7 Ways to Raise Grateful Kids

When I was in middle school, my parents encouraged us to work so we could have spending money. When I got my first babysitting, then snow-shoveling, then restaurant jobs, I was thrilled to have my own earnings and learn about money. (Even though I made $2.50-$4/hour!) Now that I’m a parent, that’s something I really hope to pass on to the boys. But how? In partnership with Capital One, here are seven tips I’m trying to follow for raising grateful children (and I’d love to hear yours)…

1. Make allowances.
Do you give your kids an allowance? So far, we haven’t, but I know that allowances can help children learn about money and saving. Some of my friends encourage their kids to split money into three piles: spending, saving and donating. I love that idea, don’t you?

2. Cherish a few toys.
My boys are literally always asking for new toys. But! When they actually get them, they’ll often play for half a day and get restless. Six years ago, I wrote about a toy experiment I did with Toby, where I put many toys in a closet, and left just a few favorites for him to play with. That way, I hoped our home would seem calm instead of overwhelming, and he could enjoy deep play. It was pretty incredible how well it worked for him. Since then, we’ve tried to do this as much as possible. Bonus: When we rotate old toys back into the mix, they feel almost as exciting as new ones!

3. Relate money (and value) back to their world.
We started having money conversations when Toby was in kindergarten, when he was learning about math basics and counting coins. Nowadays I’ll ask them to count the change to pay for ice cream or groceries, or have them look around the store to find the least expensive cereal or trash bags. I also heard a great tip from a friend: for small holidays or the tooth fairy, instead of giving kids money or toys, you can reward them with coupons for experiences. Their family has coupons for family movie nights, homemade dinner of your choice, or a stay-up-past-bedtime pass! How cute is that?

4. Set expectations before shopping.
For our boys, we also like to set expectations around not shopping. We’ll say things like, “You can go see the toy aisle at the drugstore, but we’re just looking today.” I want them to understand that buying things is a special treat, not a given. Also, the line “maybe for your birthday” works much better than I expect it to. :)

5. Set goals to encourage saving.
In high school, I really wanted to visit my grandparents in England, but my parents couldn’t afford a family trip that summer. So, by working at a pizza place and babysitting, I saved up for six months for the $500 flight, and it felt really empowering. Now, I encourage the boys to save their coins for specific goals, whether it’s a trip to the movies or something they’ve been eyeing. (Anton is currently saving for a head lamp.) It helps them understand the concept of savings and delayed gratification, and how small amounts can slowly add up to something bigger.

6. Try to teach generosity in all ways, not just with money.
You know when you’re at a dinner party or family reunion, and the same people always end up clearing the table and washing the dishes, while others just sit back and chill? Doesn’t that drive you bananas? It’s one of my goals in life to raise boys who always jump up to clear tables — as well as help parents carry strollers up subway steps, support friends when they’re moving apartments, volunteer in their communities, and on and on. We’ve tried to start this while they’re little: they set and clear the dinner table, hold doors for passersby, write thank you notes to grandparents (and the tooth fairy!), hold lemonade stands for charity, etc. And children’s books, like Zen Shorts, can help teach empathy and kindness. (I also found this New York Times chores article really compelling.)

7. Remember the best things are free.
At the end of the day, of course, the best things in life don’t come with a price tag. I loved this past comment from a reader named Annette: “The top parenting advice I ever received came from my mom, who told me, ‘You don’t need a lot of money to have fun and raise happy children.’ She told me to do things they will remember, like going for a walk in the dark, looking at the stars and watching the boats go through the drawbridge. These are the things, she told me, that your kids will remember.” The other day, Anton, Toby and I were sitting on a park bench, watching some squirrels jump from tree to tree. Anton sat back and said, in his gravelly voice, “This is the life.” And it really was.

Do you have any other tips? What would you add?

P.S. The most useful parenting finds under $25, and do you talk to your friends about money?

(Photo by ChaoShu Li. This post is sponsored by Capital One. Thanks for supporting the brands that support Cup of Jo.)