When it comes to raising kids, we believe that anything boys can do, girls can do equally well.
Still, historically speaking, women have faced more obstacles in managing their money.
According to a survey of more than 800 men and women, women between the ages of 18 and 34 are more likely to have rising debts and lower incomes–and are less optimistic about the future–than men their age.
And that doesn’t even take into account the additional struggles women have when saving for retirement.
So, although personal finance is, at its core, gender neutral, there seems to be some truth behind the idea that parents of girls need to spend more time teaching them about money. ”The stereotype has always been that girls don’t do well in math, and they spend more, and therefore they don’t know how to manage their money,” says Abigail Norfleet James, Ph.D., author of “Teaching the Female Brain: How Girls Learn Math and Science.”
How Are You Teaching Your Kids About Money?
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In other words, this whole girls-are-bad-at-math stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And there is a direct correlation between math skills and financial prosperity–a recent study suggests that numeracy, or mathematical reasoning, may be associated with greater wealth later in life.
Dr. James says: “Current research says there’s no reason girls can’t do just as well as boys in math and with handling their finances … it’s just a matter of how they’re taught.” She says doing so is as easy as four simple steps.
1. Be a Role Model
Parents always aim to be good financial role models, but this is extra important for girls. “Especially for little girls in elementary school, there might not be a ton of female role models who like doing math,” said Dr. James. Studies show that female teachers who are anxious about their own math abilities are likely to pass that on to the kids they’re teaching. To counteract this, point out the financial things you do for your family, and avoid saying things like, “I’m so bad at math!” around her.
(Are you a good financial role model for your kids? Take our quiz.)
Try this: Have your daughter sit with you while you balance your checkbook, pay bills or transfer money, suggests Dr. James. Point out what you’re doing, and try giving her her own “checkbook” and a ledger to track her “transactions” with her allowance money. Or have young kids play the “store owner” game by pretending to be a shop owner. Make it their job to assign prices to everything, take inventory, ring you up at the register and give you change. This will help her associate money with fun and responsibility, rather than fear.
For other money milestones, check out our timeline of goals to hit at specific ages.
2. Let Her in on the Secret
If your daughter gets anxious doing math or handling money, there may be a biological reason. Those feelings actually have a lot to do with the human fight or flight response, says Dr. James. “Especially in young girls, research has shown that when they get stressed or worried, their bodies tend to shut down,” she said. “It physically becomes hard for them to think.”
Try this: Give her some general stress-alleviating mechanisms to cope with her anxiety in the moment, like taking ten deep breaths or drinking chamomile tea before sitting down to tackle math homework. Once she starts associating calmer feelings with the event, she may have a more positive reaction to math and money overall.
3. Think Right Brain
Scientifically speaking, the vocabulary and grammar center in the left side of the brain develops faster in girls, while spatial skills in the right side develop faster in boys, says Dr. James. “We spend a large amount of time in school helping boys compensate for their lack of verbal skills by concentrating on reading and writing, but there’s hardly any time spent working on the spatial skills, like stringing beads, or throwing bean bags at a target, that girls tend to lag behind in early on,” said Dr. James.
Try this: Compensate for this lack by focusing on activity-based learning at home. For example, during play time, encourage your daughter to build with blocks and work on her spatial skills rather than simply drawing on paper.
4. Recognize Teachable Moments in Everyday Activities
“The other day, a good friend of mine made a comment that she’s ‘so bad at math,’ and I looked at her with my mouth hanging open,” says Dr. James. “She’s an amazing seamstress. She makes her own suits! And yet, she didn’t recognize how that was using math in an everyday sense, working with spatial skills and geometry.”
Try this: Simple tasks like cooking can turn into math lessons when you have your child measure out the ingredients and keep track of cooking times (try starting with these school lunch recipes that the two of you can make together over the weekend). To take the lesson a step further, show her your grocery list and talk about how you budget for different food items. Depending on her age, let her choose a meal menu (think small, like breakfast or lunch), give her a “budget” and help her buy everything she needs to make it. Needless to say, this will be an especially helpful ability when your kid goes off to college or gets her own place.
What money lessons have you taught your kids? Would you teach a girl any differently than a boy?
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