NEW YORK (TheStreet) Horseback riding lessons, dance class and band camp may sound like great ways to get your child interested, engaged and out of the house, but extracurricular activities often carry a hefty price tag. If you're finding the cost of your child's activities difficult to manage, you aren't alone. Experts say it's not always easy to discuss the financial burden of such activities with your children, but it has to be done.
"The best way to say 'no' is just to say 'no,'" says Erin Boyd-Soisson, professor of human development and family science at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. "Say: 'Look, we only have enough money for you to pick one or two activities to be in.'"
Boyd-Soisson says honesty is always the best policy, and parents should be upfront with their children that there are money concerns at play. Simply saying "You need to narrow down your list of activities" is a missed opportunity to teach your child a real-life lesson.
"Children can feel tension, even if they don't know what that tension is. It's better, in most cases, if they know the source of that stress. It might make them more anxious if they don't know [why they have to eliminate an activity], because they have running through their heads any number of different, terrible scenarios," she says.
Also, being honest with your children about financial pressures teaches them that money is not an endless resource, Boyd-Soisson says.
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"They learn about prioritization. They learn that you cannot always do everything. And, they can begin to think more on what their own abilities are, and what they most like to do. It teaches them time management as well."
If you feel your child is too young to discuss the financial impact their ice skating lessons will have on the family budget, that part of the conversation can wait, says Leslie Tayne, a debt management, debt resolution and bankruptcy avoidance attorney in Melville, N.Y.
"The best way to say 'no' often depends on the age of the child," Tayne says. "For young children, you can offer them alternatives so they feel like they have control; however, any alternatives you propose should be something you can afford to do."
Should your child resist any change to their activity schedule, you can tell them that you may consider the activity at a later date. Reiterating that "today the answer is no," and "I am sorry, but we cannot do that today," should work well with younger children, Tayne say.
For older children, and especially with teens and pre-teens, a discussion about the cost of activities should take place, Tayne says. Teens and pre-teens are learning that they have to work to buy things, and that's a good thing.
Learning that you have to earn money to spend money "not only teaches them the importance of patience and waiting for the things they desire, but also the concept of money, along with fiscal responsibility and accountability," Tayne says.
If you haven't already said "yes" to too many activities, it's a good idea to sit down with your child and explain to them how much money you're able to put toward lessons and camps in future, says Donna Tonrey, a marriage and family therapist at La Salle University in Philadelphia.
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"It is important for parents to decide the budget, then let the child know how many activities can be chosen. The decision starts with the parent. So if the parent has enough to cover two activities and there are three to choose from, the parents can help the child in the choice while making it clear there will only be two activities."
For parents who are afraid of putting their foot down when it comes to something their child loves, Tayne says it doesn't have to be a negative experience or conversation.
"The best approach is to empower your children by asking them to choose their top two or three activities that they wish to participate in, which will help you gain better perspective of which activities are a priority and which ones can be put on a waiting list," she says.
Parents can also look at any discussion about after-school activity spending as a chance to open a broader dialogue about limits and boundaries, Tayne says.
"We can't have everything we want when we want it. If children don't learn the virtue of patience at an early age, a parent could find themselves in a very difficult situation when that child is older and it comes time to say 'no' to a big-ticket item they are wanting," she explains.
No matter your child's age or the budget you're working with, Boyd-Soisson says that there's always a deeper message to be heard when it comes to spending money.
"It's a good lesson to learn that things that don't cost a lot of money can be the most enjoyable such as spending time with family."
By Kathryn Tuggle