Your most powerful teaching tool is behavioral modeling

In creative writing courses, you always hear the advice, “show don’t tell“. This is because people tune out when you describe something to them, but they pay attention when they watch something happen.

This is true not only in storytelling but also in parenting. Social learning theory says kids pick up behaviors by watching them. Which means that kids do most of their learning about the world from watching their parents navigate the adult world. (This is true both for kids in school and kids learning at home, even though teachers are not acting in typical adult ways when they are trying to wrangle twenty-five kids in one room.)

This is also why authoritarian parenting doesn’t work. Kids don’t listen when you tell them to do something you’ve never done. And it’s why sensitive caregivers raise self-confident kids—if you model taking care of the emotional health of your kids, then they will do it for themselves. Modeling behavior is a powerful child-rearing tool.

To that end, what I am modeling for my kids is being incompetent with money.

Don’t jump all over me, okay? It’s hard to talk about money. I’d way rather tell you about the intricacies of my last orgasm. Or when I forgot to take anxiety pills and screamed at my son he was an asshole. Anything is easier to talk about than money.

Okay, so I make about $250K a year, but it is always gone. It goes to my company, which always needs more money to grow, and my kids, who also need money to grow. Also it goes to my garden. I put a photo up there as a confessional. You don’t know anyone who spent more money on their garden last year than I did.

I also spend a ton of money on household help. Almost every argument I have with my husband, for example, I have found can be solved with some money.

Actually, here’s a challenge for the comments section: tell me a problem that money can’t solve. Wait. Sex. In-laws. Money cannot solve those. But I love sex and I love my in-laws, so all we have here are money issues.

Here’s my new way of solving it. I gave everyone a credit card, and now everyone can solve every problem. But I couldn’t keep track of money. Which was bad since I already couldn’t keep track of it.

Then Kaiku contacted me with a trial card. It’s a prepaid Visa card and it’s not attached to my bank, so I won’t have everyone over-drafting me if I forget who is spending money on what.

I gave the Kaiku card to the kids to deal with money they earned in the garden. (Note they were terrible workers but are geniuses at finding ways to use the card.)

I gave it to my husband, fully loaded. While I took a mini-vacation. And it was like leaving him pot roast in the oven—he was so happy.

What did I model? That I’m a problem solver. I can’t model being good with money. But I am modeling that I am ackowledging my problem, and recognizing help when it comes to me, and using it well.

Thank you Kaiku.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Kaiku Finance, LLC. with Visa Clear Prepaid Designation.

11 replies
  1. Rose
    Rose says:

    MichaelG, there are quite a few more spelling errors than that. Please catch all of them at once, as it is rather anticlimactic to be spelling cop commenter número uno and only catch one out of quite a stringer of them.

    Can someone please explain to me the obsession with correcting spelling errors? Great ideas do not need to be spelled properly, and I am here to hear ideas. This is not school, or a subscription, or even a medical journal. Nobody gets a medal for pointing out spelling errors. It is rank and reeks of childish one-upping games.

    • Angie
      Angie says:

      Haha Rose, I thought the same thing. In this digital age where ideas and thoughts can be published almost as soon as they are generated, I’ve come to expect (and accept) Typos as commonplace.

      On another note, I actually thought monty would be a great new slang word for money, similar to Moola, Dough etc (maybe it already is?).

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Well, I do actually care when there are a ton of spelling errors. I try to limit each post to one. That seems like a goal I should be able to hit.


    • MichaelG
      MichaelG says:

      Some of Penelope’s posts have already been up for years. It’s not just casual spit-it-out-who-cares writing. This is being published for a large audience and will last a long time. Why not make it as good as you can?

      I have a blog of my own and welcome anyone who points out errors. It’s not an attempt to one-up anyone. It’s just that sadly-neglected idea of doing a quality job.

  2. DMom
    DMom says:

    We suffered from the same money problems – which we realized were really symptoms of other problems (which could be an entire post unto itself, I suppose) – and getting rid of our credit cards (deep breath, deep breath) and getting on a budget were the best things we ever did. It’s not easy to change 40+ years of bad financial (and other- ahem) habits, but it is SOOO worth it! No more check-writing roulette or holding my breath as I hand over my debit card, wondering if there is enough $ in the account. Waaaaay too stressful. We chose to share our “epiphany” with our young kids in the hope that they won’t make the same mistakes we did, and learned together about how to budget, and the importance of living within one’s means. It’s been tough, but having them on board and “in the know” makes things a lot easier, because they understand that if they want to continue to stay on their insanely-expensive-but-oh-so-worth-it-swim-team and do all their other fun activities, we can’t go to 5 Guys every night, get their dolls’ ears pierced (!), or buy everything that So-and-So has. So yes, they not only see us modeling this behavior, but they are living it themselves. Thanks so much for another great post.

  3. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    Money can’t solve when I’m feeling down because of hormones. That’s when I know it’s chemical. I ask myself if I can buy myself out of it. And if the answer is no, then I eat instead. (haha).

    On a side note: I’m so disappointed that you are missing out on all those airline points/hotel points. I do the travel hacking hobby and have flown to Italy in business class on points.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I love this quote by Alfie Kohn, it’s so simple but it helped me change my thinking a few years ago.

    “Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.”

    If your children are learning money lessons now by making real decisions about how they are spending or saving whatever money you give them, then that is a more powerful tool than observing behavior which is also quite powerful.

  5. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    I actually think prepaid cards are a genius way to teach kids about finances. It teaches them money is finite but renewable. It helps them connect money to work (well, if you help them), and it helps them connect money to the problems that money can and cannot actually help them solve.

  6. Scotti
    Scotti says:

    I have exactly the same problem. I make 4 times the median income in my town and it’s always gone. I think if the structure is in place, good health and relationships, money enhances life. If the structure isn’t there, money cannot fix it and might make it worse. When I was single and dating, I hid my income as long as possible. After they found out what I made most guys either (a) wanted me as their sugar mama, or (b) constantly felt inferior to me in a way that I could not fix. So I thought I was coming up with something new, but it turns out that it falls under “sex” which you already said :)

  7. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    The fact that you vocalize money decisions both before and after you make them (good or bad) THAT is a teacher in and of itself.

    Especially if they can have input in the discussion (or rant).

    Jeff and I made poor financial decisions early on in our marriage (and before) that had longterm ramifications.

    They became a part of our family’s history, and when the kids were old enough to grasp it, we shared how those decisions affect our decisions now.

    We involve them in choices – if only as part of the discussion.

    My parents NEVER talked about money in front of me. I was clueless about disciplining myself in the arena of money. I learned by making my own choices and by the effects of those choices.

    I was a slow learner.

    BUT I get it now. And my daughter who supports herself is leaps and bounds ahead of me at her age. I’m hoping the other two will also manage their finances wisely.

    A parent’s transparency is a powerful tool.

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