Monkey See; Monkey Do

Hannah Hughart
November 20, 2022

There’s a song by Cedarmont Kids called ‘Be Careful Little Eyes What You See.’ While the song is aimed at those who are younger, there’s a lesson for adults embedded within the lyrics. If a little boy is to be careful what he sees, adults have the responsibility to impact what is around for a child to possibly see and observe. If a little girl is to be careful what she hears, adults have the responsibility to be mindful of what they are saying or listening to themselves. We laugh at the saying “monkey see; monkey do,” but we can forget that there are little ‘monkeys’ watching us at all times.

Years ago, my family was visiting friends at their cabin home. Their 3-year-old daughter, in the midst of our playing, suddenly looked at me and cried, “I need to go get my monies!” She hurried upstairs and came back down with her little purse, from which she promptly extracted a plastic toy credit card. She knew that a plastic card meant she could ‘buy’ the items from her toy store, and no one had sat her down and told her how it worked. She had learned simply from observing.

From a young age, kids start learning about and developing a relationship with money. At any moment, “kids see and do everything that we [adults] do”. Whether it’s because they want to be like us, or they’re just repeating what they see, kids will replicate adult behaviors. My friends’ daughter was shopping and therefore knew she needed ‘money’ in the form of her credit card. Long before kids start listening to what we try to tell them, they’re watching us. And if you start trying to instruct them to behave differently from what they’ve seen you do, they’ll have a hard time justifying the difference.

Beware of your own financial habits. It’s very easy for children to adapt the habits of their parents. “I believe the number-one behavior children learn from their parents is spending habits,” Mac Gardner, certified financial planner and author of The Four Money Bears, tells Select. “It’s one of the first financial behaviors children pick up at an early age.” Whether it’s what parents buy, how often they buy things or whether they look for deals, children are watching just how their mom and dad spend money.

Whether you talk to your kids or not about your spending decisions, they soak up your actions like a sponge (Thrivent Financial).

If you make a habit of frequently spending money, you’re demonstrating a potential habit for the next generation. And if they develop a habit that can’t be continually supported by their career of choice, they’ve been set up for financial struggle and the hard path of breaking bad habits in adulthood.

Talk about money with your kids. Rather than expecting kids to learn by example (what they see) or by experience (what they do), have a regular discussion about money. Financial expert Dave Ramsey (Ramsey Solutions) reminds his readers that kids will learn about money from someone, and that parents (or adults of regular, significant influence) “have the opportunity to be the positive example in their lives and the guiding voice they can trust.”  Rather than letting the latest social influencer (who most likely has far more financial resources than parents) or anyone else you don’t know teach younger people what they can or should do with money, the family should be the educational setting where youngsters learn about handling money. Talking with your family about your financial decisions on even a small scale (giving, saving, spending) can be an important starting point for your kids’ financial future.

But what do you teach kids first? How do you start? Share, Save, and Spend are three uses of money that Thrivent suggests teaching our kids from a young age. There are sectioned piggy banks to give kids a visual representation of dividing earned money into the different areas. If the family’s financial habits support these three areas, children are more likely to wisely consider how they handle their money in the future.

We know that kids are observing and learning from a very young age, but we may not consider everything they are learning from the adults around them. How many kids in your circle of influence would have habits of money simply from watching you?

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