Q: How do parents from upper socioeconomic backgrounds help their children learn the value of money? Our 9-year-old has grown up going to nice restaurants, and his father and I disagree on giving him guidelines for ordering. Should a $20 entree for a regular meal be fine and dandy? Should a child get everything he wants or should there be monetary restraints?
-- J. J., Atlanta, Ga.
A: "The parents have to establish some guidelines for themselves privately," says Elizabeth Lewin, a financial planner in Westport, Conn., who wrote "Simple Ways to Help Your Kids Become Dollar-Smart" (Walker and Co., $8.95).
"If children grow up expecting to have everything, as adults they bTC remain very dependent on their parents."
Imagining your child as an adult is the best incentive for establishing spending limits now, says Patricia Estess, author of "Kids, Money & Values" (Betterway Books, $10.95).
"The consequences of not setting boundaries are extensive," Ms. Estess says. "Children learn to equate money with love. The assumption that they can have what they want when they want it creates an entitlement mentality that is frightening when it begins to extend to other areas of life."
Parents overindulge children for several reasons, says Linda Barbanel, a psychotherapist in New York who wrote "Piggy Bank to Credit Card: Teach Your Child the Financial Facts of Life" (Crown, $10).
Some adults felt deprived by their own parents, Ms. Estess says, and are determined to give their children everything they never had. Working parents often fall into the trap of replacing their time with material things out of guilt.
"It's also fun to give, and we want our children to be happy," she says. "But you have to think beyond that and exercise moderation."
Here are some other tips for teaching the value of money:
* Outright denial doesn't work as well as giving choices, says Emily Blaze, a mother from San Antonio, Texas. If a child wants an expensive restaurant entree, point out that there won't be money left over for dessert or a movie.
* Give points of comparison, says Margi MacMurdo, a reader from Minneapolis. Explain what $20 would buy in the grocery store.
* Establish a global view, suggests E. Roelofsen, a grandmother from Victoria, B.C. "Have the family eat at McDonald's and send the difference in cost to a Third World charity," she says.
* When you buy something for yourself, explain how you went about saving or working for it.
* Tame the "I-wants" by helping children create a picture portfolio of the three toys they covet most. Adding a new item means
removing one. Help the child devise a plan for getting the favorite toy -- saving allowance, doing extra chores, etc.
While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband currently live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.
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* Public display: "How can parents make children mind in public, especially in stores?" asks Diane Birdwell of Dallas, Texas. "As a saleswoman, I have seen it all, from ignoring the child to spanking, with countless no-no-no's and time-outs in between. Please ask parents who have well-behaved children in public what they do that works."