The Money Talk: Conversations Every Parent Should Have with Their ADHD Child

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Managing money is challenging for everyone, but especially for those with ADHD. As a parent, it’s important to start discussing money with your child who has ADHD from an early age—even preschool or elementary school.  

Need some help getting started with “the money talk” with your child? Break up the money talk into three smaller mini talks over the course of a few weeks. Children with ADHD learn best through hands-on activities, so here are some you can use in your conversations:    

  • Mini-Money Talk #1: Where Money Comes From: In your initial conversation about money, it’s important to lay a solid foundation starting with where money comes from.  (Hint: It comes from earning an income at a job!) Talk about your job and the jobs that other people have – make sure to include a variety of professions. Share stories about your first job and how it felt to earn your first paycheck. Talk about the differences of earning potential in different professions. 
  • Mini-Money Talk #2: The Difference Between a Want and a Need: Money can be spent on all kinds of things, but you can simplify this concept for your child by explaining that spending generally falls into two categories: needs and wants. Needs are essentials. So, in a family, that includes shelter (rent or a mortgage payment) food, water and electricity. Wants are the nice-to-haves like toys, jewelry, candy or fashion clothing. It's important to share that as a responsible adult, the needs come before the wants. Talk about a time when you saved up to buy something special (a want) after paying for the things you needed first. 

Wants vs. Needs Activity: On sticky notes, write down the amount of money that goes toward different needs (housing, food, gas and electric, school, etc.). Together with your child, count out the money for each category. Then count out the amount that is left to spend on wants (fun things). Ask your child how they might think about spending money in the want pile. Ask if they would spend it now or save it up for something?  

  • Mini-Money Talk #3: How Credit Cards Work: Credit cards make the concept of money even harder for children to understand. Yet, it’s the number one way that children see us spending money – so it’s not a topic that we can ignore. Explain how credit cards work in simple terms:
    • People can apply for credit cards and use them to buy things without having to use cash or the money in their bank account immediately. 
    • You can buy items with a credit card, then receive a bill for all purchases once a month. 
    • When that bill comes, you can pay it all at once without getting charged any “extra,” or interest. But if you don’t pay the full bill, the credit card company will charge interest—and not just a little interest.  

Then, reinforce the concept through an activity.  

Credit Card Activity: Have your child set up a pretend store at home, with price tags on various items. Then, have your child use a credit card to “buy” some things in the store. Next, act as the credit card “bill collector” and write up a bill for the purchase. Give your child the bill, and have them count out the money (real or pretend money) to pay the bill and hand it over to you. This will help them understand how credit cards and money are connected. Next time you’re in a store, point out that you’re going to need to send the credit card company some hard-earned money for those purchases when the bill comes!  

Once you’ve had a few mini conversations about money, it will be much easier to keep talking about this topic with your child. You may even find your child asking questions the next time they see you spending money at a store or leaving a tip at a restaurant. With time and experience, they’ll begin to understand the concept as they grow into adulthood and start making money of their own!  


Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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