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expert's podium

Talk to affluent Canadians about what worries them and health, work stress and retirement readiness all make the list.

Dig deeper, though, and often another concern emerges - and that's having their children grow up to be happy, productive and successful adults (always recognizing that success has to be defined on our kids' terms, not ours).

Recently, investment boutique GBC Asset Management hosted a series of lunches and dinners for its clients with an expert on parenting strategies for wealthy families.

Lee Hausner is based in Los Angeles and spent many years as a senior psychologist with the Beverley Hills School District; she has summarized her experiences on successful parenting for prosperous families in the book Children of Paradise.

Dr. Hausner and I chatted for an hour between her meetings in Toronto. While some of her strategies are specific to only the most affluent, many of the principles can be applied more broadly.


Preventing affluenza

There are two common diseases, she said, that you find among children in wealthy families - affluenza and entitlitus.

To prevent these, she urges parents to teach kids from an early age the concepts of consequences and accountability.

Too many kids are given too much too early and as a result end up taking things for granted, without placing value on them. Dr. Hausner believes strongly in setting realistic rules for children from a very early stage and for there to be real consequences if they don't obey those rules.

For example, a child gets an iPod or a video game for their birthday. A week later they lose it at the mall. Their natural response is to go to their parents and say they need another one. If the parents say yes, there are no consequences and no accountability.

Realistic expectations

Dr. Hausner also discussed realistic expectations on the part of parents.

Many successful parents push their children to achieve - as a result, some kids feel that no matter how hard they work, they'll never meet their parents' expectations.

For example, if a child is in a top school and they're told that they have to excel, for many that's going to be an impossible challenge, no matter how hard they work. They're set up to fail - and ultimately most will just throw up their hands and give up as a result.

To avoid this, Dr. Hausner urges parents to focus on effort and activity rather than outcomes. Along similar lines, Carol Dweck at Stanford University has done research demonstrating that it's far better for parents to praise effort rather than just the outcomes of that effort.

Family communication

Communication is always going to be an issue, Dr. Hausner said. With successful and busy parents, kids can feel overwhelmed and not listened to. To prevent this, it's important to structure time for regular communication.

Dr. Hausner is a believer in regular family meetings, in which all have a voice and everyone has a chance to contribute items to the agenda. As a result, on decisions like vacations or sports activities, kids feel that they have real input into decisions.

She also talked about using charitable giving to get kids engaged and suggests assigning each child responsibility for a charitable gift of $50 or $100. They have to do some research on a charity, make a recommendation - and then she suggests that a year later they follow up to see how that charity is doing.

As well, Dr. Hausner is a big believer in allowances at an early age - with the suggestion that every allowance be divided into three component parts: some to spend, some that has to be saved and some that has to be given to charity.

And as kids get older, she advocates giving teens budgets for things like clothes spending - and once the money is gone, it's gone. A typical problem for kids in wealthy families is separating needs and wants and learning to defer gratification, the idea that you have to wait and save for something you want. And having to live within a budget helps teach both of these.

Tough love for adult children

Finally, Dr. Hausner discussed dealing with children in their twenties or early thirties who are unmotivated, drifting through life and still living at home.

In these cases, she's a believer in tough love - essentially telling kids that they're on their own and cutting them off from support. She might give kids a few weeks or a couple of months, but ultimately she recommends telling kids that, "We still love you, we'll still invite you for dinner and to join us on holidays, but you have to move on with your life and you have 30 days to figure it out" - and then having said this, she says parents have to stick to this, hard as it might be.

Dan Richards is president of Clientinsights. He is a faculty member in the MBA program at the Rotman School at the University of Toronto.