the following – When you and your spouse disagree, do you avoid expressing your feelings and talking things out, preferring rather to “keep the peace”? Do you worry after an argument that perhaps you’re on your way to divorce? Do you sometimes find it easier to spend time with your kids than with your spouse?

·If we feel unfulfilled in our marriage, it’s because we married the wrong person. “The divorce rate for second marriages is 60 percent, and 73 percent for third marriages.” So Code argues that we should stop secretly wondering if we married the wrong person and start rediscovering what made us fall in love with our spouse in the first place.

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, according to Code, you may have bought into very popular misconceptions. Unfortunately, “We live in denial about our distant marriages and our stressful lives, but all that anxiety can spill over onto our kids, much to their detriment.” Therefore, we need to come to terms with the fact that less is more. Despite all of the helicopter parenting you see nowadays, “there are more troubled kids and more single parents than ever before.”

I’m telling you by the time you finish the first chapter of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First you, too, will have gotten Code’s wake-up call: A fulfilled parent is less needy. “It’s not about how much time we spend with our children, or making them the center of our lives. (That just leaves parents anxious and exhausted.) What matters is our ability to limit the guilt and neediness we bring into the relationship with our children.”

So I’m going to give this win-win approach to marriage-friendly parenting a try. Don’t worry. I’m not going put a bow in my hair before my husband comes home from work or pass on Girls Nite Out so we can spend more time together. As far as I’m concerned, “less is more” should not only apply to one’s kids but to one’s spouse as well. I think that’s why I resisted this book initially. I thought it was going to be all about making my husband happy. Who wants to read to read that, right? I mean, sometimes, it feels like being a mother is all about making other people happy. When, in actuality, To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage, is about how to make me happy. Because I do still enjoy spending time with the father of my children and I’d like to keep it that way.


You’re Not the Boss of Me – Eliminating Spoilage


When rummaging through a recent copy of People Magazine, I stumbled upon a quote by the Real New Jersey Housewife who recently filed for bankruptcy. Those of you that are familiar with the show and Teresa’s 11 million dollars of debt probably won’t be surprised by what she said, “Kids can never have too many toys, right?” Well, Betsy Brown Braun of You’re Not the Boss of Me begs to differ.

In the chapter titled, “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” Braun explains, “Thanks to the media and the Internet, we are plugged into what everyone is doing, buying, wearing, and spending.” As a result, kids believe that “life is about the possession of things, not necessarily about experiences, feelings, and interactions.” And while every generation thinks its kids are spoiled, Braun argues there is a new acceptance of showing one’s wealth. “Parenting is the new arena in which accomplished adults are prepared to compete as aggressively as they do in the workforce. They are determined to make sure that their offspring stay on top of the heap. They view this as their job.”

While presents over presence might be the trend, Braun offers us great suggestions for not only teaching the value of money but determining our own relationship with money. After all, Braun would say we’re wrong to criticize our kids for wanting more Silly Bands, when we’re out picking up another pair of cute, summer sandals we don’t really need. The reality is “not talking about money robs your child of the opportunity to learn what things cost, the value of money, and the skills he will need to manage money later on.”

Braun’s Tips and Scripts for Avoiding Spoilage


  • · Children need to know that you make choices about how you spend your money. Avoid saying, ‘We can’t afford that.’ Instead say, ‘I don’t choose to spend money on that’ or ‘That is more money than I want to spend.’
  • · Don’t confuse talking about money with lecturing about money.
  • · Limit gifts to gift-giving occasions. Otherwise, you child will feel he is owed presents.
  • · Experiences make the most memorable gifts. Giving isn’t just about stuff.
  • · Don’t fall prey to the plea. But ‘Everyone has one.” You are the parent; you get to do what you think is right for your family.
  • · Teach the power of work. It develops their sense of achievement.
  • · Beware of bribery. It undermines the child’s ability to become intrinsically motivated or make the ‘right’ decision in the absence of external direction.
  • · Help your child regularly to clean out his belongings and donate to children who can use them.


You’re Not the Boss of Me does an excellent job of illuminating the truth: “Spoiling your child has more to do with parents than with children.” The Jersey Housewife is case and point. The good news is that, according to Braun, “while you may be the root of the problem, you also hold the key to the cure.” So continue to worry about spoiling your child, if the last thing you want is a brat, because as Braun points out, “It’s not just a problem of the rich, nor is it just about money.” All of us fall victim to ‘everyone has one’ from time to time. As parents, we need to remember sometimes the best way to show we care is to say no.

You’re Not the Boss of Me – Creating a Respectful Child


I remember being outraged the first time my oldest daughter shouted, “I hate you!” I sent Annabelle to her room and insisted she never say that to me again. Since I rarely raise my voice, Annabelle’s done as she was told. Sure, she slams the door and rolls her eyes every now and then but for the most part she is extremely respectful. My four-year-old, on the other hand, is immune to such tactics. If Lily’s upset, it’s not uncommon to hear a rant about how horrible I am and how I am the meanest Mommy ever. Since I’ve long understood what Braun says about my child needing to feel that her relationship with me is so strong that it will not be damaged by her expressions of anger, her words don’t act as kryptonite for this aspiring super-mom. Still, when she’s in the midst of a tantrum, I can’t help but worry about raising a brat.

“If I spoke to my father the way my child speaks to me…” Betsy Brown Braun writes, “That’s the reaction of so many parents who can’t believe what their children say to them.” Still, Braun argues, “Each generation of parents says the same thing about their offspring.” If only respect was as simple as “thinking of someone else, considering his needs, desires, and position.” The reality is that respect is a complicated concept, which, Braun explains, is difficult for an adult to grasp much less a child. She reminds us that while children come equipped with the basics, like instincts, temperament, and the need to explore, respectfulness is something that is acquired while growing up.

Tips and Scripts for Teaching Respect

·Treat your child with respect. James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

·When speaking to your child, be as respectful as you would be with a friend. Braun reminds us that we wouldn’t make flip remarks like ‘What in the world are you wearing?’ or ‘What do you think this is, a pig sty?’ to anyone else so don’t say it to your kids.

·Monitor the media/television programs your child watches. “The Simpsons, Sponge Bob Square Pants, and iCarly, for example, provide models of disrespectful behavior that become acceptable through familiarity,” Braun explains.

·Allow your child to disagree with you. Braun says, “Disagreement is not necessarily a sign of disrespect.” It’s all in the approach.

·You are not your child’s friend. “Your child may not like you, but he will respect you because you made the hard call and you followed through,” Braun insists.

There’s so much about this chapter in You’re Not the Boss of Me that rings true for me: not taking away your child’s possessions as a form of punishment (“How would you like it if your husband too away your favorite necklace because you were late for dinner?”), refusing to perpetuate the belief that there is a “magic word,” as manners are not magic but necessary, and that young children don’t belong in restaurants because, as Braun explains, child-friendly establishments, where it is acceptable for kids to be noisy and run around, sabotage the child’s learning of respectable table manners. But I was most thrilled to see Braun highlight the mistake that makes me cringe. “Apologize only if you have made a mistake.” When parents apologize for a consequence, it gives the child the impression that they’ve done something wrong. By all means, if you were disrespectful to your children, tell them you’re sorry for yelling at them, for not modeling the behaviors you are expecting of them, but avoid confusing “spineless parenting with respecting your child.”

So the next time you get a phone call, don’t allow for interruptions or apologize while attempting to have a conversation. As long as you are limiting your lengthy calls to when you’re childfree, you have no reason to be sorry because when you allow your child to break into your phone calls, you’re being disrespectful to your caller. Just as the urgency of the emergency that always arises as soon as the phone rings diminishes with every use so does an apology. However, through careful, deliberate actions, respect can grow over time and you can brat-proof your child.


You’re Not the Boss of Me – Chores


I had just started high school when my mom went on strike. It wasn’t from a job at a local factory. She didn’t picket outside the neighborhood school. No, my mom’s Norma Rae moment, giving a monologue on the injustices of the situation while waving a list of demands, happened during dinner. Now that I’m a mother, struggling to balance the chores of motherhood, I often think about how frustrated my mom must have been to take such drastic measures and feel guilty for failing to do my share.

Determined to not repeat her mistakes, I tried to implement chores when my oldest was five. My efforts weren’t well received. Annabelle insisted, “I have everything I need,” as I tempted her with rewards. While the part of me hoping to avoid a materialistic child was pleased, the part of me anxious to avoid a spoiled brat was concerned. However, since Braun reminds readers “Everyone knows that chores teach responsibility,” I decided to try it again, following the tips and scripts from Your Not the Boss of Me.

·Spotlight your own chores. Braun writes, “I know it sounds ridiculously obvious, but children don’t see the things that you do as chores; they see those things (like cooking dinner and cleaning laundry) as what defines you.” Frightening, I know.

·Choose chores at which the child will easily succeed.

A two-year-old can put dirty clothes in hamper.

A three-year-old can lay out her outfit for school the night before.

A four-year-old can make her own bed.

A five-year-old can clear her own meal.

A six-year-old can pack her own backpack.

A seven-year-old can make her own lunch.

An eight-year-old can decide when to begin her homework.

A nine-year-old can determine when she will practice for lessons she takes.

·Take the time to teach the chore. But “accept the learning curve.”

·Mind your critical self and never redo a chore. Embrace good enough so as not to turn off your child from doing a job.

·Create an incentive. I combined simple things they could do once a chore was complete with a trip to the Dollar Tree at the end of the week.

·Involve your child in choosing her chores. You’re more likely to get cooperation.

·Have consequences when chores aren’t done. And “don’t editorialize. Let the consequence speak for itself.”

·Be willing to lend a hand. Just “be sure to step in before your child complains about the size of the job. Otherwise, she will quickly learn that complaining works.”

While “each family will have a different idea about what they expect from their children,” Braun argues it’s not the chores themselves that matter. According to Braun, the important part is that children learn to do things not only for themselves but also do their share in the context of the entire family. In actuality, your challenge will not be finding opportunities to teach your child to be responsible but rather dealing with “the learning process – the complaints, the whining, and the avoidance.”

In my case, reinstating the chore chart really helped minimize my nagging, a previous Braun suggestion. All I had to do was refer to it to see quick results. With my oldest now addicted to crafts, she’d do anything for a chance to earn more art supplies. I figure even if I can only keep the momentum going through the summer it should give me the “vacation” I need, which could go a long way in preventing a future strike.

Raising Resilient Children: Asking Tough Questions


“I can do it!” I have heard these words more times from my three year old since I began reading Raising Resilient Children than in her entire life. My husband thinks it is coincidence – that she’s finally growing up – but I can’t help to think something I picked up from the book is working.

Don’t get me wrong. I still feel like the same can’t-wait-for-Happy-Hour parent, but I’m telling myself that’s attributed more to the excessive snow days this month than the girls’ behavior. My youngest daughter has gone from us having to accompany her everywhere because she was too scared to go to her own room alone to her insisting, complete with hands on hips and foot stomps, that we let her go upstairs by herself.

So I headed off to hear Dr. Robert Brooks speak at the Children’s Museum of Richmond last night in the hopes of internalizing more of his empathetic philosophy. Having just finished his book, I was familiar with a lot of the anecdotes Dr. Brooks used to convey his point still I was highly entertained because not only was he funny but his persuasive presentation forced me acknowledge one of the recommendations I’d glossed over.

What words would your child use to describe you as a mother?

I had avoided asking my daughters this question, quite frankly, because I was afraid of what they’d say. I knew I couldn’t have this conversation with my girls and not write about it. But it’s one thing to make fun of myself each week with a silly anecdote that pertains to a parenting book and it’s another to admit my parenting flaws to the whole world. (And, yes, the whole world is reading this blog.)

Unable to sleep, I got out of bed before 6am and overrode the timer on the coffee maker. (Those of you who read my blog on rewriting negative scripts realize the seriousness of this action, as I’m not a morning person.) I waited to hear the pitter-patter of little feet on the steps so I could find out if the mother I imagine myself to be is actually the mother I am.

My kids’ response did surprise me but not in the way I had feared. They actually had a lot of nice things to say, and much to my relief, they even used the word fair. According to my three year old, I am “the best Mommy in the whole family”. (The fact that I’m the only Mommy in the family was lost on her.)

I wondered how revealing this exercise might prove to be if I applied it to other areas of my life. Did I want to hear the words my husband would use to describe me as a wife? Lord knows I don’t put a fraction of the effort into my marriage as I do into parenting (but that’s a book – To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First by David Code – and a blog for another day.)

In his closing argument, Dr. Brooks said that the biggest factor in determining which children grew up to succeed was not performance in school or what college they attended, as some might think, but the presence of at least one person who believed in them in their life. While I sat there during the presentation, wanting to believe that there would be three people who would list me as a person they gathered strength from, I realized Raising Resilient Children has made me want to be not only a better parent but also a better person. How can my children not benefit from that?

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