Wednesday, March 23, 2011
It’s hard for children to grasp the concept that money has value. But once children are able to grasp the concept (like my 7 year old son does), you then have to help them to understand the next concept: Delayed gratification. The first concept is easy once children have their math skills down and they are able to make purchases on their own. The second concept can be a minefield.
Our son gets a weekly allowance for doing chores and other odds and ends. If he goes out of his way to volunteer to do something extra, such as helping to shovel snow when we had more than our fill to shovel, he was rewarded with extra money based on the amount of time and effort he put into it.
Last week my son had $12 in his bank. We were going to go to a carnival and I agreed to pay for some of the games and events if my son agreed to bring some of his money to contribute as well. I suggested he bring only half of his money and save the rest. A power struggle was rearing its ugly head. My son demanded to bring all of his money. I strongly believe that consequences provide the best teaching lessons, so I shrugged my shoulders and said, “It’s your money to do what you want with,” and left it at that.
My son ended up using all of his money at the carnival, plus a generous $10 of my own contribution. He at least won some pets to take home: Four small goldfish. If we were to buy four goldfish it probably would have cost $10-$12 anyway, so I felt somewhat redeemed. And deep down inside I knew my son missed having his Betta fish. Betta fish require much more maintenance than simple goldfish, so I preferred having them to take care of. And since we had 2 unused tanks, and goldfish can be put together in the same tank, whereas with Betta fish, you can’t, my son was happy that his fish had a friend in each tank. So far (crossing my fingers), they seem to have adjusted nicely, are eating heartily, and seem to be happy in their new homes.
Fast forward to this past weekend. My son and I were sick, so we spent the day relaxing and watching some movies and television together. At one point, my son saw a new and exciting toy advertised on television. He asked me to go to the toy’s website on the computer. I obliged. He then announced that he wanted me to buy the toy for him. I asked him how much money he had. He realized that he only had a few dollars from this week’s allowance. Enter the minefield. My son begged and bargained for an advance on next week’s allowance. He pleaded to do extra chores, but I was too sick to first organize something for him to do and secondly, supervise his doing the chore to completion. I then calmly explained that I had suggested he leave some of his money at home the day we went to the carnival, but that he had insisted on bringing it all. My son became furious, ranting and raving about me being unfair to him. Again, I calmly said that he would be able to save up enough money in a week or two to buy the toy he wanted. He continued ranting that he didn’t want me to ever talk about money with him again and concluded his rant with ripping up the few dollars he had received as his allowance. Once again, I calmly said, “Unfortunately you now have less money to buy your toy. And when you calm down, you will have to pick up the money shreds and place them in the garbage.” Lesson learned...the hard way.
If I don’t let my son experience the frustration and disappointment of not getting what he wants exactly when he wants, he will never learn to defer gratification. He never will feel the satisfaction of saving up and buying something special that you really want. He will never realize the true value of money and how to manage his own money. I don’t care if he doesn’t want to speak to me temporarily. I don’t even care that he ripped his money into shreds (heck, I spend more than that on a Starbuck’s coffee!). What I do care about is that he eventually learns to value and respect money for it’s worth and it’s buying power. And the only way he is going to learn that is to experience disappointment firsthand. As for shredding money, we’ll have to work on his anger management skills next!