Part of your child's responsibilities around the home is cleaning the dishes off the kitchen table after dinner.
Your child, in an effort to try and make the least amount of trips back and forth from the table to the sink, "wisely" strategizes by stacking the plates on top of one another to reduce the trips back and forth.
From across the kitchen you see that the pile is a bit too high and it seems as if the plates will fall -- probably to break as they crash on the floor. As a parent, you break into the four most common words a parent will say: "Please don't do that!"
But the job has got to get done and when you turn around, your child is doing it again, only to hear crash! Your anger probably causes you to let out Speech No. 45 -- "I Told You So" -- and now two of your new dishes are in pieces spread across the floor.
You are about to lose your cool as you send him up to his room as you literally pick up the pieces and contemplate the punishment for the crime. The list of penalties includes:
1. Giving him to another family.
2. Making him sleep outside in the snow.
3. Having him eat his next three meals off the floor since there are two less plates.
4. Engage him in a discussion about listening and respecting the things we have in our home.
While your vote would be number two, your spouse is a bit more level-headed and suggested you go up and talk to him.
In my opinion, that conversation should have a financial consequence to it. At a certain age, our children need to learn that actions have consequences and sometimes they involve a price. After all, if he would have listened to the instruction and warning, there is a good chance those plates wouldn't have broken.
Once you've gotten through the psychological mumbo-jumbo that they now teach us to use in child discussions, you now have to lay down the law.
"Actions have consequences. Unfortunately you are going to be paying for those plates out of your allowance. This will start with this week's allowance."
Why do you force them to pay? Having financial responsibility teaches him taking ownership of his actions. You aren't telling him that he can't go to college, ever watch television again or play with his friends. You are just showing him that some decisions you make in life have financial ramifications that go along with them.
Plus, it's better that they learn this lesson with a $20 mistake rather than a $20,000 mistake later in life. Someone once told me the phrase, "Little kids -- little problems. Big kids -- bigger problems."
If they grow up thinking their parents are always going to bail them out when they make a bad decision, trust me, you'll be bailing them out well into their adulthood.
Tom Henske is a Westport resident and partner with Lenox Advisors, a wealth management firm with offices in New York and Stamford. His "Money-Smart Kids" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org