When it comes to teaching kids about money, we often think in terms of earning and saving, but how about giving thanks? Cultivating a sense of gratitude can go a long way toward helping kids be better managers of their finances.
People in many parts of the world are grateful simply to have enough to live. One of the paradoxes of always having our basic needs met is that we don't realize how good we have it, and instead focus on the things we don't have. Just as we show toddlers how to brush their teeth or pick up their toys, parents need to model skills such as thankfulness and generosity to their children. And the time we spend talking to our youngsters about these things can become some meaningful experiences.
Here are some tips from experts and real-life parents:
Happiness versus gratification. Stop and think about it: What makes you truly happy? What simply makes you gratified—for now? Material things don't bring happiness, although it might feel like it for a short time. True happiness comes from things like spending time with our friends or taking a hike in the woods. "Teach kids that we have these emotional experiences that really make us feel that we need something," says Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of "Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents." "We are constantly being tricked [into believing] that that sense of gratification is happiness. We might feel gratified when we get something that we want, but that feeling of gratification doesn't last."
Model thankfulness. How many of us tell our children to "use your words" when trying to express anger or frustration? It's also important to teach them words for gratitude and thankfulness. Whether at dinner or at bedtime, get into the routine of counting your blessings. Talk to your kids about things for which you are thankful, and ask them to identify things for which they are grateful. Toddlers may understand this concept better if you talk to them about noticing "good things." Remember, we can be also thankful for a variety of things, such as a beautiful sunset or clean water.
Get in the habit of giving. "When we fill that hole with gratitude and generosity, we don't feel like we need the materialistic stuff," says Carter. But how can youngsters give? One technique that is popular among a variety of financial planners is to have kids divide their money into jars to save, spend and give. Nancy French, who writes a Faith and Family blog on Patheos, says this method helped her three children understand that while they were giving, they still had so much. "In fact, they realized how little they were giving. They were getting five dollars a week and they were giving five dimes to church. That's not much."
Let kids decide where to give. Talk to children about different charities and the type of work they do. Animal lovers might be interested in the local Humane Society. Bookworms could donate to the local library. Susannah Pfalzer from San Jose, California, works with her daughter to save spare change in a charity box. "Whenever the box gets full, we'll pick a charity to give it to," says Pfalzer. "Rachel's always involved."
Let your children experience suffering. Instead of telling them it's not good to want new toys or treats, Carter suggests that you allow them to recognize the longing for material things. That's right—allow them to experience the feeling of going without. Again, it's about teaching kids to be aware of their emotional power of wanting. Also, talk to them about how they feel when they first get that doll or train they really want—as well as how they feel when that emotional thrill fades.
Expand their worldview. French traveled with her husband and children from their home in Columbia, Tennessee, to Africa. "It just changes your perspective on money, on what you need and what you have." There are plenty of opportunities for children to be compassionate closer to home too. Don't be afraid of exposing your young ones to issues of homelessness or poverty—take them with you to volunteer at a local shelter.