Parenting and Money Roundup: The One with the Puppy

Here’s a roundup of recent thoughts at the intersection of parenting and money.

A First Purchase

I’ve experimented with letting Bean, our 3.5-year-old, spend a little of the cash in her piggy bank to give her a sense of how money works. This is somewhat difficult given that she is still in the stage where she doesn’t understand the face value of money, only volume. So, having two “monies” is clearly more than having one, higher face-value “money.” We’re working on it.

Several months ago, I let her bring a few dollars to the local science center and pick an item from the $1-$2 STEM toys bin (local AND educational, y’all). She chose a dinosaur race car, and paid for it herself.

While in the gift shop, she desperately wanted to buy a stuffed puppy. I told her that we wouldn’t buy it today, but she could think about whether she really wants to another day. I explained that if she trades her money for it, she cannot trade her money for something else.

She remembered the puppy for multiple months, across a few more trips to the science center. She would ask every so often if she could still buy the doggie. A few weeks ago was the big day:

One satisfied customer! I hope I taught an early lesson in delayed gratification and mindful spending.

Money See, Money Do

Bean, as Mommy shopping: “This is good!” *puts in cart* “But this…” *turns up nose* “is TOO expensive.” *puts back on shelf*

Materialism and Kids

Yesterday I was listening to the newest episode of Bad With Money with Gaby Dunn. It featured a researcher who has shown that children who are punished/rewarded with material goods as children tend to value material goods more as adults. That is because parents inadvertently give a lot of value to the goods by making them objects of desire and frustration for the kid. (The interview is the last part of the show, beginning around the 30-minute mark, if you’re curious.)

We don’t take away toys as punishment much in our house, although we do take away the television from time to time if we get a report that Bean was not listening well at daycare. It’s effective, but I’ll consider whether that sets a good example.

It did make me wonder about another of our parenting practices, though. We constantly remind Bean who got her the toys in her life, which are mostly gifts from people who live far away. We tell her they got it for her “because they love you.” This was in attempt to cultivate gratitude (so she knows toys don’t come from a void) and remind her of the people in her life that she does not see often. It has definitely stuck. She routinely asks, “Who got me this?”

I worry sometimes, though, that by linking the material item with the love, we’re sending the opposite message: “If so and so doesn’t buy you something, they don’t love you.” I haven’t necessarily seen positive signs of the message being heard that way, but it’s a concern. It’s definitely making me consider new ways of framing how we talk about her gifts. I am also trying to find ways to help her understand that everything others do for her, not just the material things, are because of love. I’d appreciate any thoughts or advice on that front!

6 Replies to “Parenting and Money Roundup: The One with the Puppy”

  1. Steveark

    I think you are being an awesome mom! I don’t think you have to worry about the material aspects right now, your kids will get their attitude about stuff shaped by your attitude about stuff. You have such a balanced and wise view on materialism that will overwhelm the small stuff you mentioned in this post. There is just no way to avoid sending some mixed messages to kids that young but the overall volume of awesome parenting you will be providing by being such a good role model will be what sticks. I know, I watched my incredible wife teach our three kids (now grown millennials) and they are all frugal and experience oriented far more than they are materialistic.

    • Ms. Steward

      First, congrats to you and your wife for doing the job well! That’s what we all want as the final outcome.

      I appreciate the reassurance, and indeed sometimes feel that there’s no way NOT to send mixed messages. Even if you are United in front. Mr. Steward tends to be more “stuff” oriented than me, I am a minimalist, so they see a few options just watching us, too.

  2. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life

    We also practice “X got you this because they love you” but like you I worried about inadvertently teaching JB that gifts = love so we try to balance that with other “X does Y because they love you” like cooked a special dinner, or let us stay at their house, or played a game.

    We also frequently tell zir that we love zir, and ze does the same with us, just apropos of nothing at all. My hope is that ze will take away the idea that we can love people for no other reason than we value them, and that we can show love in many different ways.

    I’m trying to think of a better way to punish than taking away things, though, because we do use that at times and I don’t want it to backfire. We use timeouts regularly but maybe that should be our primary punishment.

    • Ms. Steward

      That is true, we do also often tell her that we love her randomly. I’ve tried to do a better job lately of reinforcing that all of the activities people do with her are because they love her, too.

      The problem with us and punishing by taking away things is that it’s very effective! Time outs are whatever to Bean, but if you take her stuff…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *