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My 6 year old son has a bit of cash. Not much, like around 10 €.

We don't give him pocket money yet, and he got this money by 'chance', for example he can receive the money when we empty the pocket of a pant before washing it, or if he returns back the supermarket trolley.

I think that money is still very virtual to him, and he does not have too much way of spending it.

He started one month ago to give away his money to friends and relatives.

We think that he wants to give his money as a poof of love, but we don't know how to make him feel that this is his money, and that he should not distribute it to people that don't need to receive any money.

How can we explain to him that he should keep his money ?

Edit:
we don't want to break his generosity will, but a drawing or a letter is more suited as a gift for his relatives. I won't say no if he wants to give money to a person in need.
For us coins are not marbles: it is a special thing and we just want our kid to have a clear mind about it.
We don't want him to worhship money, but we want him to respect the value of it (and the work behind).

We also don't want to give money for chore: we think that helping at home is part of the life and does not merit a reward...

Following your advices, we won't give him any more money to him until we decide that he can have pocket money. He will have access to his current money to buy his own stuff in yard-sale.

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I'm somewhat confused why generosity is being regarded as a flaw here. Isn't this exactly the kind of behavior to promote? That is, placing greater value on relationships than finances. –  Calvin Sep 3 at 15:15
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Take him to a toy store, and have him pick a toy that he wants. Then, help him to pay with his money. Also, @Calvin's comment has some value, if a little misguided :) –  Jongosi Sep 3 at 18:53
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Suggested reading: The little virtues, by Natalia Ginzburg: "We should not teach them to save, we should accustom them to spending money. We should often give children a little money, small sums of no importance, and encourage them to spend it immediately and as they wish, to follow some momentary whim" stoa.org.uk/topics/education/… –  leonbloy Sep 3 at 18:53
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@leonbloy: There are simply no words for how utterly wrong that excerpt is in relation to preparing a child for the real world. edit: just read the authors biography; the propaganda makes sense. –  Chris Lively Sep 3 at 22:37
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Perfectly normal for young kids. Even if they do understand that money has value, they are so altruistic at that age, that they will gladly give it away in return for as little as a smile from the receiver. My son did the same at that age, and now he's 8 and he doesn't do it anymore. Just give your son some time, and not too much money. :) –  Tim Kennedy Sep 4 at 16:15

5 Answers 5

up vote 22 down vote accepted

The value of money is a pretty abstract concept, and difficult for young children (and many adults!) to grok.

When your son gives money to friends and relatives, he's likely learning a different lesson about the value of money: when he gives it to people, they say nice things to him.

As was mentioned in a comment above, that's not necessarily a bad lesson, but it does make learning the real value and purpose of money a bit harder.

If your intention behind letting him have these "chance" sources of money is to let him learn about how to spend money, then it's going to be hard when his sole source of income is that he's randomly given it.

If money is just something that randomly "happens", then teaching him the value of it may be an uphill battle.

You may want to consider giving him a small, but regular, allowance. If he knows he will get money next Friday, then he also knows that if he runs out, he won't get any more until next Friday.

To make this effective, though, you'll also need to give him things to spend his money on, instead of just giving it away.

In order for this to work you may have to change how you handle buying things for your son. If your son is used to you buying candy or trinkets for him when out at the store, you'll have to start having him buy his own. If he wants a new baseball glove, he'll have to save up for it. If he wants to try and win a toy out of the crane-game at the store, he'll have to use his own money.

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I don't think there's really substantial evidence that randomized money is any better of a teaching instruction that consistent money if it isn't related to behavior. –  Calvin Sep 3 at 22:47
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Sounds like giving money by chance is the main problem, he is following your example and giving it away randomly too. Regular pocket money teaches that it is limited resource to be valued and thought given on what to spend it on. –  JamesRyan Sep 4 at 9:36
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@JamesRyan, that is a really good point. –  Guillaume Sep 4 at 11:59

Doing a chore and getting an immediate reward like candy is an easy and natural association and can be learned quickly. The further you seperate the reward in time the harder it is to associate. If you give them money and a week later they can buy something with it, it isn't a natural concept, so can take longer to master. They are dependent on you to provide opportunities to spend the money. You need to show them what to do with their money. You could purchase a fun piggy bank that makes noises or moves as they put their money into it.

My advice is to give them concrete opportunities to earn money:

  • Pay them consistent fixed amounts for fixed chores, such as mowing the lawn.
  • Or pay them a fixed weekly amount on the same day, but make it contingent on doing chores.
  • Get them a special place to store their money and teach them to use it.

Consistency is important to teaching associations. This will help give a strong connection from work, like chores, to making money. If you're at the store and they ask for money, don't just say, "Oh yeah, you did do your chores this week, so yeah here is the money" because that in part associates money with asking.

Provide concrete opportunities to spend money with lots of prompting.

  • If you go to the store remind them to get their money. Remind them again at the checkout counter or if they ask for anything specific while at the store
  • Considering selling treats to them directly, like individual oreos for a nickle, this helps give them more control so they don't have to wait until you take them to the store.
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'concrete opportunities to spend money' is probably what we miss the most. We provide him with nearly everything and he never ask for things in the shops... We do that with the money he receives from his grandpa: he can buy books he loves with this money, it probably not enough. I guess it is hard to teach him the value of money without a purpose and a scale for it. –  Guillaume Sep 4 at 7:42

I tell my kids that cash is a very special thing that needs very special handling. They are not allowed to engage in cash transactions without prior approval - neither giving no receiving. They are explicitly allowed to buy items in shops and from food vendors, while everything else requires a review.

The problem I see is that kids, without realizing it, start betting money, get into debt, older kids take advantage of smaller ones and try to sell them things at inflated price (or simply cheating them out of their money) - possibilities are endless.

Giving to charity is a good thing, but it needs discussion about why each particular act of giving is good - or not.

Depending on what your priorities are, you need to encourage saving or spending - or both, provide enough opportunities for it, and make sure that all those transactions are supervised.

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This might be a good time to break out some Robinson Crusoe models, graphs, and a utility curve. –  Calvin Sep 3 at 22:48

It depends a lot on your culture, but rather than trying to raise the value of money in his mind and thereby encourage him to deny it to others, giving it special status, I'd suggest helping him understand what one-way monetary transactions mean in your culture.

For instance, in one culture, giving money without exchanging it for anything else may make the recipient feel as though they owe you something. Money in some cultures is never "given" but either exchanged for something else, or loaned temporarily.

Explain how giving money to someone not expecting an exchange or a loan may negatively affect his relationship with that person.

There are cultures where there are specific times or events that gifting money might be acceptable. Marriages, graduations, funerals, certain religious events or services may provide opportunities to gift money.

A monetary gift may have more meaning to it than a simple open-ended gift. Help him understand that giving money is rarely without strings, and if he wants to engage in gifting money he should at minimum understand what the other person's reasonable expectations or reaction might be.

For the most part as a child adults will simply humor him, and praise his generosity. But in the long run he needs to learn what monetary transactions symbolize so that he doesn't grow up with ill-conceived expectations, or an undue attachment to money.

The biggest worry I'd have is coupling happiness and praise to being able to give money. This may lead to the unconscious feeling that if poor one cannot expect happiness or praise, which isn't a practical association to have if one wants to succeed in life.

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This is a good advise, but I'm affraid that it is a bit too complex for a 6 year old. I'm pretty sure my kid will stop listening after a few word of me trying to explain what monetary transactions mean in our culture... –  Guillaume Sep 5 at 9:22

This sounds like it may be an issue of not understanding the value of money. Does he understand that his toys, television, outings, etc. cost money? Maybe go through the steps of going to work to earn money, then paying bills, buying groceries, then the leftovers for savings/fun money.

We're working on the same thing with our daughter (5 years old). She always wants to go out for lunch on Sunday afternoons after church. It turned into a bit of a habit (totally our fault) and now we're trying to break that habit.

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Or maybe it's a more accurate understanding of the relative values between money and people. –  Calvin Sep 3 at 22:48
    
It may be an issue of having a different opinion as to what the value of money is. (Which, as a 6 year old, makes perfect sense) –  DA01 Sep 4 at 0:52
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I tried to teach him this concept, and that he grasps the relation between work and money: when I say we can't do a thing because it is too expensive, he tells me that I have to work more. But the the credit card is like a magic thing, and the real value of money is still no clear for him. –  Guillaume Sep 4 at 7:36
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@Guillaume: the credit card is like a magic thing to many, many adults, too. :) –  Martha Sep 4 at 21:12

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