Your child may not watch TV news programs or read the daily paper, but he may hear about our nation's economy, the stock market, or other money matters just from commercials and word of mouth. To stop exaggerated ideas that there's actually a bull crashing around a stock market or worries about mom and dad losing their jobs and all their money, it's a good idea to sit down with your child and find out what he knows about money matters. Asking, "Do you know what the stock market is?" or simply, "What do you think about money?" is a perfect way to spark a conversation.
Younger children (under age 8) are just mastering basic ideas about money, from what value coins have to how much different things cost. They won't pay attention to media reports about the economy unless it affects them personally — for example, if a parent or friend's family member loses their job, or if family finances affect what he is able to do or buy. In these cases, honestly explain the situation in simple terms and reassure him that no one is going to end up in the "poor house." Explain how savings accounts, extended family, and government programs exist to ensure there will always be food and shelter for him.
For older children (grades 3–8), use the following tips to help guide you:
Watch the News With Your Child
The easiest way to know and monitor what your child is exposed to is to sit down together and watch the news. Find a program that isn't overly sensational (try local news and weekend shows), and talk about the reports concerning money. It doesn't have to be a formal talk about the economy — in fact, that will probably bore your child. Instead, just ask what she thinks about images and stories as they appear. Discussing the news together will also allow you to gauge her reactions and decide whether she seems overwhelmed, confused, bored, or if she wants to know more.
Find the Answers Together and Explore More
Your child may have questions you don't know the answer to. Instead of making something up or simply saying you don't know, tell her, "That's an interesting question. Let's find the answer together." Then, when the show is over, open the encyclopedia or search the Internet to explore and research the answer. While you're investigating, give your opinions but don't state them as absolutes, so your child feels comfortable expressing her own feelings, even if they seem to contradict yours.
Keep Up With the News at School
Your child's math or social studies teacher may include money or economics as part of the curriculum, or money talk may be interwoven with peer gossip. Ask him or his teacher about what is being discussed at school. Invite your child to tell you what schoolmates think and feel about money. You may be surprised to find out how aware your child is about class and money, simply from noticing which kids have bigger allowances, the newest toys, or which ones wear hand-me-downs.
Keep an Open Ear and Mind
Be open to listening and answering your child's concerns about money and the economy anytime. You may not be able to engage her in discussion or make her watch the news with you, but she may ask a question about homelessness while you're doing your shopping or are just driving around; a kid's mind doesn't always make the most linear connections. Inquire why she is worried and if it isn't a convenient time to talk right then, tell her that you want to talk more about it later. Set a time so you make sure you remember and your child understands that it's important to you to talk with her. Also respect her wishes if she doesn't want to talk at a certain time and revisit the discussion later.