Children and Money

3 Reasons Why Kids Resist Debt Repayment Efforts

3 Emotions That Cause to Lash Out While You Pay Off Debt | www.TheHeavyPurse.comMany parents worry money conversations with their kids will be difficult or uncomfortable, so they avoid having the “money talk” as long as possible. This is a common concern, but most parents discover that it’s much easier than they anticipated and can actually be a lot of fun. Of course, there are instances when those talks don’t produce the expected outcome.

I’ve always been a big proponent of talking to your kids about family debt. Money secrets do more harm than good, even when your intent is honorable. Debt seems like a grown-up concern, which it is, but it’s also a family concern. It’s highly unlikely your kids don’t know there is tension in the home, but they do not understand why.

It’s just as stressful for them, which is why I advocate having an honest, age-appropriate conversation with them. They shouldn’t shoulder the debt burden, but they should also be aware of why changes that affect them are being implemented.

In most instances, children respond positively overall. They may be disappointed about some of the cut-backs, which is normal and to be expected. But beyond the occasional grumble, they support your efforts and do their part. However, there are children who may not actively undermine your efforts but still act out and cause discord within the family.

3 Emotions The Cause Kids to Hinder Debt Repayment

Many parents don’t know how to respond when this happens, so let’s take a closer look first at why or what emotions may be causing your child to lash out.

1. Your Child Feels Guilty

Your child may blame themselves for the family debt situation. They may think about the times they asked you for money or to buy them a pair of designer jeans or a new video game and you said “yes”. They feel at fault, even though they are not to blame.

You know it’s not your children’s fault, but unless you tell them this (and sometimes repeatedly), they may still think they are at fault, especially your more sensitive children. They will let guilt eat them up and may become moody as a defense mechanism. If you suspect one of your kids does blame themselves, I would suggest as part of your regular progress reports that you gently remind your kids that they are not to blame.

2. Your Child Feels Angry

The changes you need to make may feel like punishment to your child, even if they rationally understand why they need to be made. They may be upset and angry with you because they had to drop out of their favorite activities and cannot do the things they want or used to be able to do.

When asked what is wrong, they may attack and drop the most powerful weapon in their arsenal, the “I hate you” bomb. Those three words cut like a knife and you need to prepared for their anger, so you don’t respond emotionally back, either with equal anger or defeat.

Permit Them to Participate in a Favorite Activity or Sport

This is obviously the controversial choice, but before you gather up your pitchforks and start leaving ALL CAPS comments at me, please hear me out. Most parents are wired to protect their kids and when they hurt, we hurt. And when we caused the hurt, we doubly hurt. Many parents will respond to the “I hate you” bomb emotionally, which can lead to a decision you regret later. Let’s remove the emotion and take real look at this option to see its true cost, so you can make a mindful choice.

Most people select a payoff date, and in most instances, it’s a fairly arbitrary date. I certainly encourage people to be appropriately aggressive and not stay in debt any longer than necessary, but you also need to look at the whole picture. What is the impact of not permitting your child to participate in their current activities? Be honest. Some things, depending on their age and skill, is very minimal. For your teens, however, it may have more of a legitimate impact, especially if you’re not looking at a one year absence, but more likely 3, 4 or 5 years of non-participation. It could prevent them from making the high school teams, earning college scholarships etc.

This may not seem like a huge deal to you, but it could mean everything to them. So what are your options?

  1. Set aside an amount of money for each child to participate in one activity. Calculate what the affect this would have your debt repayment plan. How much longer would you stay in debt, pay in interest. Is the outcome worth it? Only you know the answer. Do not let any judgement from the peanut gallery influence you.
  2. Set aside an amount of money for each child to participate in one activity. You are unwilling to budge on your payoff date. Fine. How can you earn that additional money for your kids to still participate in one activity?

PLEASE NOTE: Deciding to what to cut and what not to cut isn’t easy and is a personal choice. Don’t let your emotions guide what you eliminate and what you don’t. Take each item one-by-one and decide what’s best for your family. Remember, activities, such as piano lessons, gymnastics, baseball or hockey lessons do add value to your kids life, so it may make sense to mindfully continue to support their favorite activity while eliminating the rest. Things like designers jeans and iPhones may be things they want, but should be items they earn money to buy themselves.

Don’t worry you still have other options if the above don’t appeal to you. Let’s take a closer look at some alternatives.

Grandparents Pay for Activities Instead of Traditional Gifts

It may be a bit of a cliche, but lots of grandparents love to spoil their grandchildren. And it’s likely that you have at least one set that indulges your kids with expensive gifts throughout the year. Confirm with your kids first that they support this and assuming they do, ask grandparents to instead pay for activities in lieu of Christmas, Birthday and I love you gifts.

Kids Earn Money for Activities

There is no reason why kids can’t pay for their own activities or at least partially pay for them (with you or their grandparents footing the rest of the bill). Kids hoard lots of things, but when they find out they can earn money by selling old video games, clothes, toys, etc., they suddenly don’t mind cleaning out their closets. Help them sell items on Craigslist (safety first!), eBay or hold a garage sale to make money for activities and/or fun money.

Encourage Their Entrepreneurial Spirit
I’d start with having them sell their old things (partly just to clean out their room!), but to make money ongoing, they need to find some sort of a job. There is, of course, the traditional job, but depending on their age, they may be too young to get hired. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have options.

Babysitting, shoveling snow, raking leaves, mowing lawns and walking dogs are good, high-paying jobs. If they are extremely good at a sport, musical instrument or school subject, have them tutor or coach younger kids. You’d be surprised by how big of an audience there is for these types of tutors and coaches and how much parents are willing to pay, especially if your child is known within your community or school for their abilities.

Let Your Kids Express Themselves

The key is talk to your kids. They may be angry. They may say hurtful things. Let them. You may want to avoid it but letting these emotions fester only makes the situation worse. Let them speak their mind. It will be cathartic for them and you (because you most likely do feel guilty). They and you will feel better if you can clear the air. Because most likely underneath their anger is fear. Fear often manifests as anger and once the anger is released, you can deal with their fears.

3. Your Child Feels Scared

Kids pick up on your emotions. If you feel scared or guilty or angry, there is a good chance they do too. So first, take an honest assessment of how you feel. Because even though you may think you’re masking your fears, you’re probably not doing as good of job as you think you are. Older kids, in particular, may have had friends or classmates fall on hard financial times too, which could have led to their friends losing their homes, parents divorcing, etc. Your kids may be scared this will happen to them.

Address Fears to Reduce Their Power

At a progress update, acknowledge your fears and most importantly, how you worked through them. Invite your kids to share what fears they have. They may or may not feel comfortable sharing in front of their siblings, but you can also have private conversations individually afterwards.

Expect the Best, Plan for the Worst

When you talk to your kids about family debt, having a united, positive front goes a long way. As does having a clear, confident plan. Expect and ask for a supportive response and in most instance you’ll get it. At the same time, be ready to deal with some unhappiness and resistance too. You want to be prepared to handle any outcome, so you can make mindful decisions, not emotional ones.


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October 20, 2014  •  28 Comments  •  Children and Money

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  1. Monday, October 20th, 2014
    My mom was open and genuine when my dad lost his job. She was just still being nice and composed while talking to us. She never showed loss of hope or rage but showed positivism so that made a difference. The talk went well, and we understood our current situation. Thanks for the tips Shannon.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, October 20th, 2014
      It sounds like your mother handled a difficult situation very well. Being positive makes a huge difference, especially when the subject matter can be scary for both adults and kids. But understanding your current reality is important and most kids really do want to support their parents.
  2. Monday, October 20th, 2014
    I think it's hard to see your own kids sad or not getting everything they want. Although this is natural, it doesn't mean it's not the right choice. That is to say, that even though it's hard and your kids aren't the happiest while it's happening, they're getting "tough love" and learning valuable lessons that will prepare them for the rest of their lives.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, October 20th, 2014
      It can be incredibly difficult to say "no" to your kids when there isn't debt and even harder when debt exists because you feel responsible. It's important to not let guilt drive your decisions, but to make mindful choices as to what you can and cannot do for your kids.
  3. Monday, October 20th, 2014
    I can definitely see guilt playing a large part in this. Sometimes I have pointed out to Will that we have spent money we really didn't anticipate spending because of something for him and I immediately see this look in his eyes like he feels bad about it. I stop and correct myself that we are doing it because we want to and not because we feel as though we have to, but I can see why kids would feel guilty.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, October 20th, 2014
      We try so hard to protect our kids but they will quietly worry besides us, often alone, which makes it worse. They may feel guilty and blame themselves, which is why we do have to be so careful about how we talk to our kids about choices. To make sure they understand they are not to blame, even if we did spend unwisely on them in the past. It was our choice, but now we're making mindful choices on things we buy our kids. I'm glad you catch yourself with Will because I know you're doing so many good things with him to help him have a healthy relationship with money.
  4. Monday, October 20th, 2014
    I love the idea of grandparents contributing to the activities rather than buying them "things". I got so much joy from pursuing gymnastics. But I can't remember any specific gifts.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, October 20th, 2014
      Every once in awhile we receive that one truly magical gift that we never forget but otherwise, we do tend to forget all the various gifts we received throughout the years. Pay for activities that we love is a much better use of money and a very welcome gift when families need to cut back on expenses too.
  5. Monday, October 20th, 2014
    Excellent post Shannon! Thankfully we were long past getting my debt taken care of before having kids, so haven't had to deal with this per se. I love the idea of having grandparents pay for activities - we do that a bit in our family actually. With 3 sets of grandparents the amount of stuff the kids can get can be a little overwhelming, and the kids get much more out of something like swimming lessons and the like than they do out of some toy. I could not agree more on the allowing of an activity either while paying off debt. Assuming it won't seriously hold debt repayment back, having that activity can really do a lot for most kids.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, October 20th, 2014
      Thanks, John! Our kids get plenty of gifts too and it can be overwhelming. Activities are something kids really enjoy and are not as easily forgotten either. It's a definite balance when it comes to debt repayment. You want to be aggressive but at the same time you don't want to punish your kids either. Activities add a lot of value and there are ways to mindfully include them.
  6. Monday, October 20th, 2014
    Like John, I'm so glad we paid off our debt before our daughter was old enough to do activities. I still would have probably allowed here to do them. It's not her fault that we got into debt. I had a friend who made her son quit football because of costs but she and her husband continued to play their rec league sports. It was not my call, but I think it was horribly confusing for the kid. I think there are things you can cut or ways to earn more without sacrificing something that kids love to do and that might build confidence and leadership potential.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, October 20th, 2014
      Wow. That had to have been really confusing for her son. As you said, it was her choice, but I agree there are ways to earn extra money for your kid's activities and the value they add to a child's life is worth figuring it out.
  7. Monday, October 20th, 2014
    It is important for kids to fail, but we don't want to get upset at failure. We need to teach them that it is common in life, but shouldn't define our life and that we can learn from mistakes (including money mistakes) and then be stronger the next time that comes around. We can't get upset at failure or we damage people for life. Kids are really sensitive and take things personal, but we can teach lessons of accountability without damaging them permanently or they may fear money the rest of their lives.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, October 20th, 2014
      Exactly, Lance. You don't want kids to fear money. Or feel guilty about money. There are lots of emotions that can get tangled up with money and drive their decisions. Kids are sensitive, so we do need to be mindful of how they are responding. One child may respond exactly as intended while another may respond very differently. We need to be able to help them through this no matter how they respond.
  8. Monday, October 20th, 2014
    My mom endured financial hardship after a lay-off when I was young. There was no way she could have hid her fear and stress. She did reassure me that we would make it through the dark times and she didn't fail. I believe that my earlier struggles with excess spending were in part triggered by fear of not be able to have what I wanted/needed like what occurred during childhood.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, October 20th, 2014
      It happens a lot, Kassandra. Fear is such a strong emotion. Many adults today who have problems with spending often talk about how fear played a role in their childhood so they learned to equate spending with things being okay. So they always tell themselves "yes" as an adult to quash those childhood fears. It's a vicious cycle and I'm glad you've managed to break it!
  9. Monday, October 20th, 2014
    I could see all of those reactions happening. And sometimes all three at different times. I think it would be a challenge, but if you can make debt repayment into as much of a fun game as possible, that might ease up the tension. Of course that's easy for me to say. :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, October 20th, 2014
      I think these emotions will creep up at some point in most kids. We are emotional beings after all. :) And yes, being able to stay positive and make it a game as much as possible can help reduce tension and fear, which will help balance their emotions.
  10. Monday, October 20th, 2014
    Now that we're through with our credit card debt repayment, we've actually heard a couple of times from our daughter that she feels bad having us spend money on her. One time she was going to go to dance class sick because she didn't want to waste the money we paid for tuition that month. Just recently she said she didn't want to go with my wife to get her nails done because she didn't want us to spend the money on her. Time to teach her a little bit about balance I think....
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, October 20th, 2014
      Absolutely, Travis! I know from your posts that your daughter has become very good about handling her money, but they can occasionally go to far too. And it's up to us to help them understand about money balance and learn how to spend their money with joy too.
  11. Monday, October 20th, 2014
    My parents definitely wen through times where they were intentional about being frugal and saving money. Probably the biggest issue I had with it is that I wasn't explained why we had to live a certain way and some other families didn't. I think communication is underrated between parents and kids. The more the better.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
      I agree, DC. There can never be too much communication between kids and parents. Many parents forget to explain the "why" and it makes a huge difference. Lots of times kids think it's for a different reason and it shapes how they think about money.
  12. Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
    I really like this proactive, inclusive approach. It makes sense to me that all members of the family should have a sense of what the overall debt-repayment plan is and how they fit into it. I wish that my parents had been a bit more open with me about their finances, but, I suppose it's something I can just incorporate with my own future kids.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
      I know money talks still remain taboo today and I hope more and more parents see the value of talking to their kids about money. Even when the subject is a tough one, like debt.
  13. Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
    This is a great post, Shannon. I always feel bad when kids have to pay the price for their parent's bad financial decisions. I know someone who just lost their house and had to move their two teenagers into a tiny apartment. It's really sad to see children's lives turned upside down like that. It's no wonder they are so angry.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
      It is so hard to hear stories like that. And it's far too common too. It's a tough situation and being open with one another is so important, even when you have to deal with anger and hurt feelings.
  14. Saturday, October 25th, 2014
    Our children are still pretty young (1, 6 & two 8 year olds), so they ask for a lot of stuff that costs money, like bowling, movies, mini gold, etc. They are starting to learn that those things aren't free. When they really want to do something that we didn't plan that costs money, we ask if they want to pay for it. Occasionally they will say they do, then they will understand the cost. Usually after we explain the cost, they don't want to do it anymore. They think "Oh, the family going to the movie theater would be almost all of my money and I really want that thing I'm saving for", so it's a no-go. lol
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    "As a Certified Financial Planner, it is my passion to help individuals and families build a healthy relationship with money. I look forward to helping you raise financially confident kids.” - Shannon Ryan