A big money concern for most parents is teaching children the value of a dollar. Money is limited and we want our children to use it wisely. In teaching the value of a dollar, money is useless but influence is everything.
At home, parents have a captive audience and can teach children about money from an early age. “It’s not what we say, it’s what we DO” that teaches children the value of a dollar, or any value for that matter. I agree with Dorothy Law Nolte and her infamous poem “Children learn what they live.”
What are the money messages at home?
Parents may inadvertently give kids negative money messages. “Money doesn’t grow on trees” is most often a convenient euphemism for “no” when a child asks for money. One that most adults recall to this day. In some cases this is all that adults say they learned from their parents about money. Does it add enough value to a child’s financial toolkit?
In the age of Wikipedia and Google, children already know that money does not grow on trees. If you have a “wise guy” kid, they will come back and tell you that money is a by-product made of heavy paper, sometimes mixed with linen, cotton, or other textile fibers which was originally invented to stop the shortage of coins. It is used as a means of exchange for goods and services.
This puts the ball back in your court. The door is open to start having the money talk with your kids. As children mature, parents can be more specific on where money comes from, how it grows and how to manage money.
Does talking about money in the home create fear and tension about money? Chances are good that there is already some fear and tension going on at home about money. That is just the collateral damage of the downturn. But tycoons can be raised by teaching children about money calmly and in bite sized pieces that the children can understand and put to good use right away.
Rather than telling kids “money doesn’t grow on trees” when what we really want to say is “no”, we can tell the truth about money and trees. It is important to do so to raise money smart kids.
A tree has many uses, some of which can be monetized. Think about a tree as a source of shelter, boats, furniture, skis, as a source of food, home to the birds and the bees, providing heat and recreation, and functioning to sustain the ecosystem that sustains us.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, it grows in them.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, it grows because of them.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, it gives the dollar its value.
Conveying the value of the tree through its relevant uses adds to your cool factor and makes you sound young. Making the time to discuss this with the kids helps them understand the value of a dollar and become financially savvy. Looking silly while doing it makes you…. well, the parent.
There are good reasons to start teaching kids about money from an early age. In the absence of guaranteed loans for college and housing, pensions, social security and jobs, youth will need to learn both short and long-term financial planning. Most of this is overwhelming for the parents. But the little ones are watching and taking their cues from the adults. Taking things in small steps and then building on the foundation is key.
If you think that this is too abstract for a child to understand, you may be underestimating your ability to communicate with your kid. In teaching the value of a dollar, the money is just a tool, your influence is everything.
Candi Sparks is the author of children’s books about money “Can I Have Some Money?”. Educating Children About Money, Max Gets It!, Nacho Money and other titles. She is the Brooklyn mother of two, a regular contributor to NY Parenting and is on Facebook and Twitter (Candi Sparks, author).