When your young children are nagging for something they want, do you ever say, “Money doesn’t grow on trees?” If you do, you are like many parents who become frustrated about the fact that children just seem to think that money magically appears and that it is not connected with your hard work.

After you have calmed down and figured out that old saying came out of your mouth because your parents used to say it to you, turn this into a teaching moment. Help your children understand that you earn your money. Hopefully, you can begin the lifelong lessons to inspire them that they will need to earn the money that they spend, share and save.

It may seem obvious to you, but helping your children become familiar with the terms and getting prepared to support themselves in the real world is one of the best ways we have of teaching our children financial life lessons.

Back to basics

Start at the beginning. As an adult, the major way to get money is to earn it. The word “income” means any money you receive as the result of work or through investments or that is received from someone else, for instance, as a gift. Help your children to think of the different ways they have of getting income. Some possible answers are: they can earn income by doing jobs like watching pets, babysitting, raking leaves, mowing lawns or cleaning the house. They can also earn income by saving their money in a bank. The money the bank pays them for keeping their money there is called interest. Gifts from relatives count as income, too.

If you have an allowance system set up, your children can earn income for the chores they do successfully. They may get paid for doing chores like helping with the laundry, feeding a pet, watering plants or cleaning up after meals. Some children work outside the home for extra cash. They may get paid money or wages from a business, such as a retail store. Some young entrepreneurs set up their own businesses. Have your children ever had a lemonade stand?

They earned it

Most adults earn their income by working for it. People work for another person, a business or the government — or they run their own business. Your children need to understand such terms as “employee,” someone who works for another, and “employer,” a person or company that provides jobs for others.

A person can also start and run their own business; they are called entrepreneurs. If your children are about age 10 or older, they may be able to name some famous entrepreneurs and the companies they created. This is a game for the whole family to enjoy. To help your younger children along with this list, here are some ideas: Steve Jobs (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Donald Trump (real estate), Henry Ford (Ford Motor Company), Larry Page (Google), Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway), Wally Amos (Famous Amos cookies), Sam Walton (Walmart), Walt Disney (Disney), Sara Blakely (Spandex) and Marjorie Joyner (permanent hair-wave machine).

What do you want to do when you grow up?

Most of us talk to our young children about what they want to be when they “grow up.” Have a conversation with your children about what they like to do and what they are interested in. Your obvious goal is to have your children inspired by what they do and to be happy.

It is a good idea for children to understand early on what different kinds of jobs are available. Most of our children know only about the jobs they see on television, in the movies, online or what they see us do. Encourage your children to start some job research. Here are some questions for children to talk to other people about:

  • What skills do these people have that helped them get their job?
  • How much did their interests as a young person affect their job decisions?
  • What special training or schooling was needed for them to become successful?
  • What do they like about going to work every day — besides the salary?

The good ol’ days

For thousands of years, people have worked at different jobs. Jobs have certainly changed over the years, and people had to adapt to those changes. Some jobs have completely disappeared, such as lamplighter, iceman and town crier. Other jobs have been modernized. Some jobs today didn’t even exist 20-30 years ago. Many of today’s jobs couldn’t even have been imagined by science fiction writers!

Play a game with your children. Have them go from room to room making a list of things around the house that didn’t exist 20-30 years ago. Help them out and tell them the stories about when you first saw that contraption. Microwaves, iPods, cell phones, digital cameras and laptop computers will surely be on that list. Talk about all the new jobs that were created around those inventions. Have them understand that when they grow up, they may find jobs in fields that no one has even invented yet!

Let them think about what the future may hold. How may we be communicating? (via artificial intelligence); how may we be traveling? (via flying cars); how will we be using money? (via electronics)… you get the point. You want them to think about the skills they will need to get a job in this new world of innovation. Yes, they will always need the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy, but they will also need skills to foster collaboration, creativity and adapt rapidly to change.

This will make for great dinner conversation when you explain that their education will last a lifetime. Explain the words of Nelson Mandela when he said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you have to change the world.”