How families use money can influence young children into adulthood. At one extreme, children can become financially secure adults, while at the other extreme, they can grow up to live paycheck-to-paycheck in a state of constant financial anxiety.
Here are some ideas for helping your preschool-age child develop healthy, productive financial attitudes and behaviors:
Look for the "teachable moment"
Learning takes place every day and does not require a classroom or a formal lesson. Educators refer to the teachable moment as the time when a child is open to a new idea. Be alert for your child's questions and comments that let you take advantage of her curiosity to teach about money.
Ask "open-ended" questions
Questions that have single-word answers--"close-ended," yes-no questions--do not encourage further discussion. They force you to keep asking more questions. Open-ended questions, which are less likely to be answered with a single word, are more productive because they encourage conversation. Instead of asking: "What color was the man's uniform?" ask: "How could you tell the man was working?"
Build on past learning
Children learn at different rates. There is no "right age" to teach any particular money concept. Financial questions can come up at any time and in any order. Whenever these topics come up, try to connect them with ideas you have discussed with the child earlier.
Books can be a big help in explaining the often-puzzling real world to a child. Read to your child daily and use the public library as a doorway to his interests and for some great stories for preschoolers about money.
Play is one of the most important parts of childhood, during which children try to mimic and make sense of the world. Playing grocery store and other activities with children not only teaches them basic money concepts, but also reveals what they don't yet understand and might be ready to learn.
Involving children in planning for family events helps them learn to be responsible for wise spending. A child who has some say in where to go on vacation and what to do there is more likely to accept spending limits.
Set a good example
Let children see you doing the things you want them to learn, such as making plans to save for a goal and accepting spending limits.
You'll find a set of free activities you can use to teach a preschooler basic money lessons at www.creditunion.coop. Look for Thrive by Five: Teaching Your Preschooler About Spending and Saving. You can download the activities and other teaching resources at no charge. If you don't have online access from home, you can use the Internet from your local public library.
You can also bring your kids in to NSWC Federal Credit Union --- we have more ideas to help you raise financially savvy kids. Check out our games, calculators and stories on our Kids Page at www.nswcfcu.org.
Samantha P. Romano
NSWC Federal Credit Union
Information contributed from the Credit Union National Association, Inc.