It's never too early to teach children the value of "things".
Often we reward our children's accomplishments with material goods.
Even in kindergarten, students are rewarded for good behavior with stickers and inexpensive toys.
At home, allowances may be dependant on the completion of chores: make your bed, clean your room, practice piano, take out the garbage.
What happens when the threat of losing a week's allowance, or having a favorite plaything or privilege taken away is not enough to shape behavior?
What happens when the "If you don't do as you're asked, you can't play Angry Birds." is met with "I don't care."?
We gave my son an iPod Touch for his birthday. One of his friends has one, and our boy had been begging for it for months. He even saved up the money to pay for half of it.
This birthday gift was contingent on two things: that he kept up with his schoolwork, and that kept his guinea pig fed and watered. Both these chores must be done without complaint.
He held up his end of the bargain - as well as a 7-year-old can - as was rewarded with the gift ten days ago. We also revealed he wouldn't have to contribute any of his own money.
Time is Money by Tax Credits
Eventually, as happens in every house, a parent vs. child tug-war began over something so silly that listening to yourself argue about it becomes painful.
As the arguing escalated, he was threatened with the repossession of his new iPod Touch.
He replied with the infuriating: "I don't care."
I saw red, grabbed the toy, and walked out. I was so angry I knew it wouldn't be constructive to argue any further. I left him alone in his room, and stood stewing in the kitchen by myself.
Why was I so furious? What is it about those glib words 'I don't care' that drives a parent crazy?
It took me a while to understand for myself why it hurt so much to be dismissed in that way by my child. Once I understood how to verbalize my feelings, I knew it was vital he also understood.
Hours later, at bedtime, once both of us were calm, I explained it to him:
What made me most angry isn't that you weren't listening; it also isn't because you were being rude to mummy and me. What hurt me most is when you said you didn't care whether we took away your iPod.
Every time anyone in this house wants something, it means me or mummy has to go to work to earn the money to buy it. I was happy to give you the iPod; you're doing well in school, and taking care of your pet. But when you say you don't care whether it gets taken away, it says to me 'Daddy, I don't care if you have to leave your family to go to work'. And 'I don't care about the things you buy me with the money you earn at your job'.
That really hurt my feelings. I don't like taking time away form my family to go earn money. I would prefer to be at home. But, leaving you guys every day is worth it for me if it means we have things we need and want, and things which make us happy. I had to work the better part of a day just to buy you your birthday present.
If you don't care about those things, it means you don't care about all the time you don't have with me or mummy so we can give these things to you.
I wouldn't let him answer. I gave him a kiss and an 'I love you', and let him sleep on the idea.
I got a big hug the following morning. He got his iPod back a couple of days later.
Is this fix permanent? I doubt it - kids are just that fickle and frustrating. But, as much as he may understand the value of money, he now understands a little more about the value of time, and that there is a cost to time without daddy.