Seek to Understand Your Children’s Point of View 

"Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you," says the author John Maxwell. When you combine Maxwell's thoughts with the estimate that each person makes somewhere around 35,000 choices per day, it's no wonder that parents often feel a little extra pressure when it comes to teaching their children how to navigate decisions, especially the financial ones.

One of my favorite theories — and entirely unproven, as far as I know — is that children are equipped with a sixth sense for when parents are at their lowest energy point of the week. The instant that sensory moment is triggered, the negotiations for needs and wants can begin. When this happens in my own house, I often think of A Christmas Story and Ralphie's internal monologue on how to manipulate the adults around him in his quest to get a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas.

Ralphie in A Christmas Story
  • Ralphie in A Christmas Story

So, there we all are: parents at our lowest point of mental acuity, our children armed with who-only-knows how many hours of pre-negotiation strategizing, and on both sides, a collection of lessons waiting to be learned. The two easiest ways out of this trap are, of course, the quick, absent-minded "Okay, fine" or the infamous "No" followed by "Because I said so." And as we all know, the "No, because I said so" is really only a few persistent nudges away from an "Okay, fine, but ... !"

Even more challenging moments arrive as our children grow older. They become much more adept at negotiating and more like us — biased by their own experiences and beliefs. Furthermore, often by the teen and young adult years, items on the table for discussion add up to "real money" decisions: cell phones, cars, clothing, colleges, and eventually, careers. Although these discussions may also begin in those parental moments of low energy, they typically blossom into longer-lasting debates. Unfortunately for some families, they can even begin a decades-long snowball of unresolved conflict and resentment.

A parent sits on one side of the table, suffering from the many financial stresses that adulthood brings, as well as the pressure to make a decision that is in the ultimate best interest of the child's health and welfare. On the other side of the table sits a young adult suffering from the pressure of trying to shape a life for which they only have partial control and a limited frame of reference.

It is so easy as a parent to fall into the role of teacher and begin to explain the "adult" point of view to the child — the stress, the value of a dollar, and the "one day you'll understand." As a financial planner working with families, I see the most magic happen in any financial discussion when a bit of Dale Carnegie floats into the room, and one seeks to understand the other's point of view.

Recently, a friend shared with me that he caved in a debate with his daughter even though he disagreed with her argument. Curious as to why he caved, I followed up, and he added that it would have been different if he had not understood her point of view. Even though he disagreed, he sought to understand her position, and he granted her wish because he could tell how much it meant to her. When parents take the lead on listening to the reasoning behind their child's desires and considering their perspective, children learn to do the same for their parents in the long run.

My friend's comment brought a smile to my face, as it reminded me of the other side of A Christmas Story. In the end, Ralphie's dad, Old Man Parker, is the hero — the man with the knowing smile and the secret final gift of the morning. Who knows if his dad totally agreed, but we all know he totally understood!

Teresa Bailey, CFP, CDFA, is Director of Development and Wealth Strategist at Waddell & Associates.

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