Tag Archives: kids and money

Teaching empathy to kids is no easy task

If you asked me to name the qualities I most want to instill in my children, empathy would be in the top three.

In my youth, like most kids,  I cared mostly about myself and how everything affected me. But as I got older and saw more of the world, I began to understand how lucky I was to grow up safe, loved, and wanting for very little. When I had three healthy children who opened my heart, I learned new depths of gratitude.

When looking for a place to live, Wilson and I chose a town where our kids would meet all kinds of people with different backgrounds and experiences. We donate to charity and volunteer for several organizations, sometimes with the kids. At holiday time, we give gifts to a family who can’t afford them.

I watch the news with my boys (ages 13, 10, and 7)  most nights and try to talk to them about other places in the world where kids don’t have access to food, clean water, and an education. They wonder how those kids live without an Xbox.

I hope it’s sinking in, but you just never know.

empathy graphic

I’d like my children to occasionally do things out of the goodness of their hearts, not because they feel forced. I’d like them to think about the feelings of others when making decisions.

Their empathy will increase as they mature and their brains are less wired to self-absorption.  But sometimes it feels like a personal failure when my boys are mean to another kid,  ignore cruelty by others, or act unsympathetic towards a stranger.

This week, 7-year-old Eli accompanied me to Trader Joe’s. He LOVES to use those mini shopping carts and help me check out. As I was bagging my groceries, an elderly woman stood behind Eli, watching him furiously unloading our cart onto the checkout counter.  Smiling ear to ear, she started chatting with him and marveling at his eagerness to help. We exchanged some cute banter about how fortunate I am to have my own professional, handsome checkout boy.

As I was paying, the woman moved to another aisle to check out. I whispered to Eli that he should go help her unload her cart. At first he looked confused, wondering why he would help a stranger. I explained to him that she was older and needed assistance, and would get a kick out of his gesture. He shrugged his shoulders and went over to help her.

I was busy checking out and loading my bags, but when I looked over to walk out, Eli had put all her groceries on the counter and the woman was beaming. As we exited the store I got a warm feeling inside. Eli grinned as he strutted to the car.  I told him how pleased I was that he helped the woman:

Didn’t it feel good to be nice and help someone? She’ll probably go back home and tell all her friends about the adorable little boy who unloaded her groceries. I’m so proud of you for helping!” I cried.

He kept smiling as he pulled a crisp dollar bill from his pocket.  “She gave me this!!!” he shouted with glee.

My heart sank.

That little stinker was giddy because his selfless deed was rewarded with cash!

kids money empathy on carpoolcandy.com

Was the empathy message lost in the excitement of spending plans for his new fortune?

I hope not.

I’d like to think Eli would have been just as happy leaving the store, knowing he helped someone, even if his pocket was empty.

eli with dollar2

But I’m not so sure.

Kids Wasting Money

I must have been some kind of war survivor in a past life because I hate waste. Most people, in theory, don’t like to squander, but I’ll go to great lengths to avoid it.

You would know that from a gander in my fridge, where there are several condiment bottles standing upside down with an inch left inside, and a dozen Tupperware containers filled with leftovers.

This does not translate to penny-pinching or miserly ways, mind you. I’ll still overpay for a handbag or a hot pair of shoes, but I’ll wear them until they disintegrate or find a new home.  I am a regular on the Vets used clothing/house items pick-up circuit, I recently hosted a successful clothing swap, and I am a chronic re-gifter.

I’m giving you some context so you understand my anger and frustration when my children waste.  It took me a while to be ok with my babies throwing unwanted food on the floor. By nature, toddlers are wasteful because they aren’t aware of the world around them. But by the time kids hit 7 or 8, can’t I expect some sense of responsibility and prudence?

Last week, 12-year-old Jacob got new sneakers because his were too small and he had worn through the toes. He picked a snazzy pair of Nikes with neon green details and laces.  All seemed well until the third day after purchase, when the new shoes were left clogging my hallway and the holey ones were back on his feet, with no discussion.

When pressed, he admitted he didn’t like the costly shoes he had chosen after trips to three stores. Who knows if someone at school made fun of the color or he just decided they were no longer cool, but those shoes are dead to him now.

My 8-year-old, Aden, is in a bad activity-quitting phase.  For years, he was my easy-going one who signed up for anything, regardless of whether friends were involved or he was familiar with the place or teacher. In the last few months, he has begged me to sign him up only to quit guitar and basketball.

Last weekend, I had RSVP-ed yes to a football fundraising party that all his friends were attending, yet he decided that morning he would rather pout than punt.  I told him he had made a commitment, I had paid for his ticket, and his brother was going so he was going. Despite my pleadings, the coach’s cajoling, and his friends’ inquiring, he dug his heels in and refused to play the whole time. I was annoyed but knew there was nothing I could say to make him play so I ignored his stunt and let it go.

What is a parent to do when a kid makes a decision and then changes his/her mind, and that choice costs money and effort? On the one hand, growing up is about learning to make good choices and we should give them room for mistakes.

But shouldn’t there be consequences to bad choices that cost money and time? I still have to buy Jacob shoes, so do I take the money out of his piggy bank? Do I punish Aden for not wanting to play football with his friends?

Both those penalties seem too harsh, and yet I’m still bitter about the waste. Please weigh in on this topic in the comments. Would love to hear what you think before I earn my title as meanest mommy ever, yet again.