I was at the park the other day with my 6-year-old son. It was a sunny day and a perfect day for an icecream. My son asked me for an icecream but I hadn’t brought any money with me so I said no. A kind father of another child overheard my conversation and offered to buy the icecream for him. I refused his offer, not least because he was a stranger, and told him that I wanted my son to learn that he can’t always have what he wants. The man said, ‘Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong.’ Part of me agreed with him.
I think it is important for my son to learn that he can’t have everything he wants all the time. Being able to delay gratification and having self-control has been found to have positive outcomes for children in terms of performance at school and relationships. Recently, I went to a village fete and I decided to give my son an allowance of £5 to spend on food, drinks and games. I told him that any money he had left over, he could save towards a Minecraft toy that he really wants. When we got to the fete, he was quite careful about what he spent his money on. He did buy a drink, some popcorn and played two games but he decided that he would save £3 of his money towards his toy. I felt that he had learned a lesson about not spending money frivolously.
On the other hand, I want my son to understand the value of money without him be overly worried about it. Sometimes, as parents we might avoid buying something for our children by saying that we can’t afford it. This can give children the impression that we don’t have enough money or we don’t have control over our finances. Children need to understand that there is a difference between things that we want and need. For example, if a child wants a new Minecraft toy for £100 but they already have a lot of Minecraft toys, you might talk to them about how long it would take to save that amount of money if they were working as a shop assistant with other bills to pay. As a parent, we can say to our children ‘I don’t choose to spend my money on things that we don’t need unless it’s a special occasion.’
Research suggests that the more open we are about our finances, the more financially savvy our children will be. Many parents shy away from talking about their family income or debt with their children as they don’t want this information to be shared with others. However, communicating with our children about these topics can be useful in the long-term. Perhaps once we feel our children are old enough to keep these details private, we should talk about them. What do you think?