Cornucopia Kids

by Lauren Bradway, Ph.D.

Are your child's closets and shelves overflowing with toys? Do you add to his or her collection of stuffed animals or trading cards every time you go shopping? Do you always return from a business trip with a gift in hand? If you answered "yes" to even one of these questions, you're well on your way to raising a cornucopia kid.

The term "cornucopia kids" was coined by psychologist Bruce A. Baldwin in the mid-eighties to refer to children raised in homes where the good life is available for the asking, and where no personal effort is required. Fifteen years later the situation can only be described as even worse. Children in the year 2000 have an unprecedented amount of stuff combined with little or no responsibility for acquiring it, caring for it or replacing it.

Here are some warning signs that your child may be in the danger zone:

  • On an outing to Target, you buy your two-year-old some candy or a toy to keep her from crying and screaming.

  • Your preschooler has already been on a cruise or stayed at an expensive resort.

  • Your child demands the best in clothes, toys and recreational activities. Some of her first words were "Barbie" and "Disney World."

  • Your middle school daughter regularly gets her nails done.

  • There's never a quiet moment in your home because the television or stereo are always blaring, and a battle ensues if you try to turn them off.

  • Your child has a "who cares?" attitude about the problems and needs of others because he's self centered and downright selfish.

  • The new bike your son got for his birthday was left out in the rain the very first day. This is the same child who routinely loses critical pieces to puzzles and games. He does these things because he's learned that what's lost or broken is magically replaced.

  • At a very early age your child began a collection of dolls, stuffed animals, or figurines, and you feel it's your responsibility to support the collection by buying up every new one that comes out. You convince yourself that it's an "investment."

  • Your child always has unearned money to spend because you freely give advances on allowance, and her allowance is usually spent by mid-week .

  • Your present-oriented child is concerned only with the pleasures of today. Things come his way without effort, so he sees no need to set goals or plan ahead.

  • You personally do without basic items such as new towels or underwear to buy your child an outrageously priced pair of jeans, sneakers or prom dress.

Even as late as the teenage years, it is possible to turn things around. Here are some immediate steps parents can take:

  • Give age-appropriate work responsibilities beginning in the preschool years. A 2-year-old can put his pajamas away and pick up his toys. A 4-year-old can help load the dishwasher.

  • Don't give too many freebies. Getting too much for too little effort diminishes both motivation and creativity. Create the link for your child between effort and reward. When your child demands something you can't afford, don't hesitate to say, "We can't afford it!"

  • Limit TV time. Relying on external stimulation to entertain suppresses the imagination. Active learners are found on their bikes, on the playground or in the library, not glued to the television.

  • Simplify birthdays and holidays. Limit the number of gifts your child receives. Put the emphasis on sharing activities together such as a trip to a waterpark or planetarium.

  • Teach your child to share with others. Help him go through his closet to choose outgrown clothes and no longer used toys to pass on to another child. A good practice is to let go of something old before something new is acquired, for example, just before Christmas or Hanukkah. With a strategy and a little bit of determination, you can corral your cornucopia kid.

Dr. Lauren Bradway is the author of How to Maximize Your Child's Learning Ability: A Complete Guide to Choosing and Using the Best Games, Toys, Activities, Learning Aids and Tactics (Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, New York. It's available at

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