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My daughter ( in class 5) had won an interhouse declamation contest and was very excited. Her house teacher ( Mrs. Ritu Bhatt) had asked the kids to buy whatever they wanted from the school canteen on the coming Friday ( which was almost a week from the day of the declamation) as a treat for the effort they had put in. The very idea of a treat with friends appeared more exciting than the fact that they had won. Everyday since that day, she would discuss with me, what all she should eat. I would smile and say "Ma'm said whatever you want right? So just go and buy whatever you want!" The menu options were many and equally enticing. So we went through a week of possible eat and drink combos till the big day arrived. When she returned from school, the first question I asked was "How was the treat? Who all came? and What did you finally buy?". She informed me what fun it was and what all happened but did not say anything about what she ate. I persisted and asked again "But what did you finally eat and drink?" Her reply was "I ate a springroll and drank a Frooti." Carrying the conversation forward while I laid lunch on the table, I said "I thought you like Rio and wanted to order that. Was it not available that you took Frooti?" "That one is for Thirty Five Ruppes, Frooti was for ten. It did not seem right to make ma'm spend so much money so I told my friends also that we should order Frooti and we all agreed."
It just hit me that my little one was money conscious! I was glad she was considerate enough to not burden the teacher ( though am sure her Teacher would have gladly paid the bill even then) but I also started thinking if it was correct for a child her age to realize and get into the value of money concept. Somewhere I was concerned. I acknowledged that as parents we have taught this to her implicitly. However, I had heard some people talk about how kids have the whole adult life to learn value of money and spending it and should be pampered and allowed to have some luxuries when still kids.
Around the same time another incident happened with my son. We were in a mall -my kids and I - meeting a friend and her kids. A toy train passed by. It would take kids for a round in the mall atrium. My friend's 3 year old wanted to take a ride. She asked my 6 year old if he wanted to go too and he replied "It is a wastage of money aunty. I can buy a book in that much money." Out of shear shock and curiosity I asked him if he knew how much it costed and which book can he buy in that mount - he had the answer!!
I started thinking and waited desperately for my husband to return from office to discuss with him if we had been too harsh on them that they can at this age apply such reasons to what should be bought and what should not be bought. Had we made them grow up too fast? I also started to think and identify what behaviour of ours would have made them understand this. We have always told them that they can ask for whatever they want to eat ( unless it is excess of junk). Even the pizzas and burgers are allowed on outings. They can ask for books ( whatever is approved for age suitability by us and they want in their collection - else we visit libraries). Some toys can be chosen ( for special occasions etc). However, one rule is clear that every time we step out or visit a market or mall, they do not need to buy something. We buy stuff only if it is needed not always because one likes it. Over the years they grew up from babies to toddlers to young kids, this is what was conveyed with no particular end objective in mind.
So was it correct for them to handle this aspect of life as they were doing. Did it curb the free thinking that childhood should have, the spirit of no worries so characteristic of the little ones? As always, I called up my mom-in-law -my 24x7 mentor for motherhood. She helped me let go of any traces of guilt that I had begun to have and I share with you what she said.
Like all other aspects of life, money and finances are also what parents end up guiding kids on. One may sit down and explain things to them about money once they are old enough to handle it. However, the overall approach to spending and saving is what we convey unknowingly. Each set of parents may have a different view like in the case of general parenting approach. However, it is absolutely fine to convey that one needs to spend wisely in life. For example, once when my son asked for a toy drone that costed Rs.5000/- my husband explained to him the benefits of a cycle that cost the same. He could make him see the value that he would get by spending the same amount on a cycle. This also conveyed that spending the amount is not a problem but spending on the right thing is a decision to be taken.
All my worries set aside, thanks to Dadi, now we talk to the kids about money more often. So after class four they started get a weekly amount to buy something from the school canteen. Surprisingly, often they come back and return it as there was nothing interesting to eat - same old stuff ( A silent victory for us)! This also helped them understand money transactions as initially they would plan what all they could buy in 15 Rupees and how much change will the get back.
I also opened an account for each of them and they take all their 'shagun' money once in a while to deposit in the bank. Recently, my son asked if instead of a birthday gift toy or clothes or books on his 9th birthday, we could put that money aside and after a few years take him to a particular country!! Of course we will get him something for his birthday but the whole thought process of saving to achieve a goal seemed like an achievement for us!
So it is fine if a kid asks or thinks - How much does it cost?