Credit Card Parenting

Any links to Amazon are affiliate links.

On Becoming Babywise II makes reference to “credit card parenting.” “You will pay the training price in the future, but with compounded interest” (page 63). This statement is surrounded by so many other strong statements for parents to think about that I am sure many parents completely miss that, at least on a first read-through. Also, if this is your first child, you might not really grasp the truth of that statement.

The future. Tomorrow. It will all get better. We seem to believe everything will be easier in the future. My husband often makes plans for the future, believing we will have more time in the future to do things. A good friend of mine with three young children looks to the future thinking life with children will slow down…then she looks at the schedule of a friend of ours with three older children (two teenagers and one in elementary) and realizes it doesn’t slow down. It gets busier.

I can’t remember where I heard it, but someone counseled to never depend on having more time tomorrow than you have today. This is wise to apply to all aspects of life. Don’t plan on tomorrow bringing you more money than you have today. And don’t plan on tomorrow bringing you a child who is more willing to comply with your instruction.

What does credit card parenting mean? First, think of how a credit card works. You buy stuff using a credit card, planning to pay for it tomorrow. As soon as you buy it, you start earning interest on it. Perhaps you have a card with a grace period, but when those 30 days are up, your extra supply of cash you were hoping for doesn’t come, so again, you have to pay the interest. Now that item you purchased will cost you a lot more. It will take more money to pay for it than it would have if you had waited until you actually had the money. Not only do you owe for what you originally paid for, but at the end of the interest-calculating period, that interest is added to your total that you owe. You then owe interest on the new total for the next period–not just the first total. This is compounded interest.

So how does this relate to your children and training? First, you must accept that tomorrow is not going to be an easier time to train your child. I have had these thoughts, also. You think the child will be more mature in the future, have better communication skills, and therefore be easier to teach these concepts to. When you allow inappropriate behavior to continue in hopes of having a child who is more willing to comply with your instruction, you will be sorely disappointed.

Your child will not be more willing to comply. Your child will be confused. You will be removing freedoms that were once allowed. That isn’t going to make your child more amiable. It will likely bring out a tantrum. Teach your child now.

I must point out a few caveats here. When I say teach your child now, I don’t mean you take your 2 week old and start working on things like “Yes Mommy” and hand-folding. You teach your child when it is age-appropriate. Not sooner, and not later. There are age guidelines for when certain training is appropriate, but you also must be the parent and evaluate your child as an individual. While doing this, don’t underestimate your child. She is capable of more than you might think. She understands a lot more than you realize. I also must warn that you don’t expect more than she is able to give.

Along the same lines, it is perfectly fine to wait for your child to be ready for something before you train or move forward with a transition. If your child isn’t ready to handle the freedom of moving to a “big girl” bed, keep her in the crib until she is ready. This is called parenting in the funnel (see funnel ).

Also, avoiding credit card parenting doesn’t mean that if you have a 12 month old and have let certain behaviors go on for the last six months all hope is lost. It is never too late to start training your child. It might take more time and more effort, but as the saying goes, better late than never. So when you realize there is something you haven’t started or something you have allowed that you shouldn’t have, fix it. There is no time like the present. And notice I said when and not if. It will happen. You aren’t perfect.

Believe me when I tell you that it is much easier to address discipline issues from the beginning. It is easier on you and easier on the child. An 8 month old is a lot more willing to comply than an 18 month old. Start now. You will be glad you did.

Related Posts:


Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook


  1. Angela
    April 27, 2009 / 4:42 PM

    Very well said. I love the quote, “Never teach something you will later have to unteach.” This was especially helpful to me as my friends would let their toddlers play with the remote control and chew on paper. I just never allowed that stuff so I never had to unteach it when it became a problem.

  2. The Lubbers Family
    April 27, 2009 / 5:00 PM

    I was wondering if you could do some polls about when people started certain things. Such as, when did you start “yes, mommy” training, when did your child start to understand “no” or “stop”, and some other common BW things.

  3. Anonymous
    April 28, 2009 / 1:11 PM

    I took these principles seriously from the beginning when it comes to some common things like playing with the remote or cell phone (though I’m sure I’ve missed some things!) and it’s been interesting to see how others have responded to it. One day at my mom’s house when I took the remote away from my 8 month old, and he fussed, my mom quickly handed him that wasn’t being used to pacify him. I took it right away and explained that he’s not allowed to play with the remote. My husband one day suggested that we buy him his own remote that he can play with and I said, No, he wouldn’t understand the difference and the point is to teach him that he’s not allowed to play with remotes. I feel I’m constantly having to explain to people why I have boundaries for my baby! But I do believe that it’s all worth it. People always comment on how well behaved and even mannered he is.

  4. Plowmanators
    May 13, 2009 / 3:43 PM

    Angela, I agree, that is a great principle that makes toddler life much easier if you follow it!

  5. Plowmanators
    May 13, 2009 / 3:44 PM

    Lubbers, I sure will! Great ideas, thanks!

  6. Plowmanators
    May 13, 2009 / 3:46 PM

    thesprain, it is definitely common to have to explain and referee to make sure your child doesn’t play with things he shouldn’t. Keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply