Talking about money can make even the bravest, strongest among us squirm. Many of us were brought up to believe it’s impolite or even flat-out rude to bring up income, wealth, or financial struggles in conversation. But let’s face facts: Kids want to be like other kids, and when money matters come into play, they can feel ashamed about having less—or guilty over having more—than their friends. Financial inequality can be tricky for adults to navigate without having hurt feelings, but when you’re a child and are just learning about these things, it can be even harder to wrap your head around something that can seem unfair and beyond their control.
Obviously, regardless of your family’s financial situation, it’s important to help your girl realize and value the intangibles that she is rich in, above all else. She’s likely rich in friends, love, safety, joy, and so much more. And those are all things money can’t buy. Still, celebrating those things might not erase the hurt feelings that can happen when wealth inequality shows its face on the school playground.
It’s only natural for a girl to feel left out if she can’t afford to go the concert all her friends are going to, or if she doesn’t have the money to get the sneakers all her friends are rocking this year. “Don’t ignore her feelings,” says Girl Scouts Developmental Psychologist Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “Tell her that you understand why she’s disappointed, and then work together to try to find solutions to her real problem.” For example, if she’s worried about missing out on time with her friends at the concert, suggest that she invite friends over for a free or inexpensive activity that the girls can all get excited about, and that she can feel ownership of—like a sleepover, an afternoon of baking cookies, or a weekend picnic and afternoon soccer game. If she wants a certain brand of clothing or a particular video game that your family can’t afford to buy for her, help her save up for it herself. “Of course you should discuss what she can spend her own money on, but if it’s something reasonably appropriate that will make her feel like one of the group at school, there’s no need to discourage it—it just might take her a while to gather enough money!”
Another tool that can help combat the left-out feeling is confidence. Every girl in school could be wearing a certain brand of jeans, but if your daughter shows up in something totally different (i.e. something your family can actually afford!)—and wears it with pride and confidence—others might take note and start following her lead. Sometimes being different or not having as many resources available to you can actually help you be a leader!
All this said, sometimes kids with more money than their peers get teased or shunned on the playground—and that can feel rotten, too. If other children in your girl’s class—or even her friends!—call her “spoiled” or accuse her of “showing-off,” it could be because they feel uncomfortable about not having as much as she does; but it could also be a sign that your daughter is being anything-but-modest about the things she has and places she gets to go. “Of course she feels excited about the new outfit she got over the weekend, or wants to talk about the vacation your family took over break,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald, “but what she might not realize is that the other kids don’t have the same access to those pricier things.” Tell her that although it’s fun to share the things we’re excited about with friends, it’s important to not seem boastful about them, since that can lead to hurt feelings.
Talking directly about money matters can take some getting used to, but the more you discuss dollars (and sense) with your children, the more they’ll realize their financial status is nothing to be ashamed of. Bonus? Talking about money with your girl today will help set her up for a brighter financial future tomorrow. Win, win!