Small kids who don’t understand money often take small items off shelves in stores—many small toys and candies, for example, are easy for a child to put into their pocket in a blink as you pay your bill at the register. In their minds, simply wanting something and having it be available is a good enough combination to take.
Why Your Kids Are Stealing
Accidental stealing happens mainly because kids don’t realize that access to something requires an exchange or trade. What they want, without necessarily knowing the label for it, is ownership rights to the product. In order to get those rights, they have to give up some of the money they have. It’s common for caregivers to emphasize that payment is necessary but not present the process of buying as a trade, leaving the question of “why” money is needed unanswered.
Defining Ownership Rights: The Key for Kids to Understand Money’s Purpose and Product Value
It is easy enough to tell kids that a money exchange during a purchase gives them certain entitlements. The tricky thing is that those entitlements are not the same from product to product. For example, one basic entitlement that applies to virtually all purchases is the ability to take the product from the store. Other entitlements can apply, however, such as being able to have the manufacturer replace the product at no additional cost if it is defective or breaks. Better quality is another form of entitlement, as is greater quantity.
Talking about entitlements is necessary when you discuss money as a trade because the entitlements, or set of ownership rights, for any product affect its sticker price. The more entitlements you get, the higher the cost usually is.
One easy way for you to get your kids thinking about ownership rights and the real purpose of money is to ask them what they will be able to do with a product once they pay for it. For instance, if your child buys some food at a fast food restaurant, he is buying the right to consume the food, nothing more. An example of a slightly more complex situation might be if your child downloads some music from the Internet. He could be buying the right to play the music on just one device or several, for instance.
Another option is to start out with a mock store at home. Supply them with a currency of, say, marbles, and then let them use that to access items like their favorite snacks. From there, you can explain that, way back hundreds of years ago, people realized how inconvenient it was to carry these heavy currencies around, and that they came up with money as a light, standardized substitute.
The Emotion Problem
Kids are still developing their sense of rationality and gaining experience, so in terms of ownership rights, they’re emotion based and focus mainly on the ability to feel satisfied from whatever they’re getting. There likely will be plenty of times where they disagree with you about whether the privileges are worth the given price. You’ll need to explain why you believe items are overpriced. Providing this information keeps you and your children from simply having emotional battles of wills. They’ll be able to apply what you tell them not only to both the immediate and future buying situations.
Kids often don’t fully grasp why money is necessary, which links back at the most basic level to ownership rights and trade. You’ll need to touch on these ideas if you want your children to really understand value and resist “grabby hands.” This process takes effort, but by really explaining money’s purpose, you’ll be able to stop purchase tantrums and prepare your children for years of smart buying.