Winter's first snow promised more than a change in the
weather: it heralded the fast approach of the holidays-and the annual
gift-shopping ritual. Ken and Shelley decided that today was as good
as any to hit the shopping mall and get the deed done. Shelley stuck
her head in the family room and called to their kids, "Okay,
Nathan and Anna-time to go!"
As the four of them headed out to the car, Nathan was
chattering about his friend's dad's new van. "Man, you should
see it! The seats swivel, and there's even built in headphones in the
back seat for the radio!"
"Sounds nice," said Ken, squeezing in behind
"So, Dad," Nathan continued, "Why can't
we have a neat van like that?"
"We'd love to," Shelley responded, "But
those vans are really expensive, and it's not something we can afford."
"We could always trade in a kid," Ken joked.
Like most of his jokes, this one elicited a groan from the backseat.
In the front seat, Shelley was too busy to notice. She
was reviewing their list of gift recipients, allotting price quotas
for each. After a quick calculation, she told Ken to stop by the
bank. The kids watched as the ATM spat cash out of the slot as easily
as Ken had put his card in. Nathan's voice popped up from the back
seat. "Hey Dad! Why don't you just get more money from the
machine and stop at the van dealership, too!" This time, it was
the front seat occupants who groaned.
The first stop was to MegaToy City, an enormously
sprawling warehouse of material diversions-where even the carts were mega-sized,
presumably to encourage mega purchases. Nathan and Anna, as always,
were awed and wooed by the colorful and exciting displays. One in
particular provoked Anna to put her hand over her heart dramatically
and sigh-a gesture Shelley recognized as her own. "Mom!
Dad!" she breathed, "Here's the new Super City Electric
Train Set that I saw on TV! And it's on sale! Can I get one, please?"
"Anna, we're supposed to be gift shopping
today," her mother reasoned. "Stuff for other people, not ourselves."
"Oh, but Mom," Anna moaned, "There's
only three left on the shelf! We might never be able to get one!"
"No, honey," Mom answered, "We're not
buying it today."
But Anna remained rooted to the spot, nearly drooling
at the glistening train set and taking inventory of the realistic
city parts and pieces. "Mom. Pleeeeze? I won't ask for anything
else for a whole year! I promise."
"Anna!" Ken's voice was firm, "You
heard your mother. The answer is no. We have a lot to do today, so
let's get busy." Anna's whole body drooped and seemed to be but
an appendage of the lower lip she ceremoniously extended from her
She followed her lip down another aisle, where
Nathan's turn for pleading came next. "But I've always wanted an
Alien Mask with Adjustable Voice Changer!" Predictably, the
previous scene repeated itself, and soon Nathan also wore The Lip.
Doing their best to ignore it all, Ken and Shelley
continued agonizing over gift choices for cousins and friends. After
a few more pouts from both children over various New, Improved, and
Wonderful toys (Batteries Not Included), Dad finally relented and let
each of them choose a new video from a wall that extended the entire
width of the store.
The videos, however, didn't stop the whining that
escalated with each new aisle they perused. The toy store became more
and more of a punishment to the parents. Their cart was full of
gifts, their limits for both cash outflow and patience reached. List
or no list, Ken, Shelley and The Lips got in line for the cashier.
Once their packages were paid for and the trunk
loaded, Shelley suggested a lunch break. They stopped at the first
fast food restaurant they spied. They brought their order to the
table, and faster than the parents could sort the little
paper-wrapped parcels, Nathan reached across the table; splash! went
his orange pop over his french fries&ldots;which then fell with a
sodden plop to the floor. Neither Shelley nor Ken had the energy to
complain. Luckily, a nearby restaurant employee graciously mopped up
the mess and replaced the meal, gratis. Soon, the rest of the family
was nearly finished. "I'm still hungry," Nathan announced,
as if the world owed him a tummy-full of french fries but fell
woefully short. "Well?" he added, annoyed that his
thickheaded parents didn't get it. "Can I have some more
fries?" With a second large bag of fries in hand, Nathan
followed his family back into the car and out into the furiously
After a long afternoon, and a fair amount of the list
crossed off, Shelley wearily decreed that shopping be done for the
day. "I second the motion!" Ken answered, his voice
dripping with relief.
After she unloaded the car, she wandered into the
kitchen for dinner ideas, only to stare, bleary-eyed, at the inside
the refrigerator. "I'm too tired to cook," she said,
"Why don't we just order pizza tonight?" She didn't need to
ask the kids that question twice; Nathan brought her the telephone
before the sentence had fully emerged.
As they waited for the pizza, Shelley and Ken sorted
the day's purchases, and the kids ran off to play. A few minutes
later, Anna came rushing into the room crying. "I lost Manny Monkey!"
"I'm sure it's around here somewhere,"
"No, Daddy!" she wailed. "I took it
with me when we went shopping. We HAVE to go back and find it-it was
my favorite! And it's a limited first edition retired premium one!
It's worth, like&ldots;a million dollars!"
"You have tons of those little bean bag animals,
honey. Next time don't bring toys along to the mall."
Anna tears flooded her face. "Then you HAVE to
get me another one!"
"Anna!" interrupted her mother. "We
can't just run out and replace everything you lose. Money doesn't
grow on trees, you know!"
We are always teaching our children-even if we don't
realize a lesson is in progress. Every minute, every day we spend in
our children's company is a demonstration of what we believe, and
children learn well by example. This is particularly true in the
arena of family finances. As we go about our days, we don't realize
that our children are forming concepts about money based on what they
see and hear. From a child's viewpoint, things they need and want
materialize out of nowhere. They have no opportunity to connect our
purchases with the jobs we work, the taxes we pay, the mortgages and
bills that worry our minds in quiet moments.
We pass up opportunities to teach our kids about money
when we answer their requests for material goods by saying, "We
can't afford it," or "We're not buying it today,"
without explaining the reasons behind our decisions. When we usher
them off to a table at the fast food restaurant, they don't see money
changing hands and have no concept of the meal's cost. And value
being relative, can small children understand the difference between
20 cents and $20 without our putting it into perspective for them? To
many kids, a shiny piece of copper is more appealing than a wrinkly
green crumple of paper.
Money, value, cost, and the daily decisions we must
make about all three: They're a mystery to our kids, one they will
not solve easily on their own. In the interest of forming healthy,
productive ideas about material things, what they can and cannot do
for us, and how we go about attaining them, it behooves us to reveal
the realities to our kids in simple ways on a daily basis.
There are many ways to teach children about money.
Begin with a simple thought: "I need to teach my kids about
money, and I'll find opportunities every day to do it." Once you
start, you'll be amazed at how many opportunities will appear!
When you're paying for a product or service, take a
minute to tell your child how much you are paying. To make the amount
more realistic, put it in terms of your child's allowance or a
favorite toy. For example, "Our lunch today cost $20-that's
about the same as four months of your allowance." Or, "The
groceries I'm buying cost $100. That's the same as we paid for your
bike." Can you see that your child may suddenly be more
thoughtful when he asks for that second bag of fries? Imagine his
shock when you explain that the new hot water tank you had to put in
cost the equivalent of 100 months of his allowance! Suddenly these
things don't just "materialize" any more; they begin to
have an understandable value in your child's mind.
When your daughter is making her holiday wish list and
asks for that deluxe new doll set with hand-sewn clothes and period
furniture, resist the urge to say, "We can't afford it."
This only implies that if you had $600 lying around, you'd be
delighted to buy one for her! Instead, pull out a catalog and show
her that you could purchase holiday gifts for your entire extended
family for that same amount of money.
When you've emptied your pockets or purse of change,
don't just toss the change in a drawer. This gives your child the
message that a little bit of money isn't of value. Instead, save it
in a jar and use it to take the family to the movies, showing that
even small amounts of money can add up over time.
When your child makes a request for an item that you'd
typically buy for him, make him think more about cost and value by
giving him a choice. "Sure, I could rent that movie, like I do
every week for you. Or, you could skip a movie this weekend and I
could give you the three dollars towards that CD you're saving
for." "We could stop for an ice cream cone and eat just one
today, or we could get supplies at the grocery store and have enough
for three ice cream cones each." Suddenly, your kids may be a
little more aware of the value of those many little things you purchase.
It's also important to teach our children the joy of
giving from a young age. If they see their own family purchasing all
the things that they need and want, but never see money going towards
helping others less fortunate they may assume that charity has no
place in their lives. Simple lessons, such as letting a child put
coins in a collection jar or including a few gifts on your shopping
trip for your church or school's holiday toy collection for needy
children can give an important message to your children. Doing these
things during the holiday season also helps your children understand
that holidays are not just for making Wish Lists and gathering
presents, but for sharing and caring about other human beings.
Give your children an allowance designated for
specific purposes by giving them guidelines and restrictions. (For
example, you may decide that allowances cannot be spent on candy or
toys that you deem inappropriate.) Help the kids create a budget, but
then let your children learn how to make money decisions. They will
make some poor financial decisions, but over time those mistakes will
lead to successes. For example, if your child chooses to spend his
entire allowance on a new CD, then remembers that school tee shirts
are available for purchase, resist the urge to just throw money at
him. Instead, seize the opportunity to teach a lesson: "Well,
sometimes we choose to spend our money on one thing-like your
CD-which means there isn't any for something else we'd like: the tee
shirt. Those are money decisions we have to make."
If your child has a desire for something special- a
new bike, roller blades, a guitar-don't whine about his always
wanting something. Don't run out and buy it for him. Instead, sit
down with him and discuss the prospect of this new treasure. Validate
his wish for new things; it's normal and acceptable to want something
special now and then. Tell him how much you will be willing to chip
in (one half, one third) and help him formulate a plan to earn the
rest. He'll learn some of the valuable lessons we so need to teach:
how to make a wise buying decision, how to save, how to want some
material things without 'want' consuming one's soul, how to choose
which of those 'wants' to pursue and how to let the rest go. And
after the purchase, because he's been so personally involved, he'll
likely treat the item with respect.
All of these ideas will help your children learn the
real value of money and give them a foundation for a stronger
Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc.
from Hidden Messages - What Our Words and Actions are Really Telling
Our Children by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 2001
Elizabeth Pantleys new book is the wake-up call every parent
needs, a consciousness-raising journey through the small moments of
parenthood. Each chapter uses warmth, compassion, and humor to gently
tweak the consciences of even the best parents, and inspire them to
raise their children in a more sensitive manner.
-- William Sears, M.D. from the foreword
About the Author
Parenting educator, Elizabeth Pantley, is the president of Better
Beginnings, Inc., a family resource and education company.
She is a regular radio show guest and often quoted as a parenting
expert in magazines such as Parents, Parenting, Working Mother,
Woman's Day, Good Housekeeping and Redbook.
She publishes a newsletter, Parent Tips, that is distributed in
schools nationwide, and is the author of Kid Cooperation: How to Stop
Yelling, Nagging and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate.
Other Articles By Elizabeth Pantley