July 02, 2015

Q: I have a boy who is 4 years and 7 months. He is quite an observant and curious child, which is a good thing, as it helps development and interaction with both us parents. The problem is that he is going to a school where the kids are much richer, have fancy houses and cars, etc. To make it worse, the kids talk and brag about material possessions. Obviously, trying to keep up with the Joneses is not the answer, but how do we explain this to our son?

A: Your son will not get an inferiority complex if he feels loved and respected by his parents. He may, of course, say that other children possess fancy belongings that you cannot afford, which can present a challenge as he gets older. If you convey cheerfully that it is okay to live modestly, your child will be convinced that material possessions are not the most important things on earth. If you react with shame, scorn, anger, or guilt to an innocent request for an expensive item, you will instill insecurity in the child. Keep your cool about the very human emotions of envy, victimization, and bitterness. As parents, your own attitudes are key.

Say with honesty and friendliness that some people have a lot more money than others, and that your son will meet people who are rich or poor sooner or later, and that bragging is not a very becoming trait. In time, your son may make more subtle judgments about the gap between his family and rich families. For now, many of the things that a child around 4 or 5 would want can be obtained in budget-friendly versions. If he wants a pet elephant or a private jet, you can very gently point out that these things are just not possible, even though you'd love to give them if you could.  Use common sense, smile, and enjoy being as generous as you can!

Answered by Dr. Elizabeth Berger