As parents, we know that we should talk to our children about money and be the role model they need to have a healthy relationship with it as adults. What we don’t always understand is what we shouldn’t say to them about money.
We looked at six things that parents often say to children about money that might send them unhealthy messages on how to deal with money or even cause them to feel fearful about their own security or future. We also suggested alternatives so that you can make sure you’re having a productive conversation with them instead.
It’s in adults’ nature to exaggerate in conversation with friends. Children are less able to understand the subtleties of communication, and might believe that their parents are literally broke. Even if that is the case, or even if it just feels like it, it’s important to give your children positive and reassuring messages, rather than declarations of disaster.
Rather say: It’s still quite a few days to pay day, so we are being very careful with money until the end of the month so we don’t overspend.
If you are bad with money, it’s important that you start fixing your own habits to set a good example for your children. Even so, flippantly announcing your financial shortcomings to your children can create the impression that irresponsible is no big deal. If you’re useless with money keep it quiet.
Rather teach your children about: budgeting, saving and delaying gratification. If you can’t lead by example, at least make sure that they are getting the information they need to become financially astute adults themselves.
Encouraging your children to lie about money forces them to be dishonest, and creates a sense of unbalanced power relations between their parents. It teaches them that there is something shameful about spending money and that one parent will judge the other. The child’s sympathies will either rest with the “fun” parent or the parent who’s being lied to – and neither are nice alliances for your child to have to make.
Rather: Make a commitment to being honest and upfront about money in your marriage, and avoid making purchases that you or your child will have to lie about. If you are doing something you don’t want to reveal, do it on your own time and don’t make your child your accomplice.
Like the “I’m so broke” example, telling your children you can’t afford something can be confusing for them. After all, they’ve probably just seen you spending a few hundred rand on groceries. Or they may worry that you have no money at all for the important things.
Rather: Use the opportunity to teach them about the importance of delayed gratification and saving for things that they want. Or, if there’s really no chance that you’ll buy them the toy or electronic device one day, explain the reasons why more carefully, and detail the expenses that you are prioritising instead. Make sure, though, that you are not shaming them for what they want or laying a guilt trip on them about the things you do have to buy.
If your children are taking an interest in financial matters, rejoice and use their query as a teachable moment. Of course, children aren’t necessarily able to grasp the full intricacies of what you earn and how much you spend (R1 000 seems like an impossibly large amount of money to them) so try to find ways to give them useful information without giving them specific details.
Rather: Explain to your children about budgeting and how adults have a lot of expenses that younger children might not understand. Try to explain all the aspects of a household budget and why they are important, and encourage your children to help you make decisions about the best way to spend – and save – money.
Look, we understand that you might not love having to go to the office and deal with clients and your boss every day. However, it’s important not to condition your children to believe that their future will be all about unhappy drudgery in pursuit of money. Expressing your frustrations about a hard day at work is fine, but complaining about the fact that you have to work at all can make them feel anxious. It’s also important to teach them that your time away from them is positive and fulfilling, so that they learn to embrace their own independence.
Rather: Make an effort to share the aspects of your work that you enjoy and try to give your children a sense that their futures will be full of interesting work and opportunities. By showing them that you can enjoy your job, you’re encouraging them to follow a path that they love too.
As with any other aspect of parenting, it’s better to show than tell. If you find that you’re watching what you say about money around your children, it might be because there are some aspects of your relationship with money you need to fix. Make sure that every message you send them and every example you give them about money is helping them build a strong foundation for a financially secure future.