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Money should not be a motivating factor in a child's life

January 30, 2004|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"Mommy, why does Daddy have to go to work every day?"

My sniffling 5-year-old was just about stir crazy earlier this week as the snow kept coming and I made her stay inside. I didn't want her to get wet, chilled and then sick(er). She's fighting her first ear infection of the season, and I want to make sure she's over it before she spends an afternoon making snow angels.

Her question probably had more to do with why Daddy could go outside and she couldn't.

I knew that, but I still chose to answer it at face value.

"Well, honey, Daddy goes to work so we can buy food, live in our house and have other things that we need. He also goes because he likes the satisfaction of a job well done. That's why Mommy works, too."

It's a discussion we've had before, so I wasn't surprised when she said, "Oh, yeah. You told me that already," and skipped out of the room.

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Kids just love consistency, particularly when it comes to discussions about or issues concerning money.

Ours are quick to remind us if we forget their Friday night allowance.

Apparently, our family's not alone.

A common complaint among children is that their parents forget to give a consistent allowance, says Jon and Eileen Gallo, authors of "Silver Spoon Kids - How Successful Parents Raise Responsible Children."

The Gallos believe that children should be given an allowance because they are members of the family. They don't advocate tying daily chores to the allowance, because everyone in the family should do household work. However, the Gallos think it's OK to let children do extra jobs - wash the car, shovel the sidewalk - to earn additional money.

They don't think a child's allowance should be taken away if the chores aren't done, but they do think there should be consequences.

One family found a simple solution to their teen daughter's reluctance to empty the dishwasher each evening. They tried taking away her allowance, but she still forgot to do the job. One morning, they woke her a half-hour early so she could put the dishes away before breakfast. She never again forgot the dishes before bedtime.

"Kids will forget to do chores. They need punishment. Don't make it money," says Jon Gallo, an estate planning attorney. "You don't want to have money to be the motivating factor in your child's life.

"Money is neutral. Money is simply a tool that you have."

Sometimes parents put off money discussions until children are older, but children as young as 4 start to be curious about money, the Gallos say.

"Later is now. As soon as kids get interested, that's the time to start," says Eileen Gallo, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in issues of family wealth.

For example, it's important to explain why you're reluctant to buy a certain item.

"We can't afford it," is often used by parents as an easy way out when that's not necessarily the truth.

If you're not buying an item for a value-based reason, explain that to your child: "They want too much money for that and I don't think it's worth it."

If kids ask, "How much did our house cost?" or "How much money do we have?" give them a simple and honest answer, providing information with which you feel comfortable.

If you reply, "That's not a nice thing to talk about," you probably won't be asked additional money-related questions. You'll also be teaching that money issues should not be discussed.

Parents need to think long-range.

"What do you really want?" Eileen Gallo asks. "You want your children to be able to take care of themselves financially when you are no longer here."

For more information, go to galloinstitute.org on the Web.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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