The Parent 'Hood: What to do when a child starts asking "How come we can't ...?"
Your daughter’s new BFF is rich. How do you handle the barrage of “How come we can’t …” questions?
Parent advice (from our panel of staff contributors):
Be honest, and also be sure that your child’s affection for this kid is not colored by the opportunities this friendship presents. This is a good chance to teach your child about sincere friendship, since even rich kids need true friends (Paris Hilton and the Kardashians notwithstanding).
— Maureen Hart
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Honesty is the best policy. Great opportunity for some great life lessons about working hard for things, not being entitled and appreciating the “priceless” gifts that money can’t buy.
— Dodie Hofstetter
“Often ‘why’ is not a question,” says Betsy Brown Braun, author of “You’re Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-Year-Old Child” (HarperCollins). “It’s a form of protest. When they say, ‘Why can’t I have that?,’ they’re really saying, ‘I wish I had that.’ “
So your answer doesn’t need to include an accounting of your family finances any more than it needs to speculate on the financial acumen of her pals’ parents. (“Because mommy and daddy think seven American Girl Dolls is a ridiculous waste of money, sweetheart,” is not recommended.)
It also doesn’t need to include a lecture on greediness.
“There’s nothing wrong with longing,” says Brown Braun. “Longing is actually a very powerful emotion that motivates us to do all kinds of things. We get mad at kids for longing as though they shouldn’t want anything, but we all want things.”
Often, though, parents take the protest personally.
“Sometimes it’s the, ‘Are you kidding? All the toys you have and it’s still not enough?’ ” she says. “Parents feel like their kids are underappreciative.
“Other times, parents hear it as meaning, ‘I’m not a good parent,’ ” she says. “Parents really want to meet all of our kids’ needs and no one wants to see her kid unhappy.”
So before you craft an answer to the “Why can’t I …” queries, try to set aside all the baggage you may be bringing to the conversation. Then speak to your values.
“If you can feel good about the decisions you’ve made for your child about things that relate to privilege and materialism, then you can feel perfectly comfortable in your response,” says Brown Braun. “‘I know you really wish you could have more, but in our family we have one American Girl doll.”
Money doesn’t even need to enter the discussion, she says. “I go out of my way not to tie it to money.”
After all, envy isn’t always greed-based. Brown Braun recalls a time when her son went to stay for a few days with a family of four, all of whom shared a bedroom.
“He came back saying, ‘Mom! Why can’t we all sleep in the same room?’ ” she recalls with a laugh.
Have a solution? Your 6-year-old interrupts any conversation that doesn’t include her. Are you not giving her enough attention? Email us at email@example.com.