Two days before Christmas, I was driving my brother to school. I had just turned 17, and I was totally confident (as only 17-year-olds can be) that my driving was above average. Until the deer. She came from out of nowhere — literally. While crossing a bridge the deer jumped from the embankment over the guardrail. In a matter of seconds, my clean driving record was in tatters.
After ensuring everyone was OK, I called my dad, part of me convinced he would kill me. Don’t get me wrong, my dad is great. But at that moment I was looking at a wrecked front end and a deer lying in the road. Within a few minutes, my father arrived, called the sheriff, and made a call to our local body shop. He didn’t yell. He didn’t tell me he was disappointed. He just helped me navigate the process of what to do after getting in a wreck.
At some point, your kids will do something that requires a financial fix. Whether it’s a wildlife incident or a broken window from a football, kids will make mistakes that cost money. In these moments, you have the chance to help your kids learn and deal with the unexpected.
First, weigh your initial response carefully. True accidents (like my Bambi incident) don’t deserve your anger. They may upset and frustrate you, but your kids need to know that you won’t lash out when an accident happens.
But what if it’s not an accident (like my next two “traffic incidents”)? What if it’s due to carelessness? Your kids need to know and understand the consequences, both personally and financially, of their not-so-accidental accidents. Start by helping them know and understand the full economic cost of their mistakes. Maybe your kids keep jumping off the roof onto the trampoline after you tell them to stop because someone might get hurt. Then, surprise! Someone does get hurt, and now you have an insurance deductible to pay. To acknowledge the seriousness of the unexpected expense, your kids should contribute to covering those costs. That contribution may include doing additional chores or providing actual funds they’ve earned from a part-time job. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a true consequence.
How should you structure your response?
1. Spell out your expectations
What will resolve the mistake? How can your kids make it right? Clear expectations can help your kids better understand your frustration and what they need to do to avoid (hopefully) making the same mistake again. And be sure you don’t move the goal line on your kids. Once you’ve reached an agreement about what needs to happen, stick with the deal so your kids know you play fair.
2. Set a timetable
Irritating kids make it so tempting to keep bringing up their mistakes! Don’t. Outline how long it will take to resolve the issue and make things right, either with you or the other people involved in the not-so-accidental event. Part of helping your kids make better financial decisions includes showing them how to let go of past mistakes after they’ve been resolved.
3. Don’t yell — teach
Before I hit the deer, I’d never dealt with an insurance adjuster or needed an estimate from a body shop. As I noted, my father took the time to help me figure out how to manage both situations. When mistakes get made, look for similar opportunities to help your kids better understand how to navigate these unfamiliar areas successfully.
But what if your kids keep making the same mistakes again, and again, and again? Few things are more frustrating than watching kids repeat their errors. It’s up to us “wise” adults to test different solutions to the problem. If assigning extra chores isn’t working, maybe they need to feel the pinch in their wallets, whether it’s sacrificing extra activities (no bowling next weekend) or ponying up actual cash. Adjust the consequences as needed to fit your kids’ individual needs. Big picture, we need to remember that without meaningful consequences, kids may not appreciate the full impact of what’s happened. As a result, what was an accident the first time may happen a second time because of laziness. That’s the last thing any of us want. We want our kids to avoid mistakes and the financial costs that often come with them.
Your kids will make mistakes. Your kids will cost you money at surprising moments. We know both things are true. But you get to choose whether you help your kids learn from the moment or make it about your kids being idiots. Guess which one makes you parent of the year?
What’s the biggest mistake you made as a kid? What did you learn from it?