There seems to be endless decisions to make once you become a parent. It already starts when you know you are pregnant or even before that. The moment we get the responsibility of taking care of someone other than ourselves, someone we have never met before who arrives without a suitcase, without personal belongings, without an instruction manual, without the language ability we are used to, we are faced with all kinds of random choices to make for someone else’s well being. The decision could be small ones, like what are we having for dinner today or which brand of diaper to get. Most of the time, however, they seem to be big decisions and it starts even before the baby is born. Questions like, will I be a stay-at-home-parent or a working parent, what is my birth plan, when is baby ready for solid food, what school should my child go to and what age is the right age to start school or pre-school, should we try for another baby to add to the family, is this just a normal flu to ride out at home or do I need to bring her in to see a doctor, do I go handle the situation with school friend issues or is this an experience she needs to experience on her own and learn it that way? This list could continue probably forever and varies with each family. Some we all share and some are very personal and specific to each family.
One thing is clear, you will be faced with tough questions and from my experience so far, you don’t always know for sure if you are doing the “right” thing. Sometimes, it is very clear, you feel strong about it and it just feels right and then there are other times when you hope that this was the right decision and go from there.
Pocket Money: Gift or Earned?
One of the decision my family was facing a while back was about pocket money. We were out and about and it was one of those times when my oldest daughter asked us to buy a toy she wanted for a long time, and of course all of her friends at school have it already. This toy buying situation came a bit out the blue since it was supposed to be just a quick grocery shopping time and our kids know that we do not buy a toy each time we buy groceries. So when that question came up, both my husband and I looked at each other and asked ourselves: “So at what age does this pocket money thing start?” Did we totally miss that bench mark? We seem to be able to remember all the rest and take care of things, but did we get so distracted with life that we missed the beginning of pocket money? So for me, immediately I started guessing about when other parents started that and how they do it. How much would be a good amount, did other children just receive the money or do they earn the money?
Luckily, both my husband and I are on the same page with parenting things and we knew two things for sure:
This is one of those personal decisions that each family needs to decide on their own and it depends on many circumstances. I am not here to say how it should be done but simply want to share some of the ideas we came up with to teach our children about money.
Putting things in perspective
In our family, we feel it is important that our kids appreciate the things they have and understand, at a certain age, how they get the things they have. Both my husband and I have full time jobs outside our home and from an early age on our children made the connection of work = money but of course the value and worth of money is not quite understood yet. My youngest daughter is convinced that I am 15 years old, so obviously numbers are not that relatable to her. Still, they understand that we do not go on vacation every holiday or three day weekend like some of their school friends, there are toys that are considered smaller toys which we can get during the year and there are special or bigger toys that go on a birthday or Christmas list. Fortunately, our kids are great with this and very accepting. I love how they have learned that already at this young age and show their appreciation for what they have. My heart melts when my 11 year old gives me a random hug when I buy her a “special snack” that is usually out of our budget, or my 6 year old breaks out into a celebration dance because we announce that we will spend the evening together with family game night and the two sisters can have a sleep over together. They appreciate the small things and they do it full heartedly.
How did we get to this point at this young age? I think mostly by talking and explaining things early on. We always explain to our children the reason for things. It may need to be adapted to their age so that they can understand. Later when they are able to comprehend more, we expand the simplified explanation to something more detailed once they are ready.
In addition to talking and explaining…
here are 4 ideas that have helped our children become more aware of the value of money:
At our school, there is a once a year sale at the end of the school year where families can sell anything household related. We always rent our spot there and use it as an opportunity to clear out the house of stuff we do not need anymore but are still in good condition. The preparation for this sale starts many weeks ahead of the sale. We explain to our children that buy selling some of our things, we can help those who may look for that and at the same time we create space in our home or their room. This space can remain a space, but who are we kidding……it will be filled in no-time. However, we can replace the books that are not of their interest anymore because of their age with new books that suit their interest better. Kids change their size of clothing so fast and their taste in toy choices, books, music and other things. So instead of allowing unused stuff to clutter up, we take the opportunity to sell and use the money to safe and also buy things that are more current of interest to them. On top of it all, our kids have a blast at those yard sales! They love the idea of seeing their friends there, selling some of their things and finding new treasures.
Both our kids have a list of chores. There are tons of ideas in the Internet world of what are appropriate chores for each age group, how to introduce chores and different systems of implementing chores into family life. I have tried several ways and to be honest, many of them failed simply because my kids did not stick to the plan well. They lost interest quickly and it became more of a burden to the whole family than something rewarding. Finally, I have a system now that works for our family. Basically I made a list of optional chores for both kids. I started first by listing out all the things that they could do at their age and something that would actually help me and not sabotage my own chores each day. You know what I am talking about right? Like when your kids “help” you clean up and you find yourself cleaning up after their cleaning. Yes, as cute as that sounds, I just do not have the energy to do that after I come home from work and try to keep up with the rest of my household work. The term “keep up” here is used very lightly. I always feel behind. There is always a basket of laundry waiting for me, always clutter piling up somewhere, groceries that we need to get and so on. The point I am trying to make here is that I would like their chores to help me out a bit and not double up my work on the to-do list.
So after I made that list of different chores I categorized them into three sections:
Our Chores-Reward System:
These are easy to do and the kids are able to finish them fast. This are things that are easily doable on a daily basis.
Chores that could be done daily but they take up a bit more working time.
These are not meant to do daily. These are once a week chores that take more time to complete and are bigger jobs.
For our system, I made this list more visual attractive by making little pockets for each chore and labeled them with words and pictures (for my youngest one) to explain what each chore requires. Then, I added money value to each of the three categories. So the easy chores in category 1 get the least amount of money and the challenging chores in category 3 the most.
Now my kids have a choice each day of what and if they want to do a chore. For example, they can do many easy chores in one day, one big one on the weekend, or nothing at all. Whenever they complete a chore, they can add their name into that pocket and at the end of the week we count how many chores they have completed and add up all the money points earned. The whole idea is that the more they do the more money they earn.
This has worked the best so far because it is self-motivated and not me forcing them to do things around the house. Also, now when we go shopping and they see something they want, I can tell them to pay with their money. It they did not earn much, they quickly learn to help out more at home. Of course there are always exceptions where I buy them something spontaneously and I think that is how it should be. It is not the idea to make them pay for everything they want, but more to bring awareness to what it means to have to pay for things and for me to feel a bit more free to say “no” sometimes when I feel they do not need another something.
3… Piggy Bank
The money that our children earn from their chores or they receive from relatives is saved in their own piggy bank. It is more helpful for them to actually see the coins than to just imagine that somewhere out there is money saved up for them. I say coins because to my six year old, it seems that coins have a much higher value than bank notes. We save their money until it reaches a good amount and then we take our children with their piggy banks to the official bank. We do this trip with our children on purpose. We want them to see where the money is going and we explain to them the idea of a bank. They are there witnessing the counting process and they are very proud when it is revealed whatever amount they have earned. I found this to be a very rewarding experience for them to be part of.
This part can relate very well to yard sales and school events. We teach our children not just about our family and how we do certain things but we also teach about how each family or life is different. Just like we teach them that we do not go on a family trip every long weekend we also teach them that there are people who appreciate any support we can give. That support can come in many ways and is not only money related. School also helps a lot with this and I am very grateful that my kids can go to a school where volunteering is part of their curriculum. Every year we donate things to charity a the same time of the yard sale. We also do this at Christmas time where our kids gather up toys to bring to children who may not get anything at all. Throughout the year, we are supporting the school whenever they collect money for charity and families who are affected by natural disasters. Our children are aware of these things, again as much as appropriate for their age group. I am so proud of how they have developed compassion for others without me pointing out things to them. They have learned to open their eyes and their hearts to others, see the needs and respond in helpful ways. A lesson that I believe can only be learned hands-on and not only in theory.
All four of these things are part of our family’s life and it seems to me that it has helped our children to understand that money has value and is something we need to work for in order to get. At the same time, it also makes them see that we can use money in ways to help others and support each other.
how can we teach our children that money is not all there is?
What I did not want to leave out in this whole process is the question “how can we teach our children that money is not all there is?”. It is actually very insignificant when compared to other things. How can this be taught without disregarding the need for it? How can we show our children that it is important to save money but staying humble and opening their hearts to things where money has no importance at all?
Again, this might be very different to each family as we all have different backgrounds.
Creativity is worth more than Money
In our family we always encourage the things that require creativity over money. Our children have learned that creativity can help out in so many ways. When they play with their toy unicorns or jungle animals we do not need to buy all the fences and toy village decorations for them. They have learned that we can easily make our own landscape in several ways from playing outside in the garden to crafting new things out of cardboard, boxes and paper.
Boredom is not a bad thing
I am also a firm believer that being bored is not a bad thing. When I am busy with something and the kids tell me that they are bored, yes my first reaction is to quickly think of a solution. However, I also know that a lot of great ideas can develop from nothing at all. It is usually in those times when I do not fill their their space with “something to do” where they come up with great game ideas and where and 11 year old and a 6 year old play together in harmony (most of the time). I do need to add the side note here that boredom can also cause the opposite effect and get kids into trouble but this is where the parenting part comes in. Parents know their kids best and know how much supervision they need .
Learning Basic Life Skills
Working as a teacher, I have also witnessed the increase of screen-time with children. Many kids these days do not understand what to do with themselves without a screen in front of them. They do not know how to wait in line or for their turn to speak, they do not know how to sit and observe for a while instead of “doing something”. A lot of children need to be entertained every minute of the day. Again, I feel that it is very important that children learn those basic things like waiting, observing, listening, creating something from scratch. To me, theses are basic life skills and need to be taught from the beginning of their lives. It will not be learned without an opportunity to practice these skills first.
Doing things together
My children do not have their own ipad. Their tv time is limited to a specific time and they have learned to live with it and accept it. I do not feel like my children are left out of society because of that. I do not feel that they feel bad about it. In fact, while I am writing this, I can hear the laughter from them in the other room. When I peaked over to see what is happening, I see my husband and my children sitting on the floor playing a board game together having an amazing time. I do not hear that kind of laughter when they watch a movie, I do not feel their engagement and connection with each other like that during screen-time. Our best family moments happen when we do things together. It can be things like going out somewhere to explore something, or simply playing games together at home, cooking together, yes even clean the car together.
Our children have learned that having a good time with each other does not require a big bank account. What it does need is the ability to listening to each other, to be creative, to compromise, to laugh, to learn new skills, to explore, to think outside-of-the-box, to feel compassion to each other, to support others, and to bring all of that together with a big heart filled with love.
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