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The Irony of Giving Kids Things for Free

July 22, 2015

The irony of giving children things for free.

As a parent, what a delight it is to see that moment of pure bliss on your child's face when they get the thing they were asking, begging and pleading for. We want to give our children the world. We want them to know that we are always there for them, that we can provide everything they need, protect them and smother them with generosity because we love them.

But is this how they perceive it?

We went to a waterpark this past week. My husband tends to be the one to give them things for free. I like to be the bad cop who makes them earn and wait for things which is fine because in real life, sometimes people give you things but you can't expect it all of the time.

Ryan really wanted a toy he saw in the gift shop, and my husband bought it for him just as he normally would. I usually wince a bit since I think to myself, darn it that was a good opportunity to reward him for his hard work earning savings but at the same time, I also like to let daddy do what he wants. Ryan was ecstatic. He played with this toy enthusiastically for more than a day and daddy had a ball with him in the hotel room, in the restaurant, in the water park. He was obsessed with this thing.

Then came the next day. Ryan said out loud, I don't want this anymore. I want the bigger boat that I saw in the store. This one isn't good anymore, it's old, I want something different. Dad can get me it, he can just use his money and get it. Just use your money. It was kind of weird since he usually doesn't do that but who knows, he could be hitting some stage where he's testing boundaries.

Dad might have felt a little sad at this moment and I felt sad for him that his joy was so brief. Still, these are teachable moments. I explained that we don't have unlimited money. I told him that if dad decides to give him something, it's because he wanted to be nice and wanted to see Ryan happy, just like when Ryan uses his gift dollars on Emma. I told him that it takes time and days going to work to even be able to go on trips, or buy toys. I explained that if someone gives you something, be grateful but never expect or ask for more. That if you want something, that you earn your own money so you can control these things in your life.

Then, I told him that we could go to his bank book and see if he had enough money to buy the other toy. I like to divide his dollars by three, so to get the ten dollar toy he wanted, he needed to give up 30 savings dollars. He had been so good at saving them up that he did in fact have it, though there was a moment when we thought he would come up short. The look on his face when he realized he had all thirty dollars. To me, I get more joy seeing this happy expression, because I know it's a thoroughly good feeling.

I then explained to him that he could either spend it on this toy right now, or he could save it and get the hand held rocket that he originally wanted. He deliberated but ultimately chose the toy in the store. He went up to the counter hopping up and down, so excited to tell the clerk that he had saved enough dollars to buy the toy he really really wanted. You know... that new one.

As a user experience designer, I have to pick apart how something is perceived on both ends and my feelings are that if you give someone something for free, they first realize that begging was successful and it's an approved method going forward. The original hope is to be appreciated but what you often get is to be taken for granted. When you say no, they might feel you are simply holding back your fortune and being greedy. Somehow they've taken these moments of generosity and used it to turn you into the bad guy. Then if you give it to them, there's no natural motivation to take care of this object that wasn't very hard to obtain in the first place. All of these things are ironically the opposite of what you might have been going for.

Allowing them to buy it with money they saved teaches them value, discipline and the pride of earning rewards. It's a fulfilling process, a great feedback loop, gives more value to the object of desire and teaches them important lessons that will help them in the future. This was one of the original problems that spurred the creation of this product and I hope you see why allowing your children to earn the things they want benefits them in a myriad of ways.

As always, Happy Parenting!

Lisa Chin Mollica has dedicated her life to creating user experiences for adults and children on the web, mobile and in product. She lives in Brooklyn NY with her husband who is a Lieutenant in the FDNY, her two toddlers ages 4 and 6 and their dog Nestle who never stops shedding.

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Legal: The opinions expressed here are anecdotal and solely my own. All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. KidCash.com makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

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