It’s the most wonderful time of the year … no pressure then!

As parents we often feel overwhelmed by expectations for a perfect Christmas. It’s natural to want to give our children everything we might not have had, but with many of us facing difficult choices this Christmas, it’s time to talk cents.

According to Róisín Egan, a clinical psychologist who has been working with children and families for over 25 years, “money is like any other major topic that we want to teach our children. We need to start these conversations at a young age and weave them into our daily lives”.

An excellent resource for parents is Bank of Ireland’s ‘Talking Cents’, downloadable on their website and based on research that children as young as three can develop awareness of money and by age seven, develop money habits for life.

Through a series of activities, the booklet recommends parents give children opportunities to pay with money and receive change in shops, learn the value of saving up for things and encourage conversations about wants versus needs.

Abstract concept

As we become a more cashless society, money is becoming an abstract concept for our children. Each time we merrily tap away, the sense of transaction is being lost and can be bewildering for children.

This was brought home to me one day when shopping and the cashier asked if I wanted cash-back. As I hesitated, my son urged me to “take it!”, incredulous at my indecision. I had to explain to him that the nice lady wasn’t just handing out cash, it was actually my own money she was offering me.

Róisín recommends that when shopping, we pick up items and show children the cost of the store’s own brand versus other brands, saying (once all other parameters important to you such as food safety, origin etc are met), “Oh look, this is cheaper than this, let’s buy the cheaper one.” In this way, we’re demonstrating to our children the choices we make when spending money.

She adds that we should also educate our children by modelling our own behaviour. If we see a dress in a shop window that we love, for example, we should drop comments like, “I need to save up for that” or “I’m not going to impulse buy.” This is especially important for older teenagers where everything can be bought on their phones now at the tip of their fingers.


Róisín says we have to be honest with our children and teach them life lessons, which may involve having that difficult conversation about choosing between an expensive device and having enough for the grocery shop. However, the conversation should be age appropriate and it is important not to overshare or overburden children with financial difficulties.

“Children are very perceptive and pick up on parental anxiety,” she explains. “It is our role as parents to provide them with reassurance that there is enough to keep them safe and secure – a fundamental need for children.”

Having said that, we shouldn’t shy away from the topic of money and cutting back. Parents can put themselves under severe pressure to try and give their children everything.

Róisín urges parents to practice parental self-care if they are experiencing money worries, sticking to their routine, keeping contact with friends and family and avoiding the crutches of alcohol or recreational drugs.

“We need to give our children the life skills to survive in the world and getting everything you want is not giving them the life skills,” she says. “Parents are afraid to use the word ‘no’. They feel they are depriving their child whereas we’re actually doing our children a disservice if we don’t teach them the meaning of ‘no’.”

No doesn’t need to mean never, it can mean not now. By saying “let’s wait until I get paid on Thursday” or “let’s make a wish list and we’ll get two things for Christmas and something else for your birthday”, we are teaching our children the important lesson of delayed gratification.


Having to make choices this Christmas could be an opportunity to gain a different perspective. In our house, we always encourage our children not to be greedy by asking Santa for too much, as his sleigh can only carry so many presents. If in doubt, encourage your child to ask for a surprise.

“Christmas can be a time when you give your child things that money can’t buy,” Róisín concludes.

An evening spent strolling around your local town looking at the Christmas lights and chatting can be more exciting and enjoyable for children and parents alike than a fancy day out, with the added pressure to enjoy every second as it’s costing so much.

The truth is, Róisín confirms, “Children love time with their parents.” Spending time with your children and weaving the subject of money into your everyday life is time well spent.


If you can’t give your child the basic needs of food and shelter, that’s a crisis, which is beyond this article. In such cases, contact your local SVP or for financial advice.

Rebecca Lenehan is a mother of four living

in Cashel, Co Tipperary, with a backgroundworking in publishing. She has written for the Money section of the UK Independent and also writes poetry.