My mother used to tell my siblings and I lots of folktales when we were young kids, but for some reason I never realized this particular tale was not a real life story until I was much older. Almost every time she scolded us for doing something bad, she would tell us about this young boy who was sentenced to several years in prison for theft. Just before the police could take him to his cell, he asked the judge for permission to whisper something in his mother’s ears, and the judge obliged. He then went over to his mother and bit her ears. The shocked judge asked him why he did that, and he said it was because his mother never taught him that stealing was bad.
Children are like sponges, they are eager to learn. If you fail to teach them, they will learn from other sources and may learn the wrong things. One of the key topics to discuss with your children this holiday is money, it is never too early to teach your children about money. The key to ensuring that you get your message across effectively is to make sure the discussions and lessons are ‘children’ friendly and creatively woven into normal family activities.
Here are a couple of tips that can help you during this holiday and all year round. Enjoy!
- Piggy bank gift: One of the first gifts to give your children should be a piggy bank, encourage them to pick up coins within the house and to save part of their gifts in it. At the end of the year, you can break the bank and encourage savings and friendly competition by giving a nice gift to the child who saved the most during the year.
- Exposure: Let your children know that they are among the fortunate ones by showing them children who do not have as much. Explain the concept of poverty, charity and volunteerism by taking them to orphanages and other places where they can help the less privileged. This is a priceless way to raise children who do not become entitled and wasteful.
- Needs vs. wants: Adults who struggle to differentiate between wants and genuine needs most likely began the struggle as children. When your child ruins his/her toy and begins crying for a replacement, be sure to firmly say No and stay on course. Also firmly set a price and quantity limit for toys and gifts they can get based on their age (you can review this on a yearly basis to give them the feeling of being ‘promoted’).
- Be a parent: I have talked to some friends who buy their children so many clothes and toys they don’t need in an attempt to cure the guilty conscience they (the parents) have from working long hours or to simply distract the children while they focus on other things, which may be valid tasks. However, you should know that no amount of gifts can take your place in your child’s life, so quit trying this strategy because it does not work.
- Interesting stories: Apart from the story in the opening paragraph, my mother also used to tell an interesting tale about the sun and the moon, which I now know was to discourage greed and miserliness. The moral of this story was that the moon is cool and loved by people because she was not greedy and miserly while the sun is unloved and harsh because she was greedy and miserly. Pass on good values to your children through tales, feel free to make them up and add nice ‘spices’ too.
- Set good examples: Children learn a lot by watching and copying the adult figures in their lives. If you want to raise prudent children, then you must set good examples. Don’t scold your children for wasting food and asking for frivolities when that is what you do while they are watching. Lead by example.
- Don’t hide the bills: Let the children know about bills, financial obligations and even financial mistakes you have made. Let them hear you talk about financial plans and goals even when they are unable to contribute, the message will stay with them and come in handy when they become adults.
- Let them chip in: Your 10-year-old son wants to buy a Nintendo DS that costs $100? Why not teach him the value of money by asking him to save half of the cost first? Make him pick up ‘extra shifts’ of chores in the house to earn tips towards his goal or tell him that if he can save $50, you will give him the balance on his next birthday. Apart from teaching your child to save, this is a way to challenge them early on in life.
- Things money can’t buy: Teach your children great values and help them develop a healthy image of themselves. Do not buy your child a cell phone just because she says every other 8-year-old in her class has one, do not put your 10-year-old child in a first class seat just because that is where all her classmates are sitting. Teach your children that self-esteem cannot be bought by all the money in the world, and encourage them to live within their means early on in life.
- Entrepreneurship: Teach your children the value of hard work and encourage them to be business minded early on in life. I remember my siblings and I putting up amateur musical shows for our uncles and aunts to earn small change when we were kids. When you visit your family or close friends, encourage them to hire your slightly older child as their baby sitter for the duration of the visit and pay for the service, and encourage your child to save that money towards an item you will allow him/her to buy but you will not pay for. Start a ‘bake and sell’ club with a small group of friends, where your kids take turns to bake and sell products to the adults during holiday gatherings.
I hope you will try these tips, then sit back relax and watch your children blossom into financially responsible adults.