Anyone who’s ever heard a child say a very grown-up word they definitely didn’t learn in the classroom knows that kids are sponges for adult behavior. And this applies to money, too.
“Kids hear how we talk about money, they see how buying decisions are made, they notice how we react to financial situations. They’re always watching, absorbing our stress and our attitudes. Even if we don’t talk about them,” says Chicago-based financial expert Ellen Rogin.
Which means how our children will manage money in the future is being shaped by the atmosphere around finances at home right now. Most parents are quick to teach their kids about concepts like saving, investing and shopping for bargains. These kinds of lessons are necessary, says Rogin, but they’re not enough. “We’re missing the opportunity to truly cultivate those skills to help our kids … to have a healthy relationship with money.”
The missing pieces are gratitude and generosity.
“One of the best ways to lower anxiety levels about money is to focus on what you’re thankful for,” says Rogin. Her family began a daily gratitude practice with their children when they were young. Each night before bed, they each share five things they are grateful for.
Even though it’s not directly about money, Rogin believes this can change how they think about finances. Gratitude, she says, “moves our attention towards what we want as opposed to what we don’t want, and directs our thinking [away] from scarcity.”
Learning to give is also important. Encourage them to use some of their money to contribute to causes they care about, and show them how you decide your own charitable donations. And show them that giving doesn’t have to mean sending cash; spend an afternoon with them volunteering at a park cleanup or walking dogs at a shelter, take them with you when you drop off unwanted books or clothes at the thrift shop, and tell them about volunteer work you’ve done in the past.
By cultivating gratitude and generosity in your kids, you’re teaching them that money is about so much more than getting, spending or holding onto.
You might not see the effects of these lessons for years, but trust they’ll have an impact. Rogin says, “Imagine a world where people are confident instead of fearful when they talk about money… where we’re focused on what we’re thankful for instead of what’s lacking in our lives.”
Watch her TEDxSevenMileBeach talk here:
Mary Halton is Assistant Ideas Editor at TED, and a science journalist based in the Pacific Northwest.
This post was originally published on TED Ideas. It’s part of the “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from someone in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.