Does Playing With Money Make Kids More Selfish?

27 June 2016
Does Playing With Money Make Kids Selfish?

Money is an endless source of fascination to most kids, and many parents end up letting little ones play with their purse or wallet now and again, even if only to buy some peace when you're otherwise engaged.

But according to a new study, allowing your child to even touch cash, never mind play with it - could make them less helpful and more self-centred.

Yes, you read that correctly. Playing with money even for a short period of time can, it seems, make a child more selfish.

The research stems from an experiment involving three-year olds in Poland who were asked to help sort out money or pieces of paper, before then being asked to help gather up crayons in another room. The children who had helped sort the money were, it seems, less helpful than those who had helped sort the paper.

In another experiment, children aged between three and six years old in the USA were asked to help tidy a classroom and then given a box of money to play with, before moving to another room where they were asked if they wanted to give their toys to children at another school, and told that doing so would make them happy.

The kids who played for longer periods of time with the money were less willing to help with the crayons, less helpful in tidying the classroom, and less likely to give away their toys to other children.

Now maybe I'm an old cynic but I found this study a bit bizarre. I can only judge it on the strength of my own experience as a parent but I can't see that allowing my children to play with money has done them any harm; I certainly don't buy the notion that money has some mysterious properties that render them selfish just by touching it. That's absurd, no?

Isn't it more likely is that some kids are less helpful than others, and that the length of time spent playing with money is coincidental? At three years old I can't imagine that many children have a very developed sense of what money even really is, so the idea that playing with it can somehow affect their inclination to be kind of helpful seems dubious to me.

Indeed, my nearly-three-year-old daughter is arguably the most helpful of each of my three children. Granted, she's still of an age where she wants to please the people around her and loves nothing more than doing anything to help, but she'll happily put her toys away, tidy away her shoes and even help wash the dishes.

And yes, she plays with money. In fact, I think allowing her to play with money has done her good. It's given her an appreciation of the value of money so she understands that having a pound to spend in the toy shop means that she CAN buy a comic but she CAN'T buy a new doll. And playing with money has even helped her get good at sharing.

So I certainly won't be banning my child from touching my purse any time soon. Will you?

We'll be discussing this story live on the radio tomorrow, so we'd love to hear what Playpennies readers think! Do you agree that exposure to money at a young age, even through play, has the power to change how selfish or helpful your child is? Or do you think there's no harm in letting kids play with cash? To take part in the debate, leave us a comment below or join the conversation over on our Facebook page.

TOPICS:   Parenting Tips


  • Gail S.

    My 3yo is no more or less selfish then any other, he has an appreciation of money and loves putting coins in his money box .He is saving to go to Spiderman land, I haven't had the heart to tell him there is no such place, but he will not use the money in his box for toys/ sweets because he needs it for something else and he knows once it's gone it's gone.

    • Wendy L.

      Aww so cute x

  • Lisa C.

    Crazy . How can a child learn without money? Counting, shapes, adding, subtracting..........

  • Cate M.

    That all sounds a bit far fetched, my boys have played with money and I don't think it's made them selfish. They appreciate its value and now they are old enough (6) they can do jobs to help and earn their own money. They've learned that if they want something bigger/better it's going to take a month or so of saving, they know that simple jobs don't earn as much as more complex or harder jobs, it's helped their maths skills and as twins they often pool their funds and share if they don't have enough... I'm not buying it!

  • Andra B.

    KMT oh please

  • Kate N.

    What a load of rubbish. It's a great way to learn times tables.

  • Chris H.

    What a crock of we actually waste money researching this crap?

  • Rachel H.

    Haha I know x

  • Tricia W.

    My son loves getting pennies and would give you his last one if you asked for it :blush:

    • Trudy F.

      Yes, my little girl handed her uncle all of her holiday money because he said he was poor! You can't make these behaviours up!! What terrible children we are bring up hey!? Xx

    • Tricia W.

      I know eh little horrors lol. That is so cute x

  • Sbari1979

    Didn't the researchers in the US think for second that perhaps the children who played longer with money were just too tired at the end to contemplate doing anything else let alone tidy up?  Generally I think most kids given a choice are less inclined to tidy up or part with their toys.

    On a personal note, my son now aged 7 has respect for money such that any that comes his way he will happily divide between 2 boxes - one for his savings and the other for charity.  I don't call that being selfish!! From the age of 2 he has been 'exposed' to money and having seen less fortunate children than himself (from adverts like save the children), he decided he'd like to give to them too.  His money is counted every couple of months and from that he also deducts money for the charity box he has.

    I don't believe exposing a child to money renders them selfish at any point in life, as they have no concept of the value of money at such a young age.  It's how they are taught to value it that counts.

  • Claire C.

    What a load of rubbish. The tooth fairy leaves my daughter money under her pillow every night she sleeps in her own bed. Every morning she happily puts it in her money box to save for our next holiday. She doesn't share or be any less helpful as a result.

  • Jemma C.

    Eh? Sounds ridiculous. If I ask my daughter (4) to tidy she does it because thats the way she's been brought up by me, to respect me and what I ask of her. She has a mad obsession with money but I'm using that to teach her about money. Explaining how much she has, what she can and can't buy and she's learning to add and take away at the same time. Don't see it as a bad thing at all. Arent all wee kids a bit selfish?

  • Lisa K.

    Where are you getting these articles from? Who ever writes them obviously hasn't got children

  • Deanna S.

    What a load of rubbish. My little girl gets upset if she can't help us and her favourite game was to empty the bells bottle and then put it all back in again

  • Georgina G.

    What a load of total rubbish it's laughable :joy:

  • Laura K.

    Load of mince! Three year olds don't have a great ability to concentrate for lengthy periods so if they have already completed a task, they are more than likely not going to want to 'help' do anything else! It's much better to introduce children to money and allow them to play early on (supervised! No swallowing coins lol) allowing to naturally develop counting and sharing skills. Think we all need a little bit more selfishness and to stop expecting so much from little children!!!

  • Veronica F.

    Who comes up with these studies?! :joy:

  • Melanie T.

    If children don't play with money or touch it how do you expect them learn how much each coin is worth and how to buy things in a shop?

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