Last weekend, I took my girls out to the mall and we made a deal upfront that they could get toys or anything they fancy. And that their budget was RM20 each. They agreed.

Now, you and I both know that it’s really hard to get a nice toy under RM20. I wanted them to learn the value of money. It’s very easy to just ask for things when they don’t understand that things cost money. So I wanted them to learn to always check on the price tag to see if it’s within budget.

Also, this stemmed from a talk that my husband and I had weeks back, that we should rephrase what we say about money to our kids because what we say will be programmed ‘money story’ in the first 7 years of a child’s life that will stay with them for life.

For example, instead of saying “that’s expensive, we don’t have the money for it”, we would say “The toy costs xx and I don’t feel like spending that kind of money right now. How about we save up and then we can buy that next time?”

Of course, they won’t just say, “ok mama” ever so sweetly. There would be begging and pleading for sure. But we would firmly and gently say, “I know you really like/want that toy. But I want to use the money for our lunch/dinner outing instead”. Or we would say, “I’m sorry sweetie, I’d rather use the same amount of money to get something that you really need – like a pair of slippers to replace the ones you have outgrown.”

By rephrasing it that way, they will believe that we always have money but we choose not to spend it on unnecessary things. I realise that I may have to undo the ‘damage’ that we have done around the money story for our oldest daughter. She’s 8. We’re trying our best ?

My 5 year old is just starting to learn to count up to twenty. So it’s easy for her to understand the numbers that show on the price tag.

Back to the mall story. They were going round and round the toy section of a department store. Almost everything cost above RM20 obviously. They started to get disheartened and desperate to find something. When they did, they were things that don’t mean anything to them – like a stack of coloured A4 paper, pencils, sticky notes etc.

We came to a section where they sold plastic cups and bowls with Sofia The First and My Little Pony characters on them. My younger daughter saw the cups and was interested to get it. It was within the budget at RM10.90. So she got excited and she swung the plastic cups around. I was nervous when she did that but didn’t say anything. Then it happened. One of the cups fell and broke into pieces.

I immediately reacted and got angry. I scolded her for being careless and said that the price of the cup would be knocked out of her budget.

She froze with a very scared look on her face.

I softened up – I realised it was an accident and she was so afraid that she would get in trouble for breaking the cup.
I got down to her level and apologised for scolding her and offered her a hug instead.

She burst into tears and cried on my shoulders. I held her tightly and told her that she wasn’t in trouble. She cried for whole 7 minutes. I didn’t say much – just held her and then offered eye contact while wiping the tears off her face.
In between her sobs, she said that she was scared.

I said I heard her being scared and that she was safe.

When her crying stopped, I asked if she was ready to look for something else. She nodded. And I explained to her that because she accidentally broke a cup, it must come from her budget.

After 15 minutes of browsing, my older daughter found a teddy bear that was selling for RM52 but got reduced to RM15 and my younger daughter was happy to get a Play Doh and a tool set that cost RM15. Okay fine, so I discounted the RM5 for her. ?

At the cashier, I showed them the broken cup and said that I would pay for it. Guess what? Even though I intended to pay for it, they didn’t count it in the bill!

A few lessons that I learned from that incident:

1) When children mess up, they get scared. They want to be reassured that we as their parent would still be on their side no matter what happens. Don’t make it worse by punishing them.
2) Allow them to express their fear from messing up through tears until they are done crying while we lovingly hold them. Then, offer explanation and the consequences AFTER the crying has stopped.
3) Young children are very resilient and they can understand the concept of being accountable for their actions.
4) When they found something that they really like that’s within the budget, they value things a lot more. My younger daughter was so into that one tub of Play Doh until she went to bed.
5) Parents mess up too – but by apologising for our outburst, we role model for them that when we mess up, we are accountable for our actions and then we apologise.
6) When we break something at the store, even though no one saw it, we should be honest and pay for it. My children were observing what I was going to do about it. Imagine if I had just brushed it off and not come forward with it? They would think that it’s okay to not be responsible for our actions.

I’m happy that our little outing without their dad ended up fun and enjoyable and I only spent RM30 on toys! While we were walking to our car, my 5 year old asked out loud to her sister, “Kakak, isn’t mama the best mama in the whole world? She’s such a nice mama.”


I’m glad that I’m able to share this story with you and made some self reflection. I’m really trying my best with this whole parenting work. It’s not easy!

And I wanted you to know that if you mess up, it’s okay. We’re just human beings.

Let’s own it and take the lessons as opportunity for growth. Opportunity for us to be the best parents we can be for our children.