The holiday season is upon us, and for parents and guardians everywhere, that means a lot of extra financial stress. While many will try to make sure their children are unaware of the additional financial strain, other children understand their family’s financial situation differs from that of their classmates and peers. The holidays provide an opportunity to discuss what income inequality is with kids. Tania DaSilva, a child, youth, and family therapist, tells Parentology how parents and caregivers can explain this to their children while helping to keep the holiday magic alive.
Awareness of Income Inequality
Yes, kids may already be astutely aware of differences in financial means between themselves and other kids. Sometimes, it’s actually the adults who need to tune into these divides and how the gift-giving process can cause issues.
“This time of year is a great time to reflect on our potential impact on others through what we purchase for our children around the holidays and how we display that purchase,” DaSilva says. “It doesn’t mean you need to adjust what you buy — it’s your money you can do with it what you please – but it’s a great time to explore socioeconomic status, empathy, and privilege with your children.”
DaSilva suggests amping up your family’s awareness by:
- Practicing a general audit of their surroundings, considering friends, family, and community members financial situations to develop their financial awareness.
- Reflecting on beliefs, behaviors, narratives, wording, and expectations around money matters and gifts as it pertains to what they are modeling and normalizing for their children.
- Being mindful of language and usage of money, gifts, and financials. Are you using money and gifts as a fear tactic or as an extension of their value? Sayings like this could have you putting a monetary value on the child’s worth or on how they evaluate their happiness and success:
Wants Versus Needs
The holidays can add an additional layer to financial differences. It’s also a time to key into how those differences may be impacting those around us throughout the year.
“Parents can speak to and teach their children about income inequality, empathy and privilege by teaching children the difference between wants and needs as these two things get blurred,” DaSilva suggests. “If children and teens understand the basic requirements of care (i.e food, shelter, clothing), they’ll start seeing the rest as a want (i.e designer clothes, a big house, treats). This can lead us into a discussion about our ability to afford our wants, and others potentially not being able to do the same.”
DaSilva says it’s also important to explore the grey area of needs and wants. “Yes, we need clothes, but we don’t need designer clothes; we want designer clothes,” she gives as an example. “Explore this with your children by prompting them to note the difference between wants and needs regularly.”
Additionally, we can examine trade-off costs. For example, if we spend money on one thing, we won’t have it for something else. For some families, this means deciding between food or a gift. This is something you can practice in grocery stores or while making a Christmas list. Provide choices even if you can afford both by saying, “We don’t need both items, so you pick which one you’d like over the other.” This teaches children about the value of money and the trade-off of spending.
Defining What’s Considered a Gift
Another way DaSilva offers for getting the concept of income inequality across — labeling gifts as feelings and experiences, as well as materialism. “Highlight how happy they are to see their entire family and how much they enjoy the time they spend with them as a gift,” she suggests during the holidays. “It’s helpful to have children think about how some families might be having a wonderful time over the holidays together, which is a gift, but not getting materialistic gifts.”
Opening up the conversation with people outside the family offers additional viewpoints. “We always encourage children to ask friends about their favorite part of the holidays versus what they got as a gift,” DaSilva says. “This allows the person to take the lead; if they say I got to see my grandparents, we can ask questions about that experience instead of about the gifts under the tree.”
“It’s essential to expand on what a gift is: love, quality time, positive feelings etc.,” DaSilva adds, “so when your child is in a situation like this they can still see the other gifts a child received.”
Creating teachable moments is impactful, as well. “Volunteer locally, sponsor a family, send care packages to soldiers or others in need, visit a nursing home or hospital, serve meals to the homeless, donate your time in addition to money to a good cause,” DaSilva lists.
DaSilva points out, “By doing this, we expose our children to the differences in the world and give them hands-on learning to develop new perspectives.”
Income Inequality: Sources
Tania DaSilva, a child, youth, and family therapist