Worried about kids and materialism and the constant desire for more? Learn how to raise non materialistic children and instill important values.
I’ve sometimes wondered whether my kids have racked up one too many Lego sets. Or if they’ve become a tad too enamored with brands (“I want the Spiderman shirt!”). Or worse, I don’t want them looking down on other kids who don’t have the same things they may have.
How to raise non materialistic children
How do kids grow up materialistic? Research points to a few sources:
- From us. Parents model behaviors that kids adapt for themselves. When you show joy from having purchased a new television. Or your kids overhear your preference for high-end brands. They learn we place high value on material items.
- From unhappiness. Kids aren’t immune to feeling a void in their lives. These empty spaces can be due to low-income, low self-esteem and comparisons.
- From the media. Television and advertising sell you on the idea that you don’t have enough. They want you to seek more material goods (theirs) to fit right in. With a wider exposure to expensive lifestyles, kids turn to items for fulfillment. They assume these things will make their lives better.
Thankfully we can do much to raise a non materialistic child.
Limit how much stuff you give.
Imagine having one skirt. It’s a good-quality, beautiful skirt you’ve worn and cherished over the years.
Now imagine adding to your collection—maybe you have twenty skirts. That first skirt might start losing its appeal, its specialness.
Take that number even higher—let’s say you have 100 skirts hanging in your closet. Now how much will you cherish that first skirt—any of the skirts, really—when there are 99 others?
Abundance is good… up to a certain point. After a while, items just become plain items you toss around with no meaning. Things aren’t cherished; they’re not enough. Soon, we’re on an endless chase for the next best thing instead of appreciating what we have.
Kids notice this. Keep toys and play things to what’s enough for your kids and nothing more. Think about whether you kids need the latest learning tools (they usually don’t).
Because the more you give, the higher the standards you set. Buying your son a toy car every weekend might bring joy those first few weeks. Until he gets upset when you don’t come him with a toy every week. Rightly so—he has come to expect a toy every weekend and has grown upset when he doesn’t get one.
Encourage experiences over items.
If you want your kids to be happy, ditch material gifts and give them experience gifts. Material gifts make us happy for three months before its novelty wears out. But the satisfaction of experiences last much longer.
Think about the first time you purchased your phone. I’m guessing you took all precautions to keep it clean and marveling at the new features you use. Fast forward a few months later and you probably toss your phone on the bed and forgot its hefty price tag.
Then think about your last vacation. Or the date night with your partner. Or the time you took your daughter to the museum. Those experiences make an impression compared to an item you’ll forget in three months.
I ask my son what his favorite part of the day is. This evening, he replied, “Playing the pillow game with [my brother].”
“Pillow game” involves both of them taking turns hugging a pillow and laughing after the fact.
Both had a good time for something they made up and didn’t need any material items (I won’t count the pillow). You won’t find a price tag on a play date with friends or a special one-on-one moment with you.
Require kids to earn treats and extras (or at least wait for them).
Should your kids want something that isn’t on your priority list, teach them to save or earn the money. Start a savings account for your kids where they can learn how to budget for big-ticket items.
With a limited income, kids need to make hard decisions on what’s important and what isn’t. They’ll also learn how much time and effort goes into making purchases.
If your kids aren’t old enough to grasp the concept of saving, have them wait before you make your purchases. My eldest had been hankering for stickers for several weeks before I bought them. I could spend $2 to buy stickers, but I explain to him that I don’t want to use my money to buy stickers all the time. So he waits.
Limit and deconstruct advertisements.
The American Psychological Association recommends kids under eight-years-old not see advertising targeting children. This is for good reason:
Research shows that children under the age of eight are unable to critically comprehend televised advertising messages and are prone to accept advertiser messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased.
So when your kids watch the latest ads about toy cars and junk food, they’ll believe them as truth.
The less television and advertising kids watch, the less they’ll take advertising as truth. They won’t feel like they need these items to have fun, have friends and feel good.
If your child happens to catch some advertising, deconstruct the message and encourage conversation. Let him know ads sell items, and discuss the ways they’re doing so. Smiling kids, fast toys, bright colors and big text.
Encourage gratitude and giving.
Gratitude reminds children how much they’re blessed and thwarts the desire for more stuff.
Teach gratitude and giving. If your child has with toys and clothes galore, remind her how thankful you are and for how much it took to give her these.
When she receives gifts, focus more on how cool it is that Aunt Jane thought of her when she gave her a new play set. Discuss how loved she is by the people who showered her with presents.
And encourage giving with your child. She can donate to charity, volunteer, or learn to share and give with other kids. An SSBE reader wrote how she tries to raise a non materialistic child by taking her daughter out to shop. Not to buy gifts for herself, but for other people.
When we give, we’re reminded that we still have something to give in the first place.
Raising non materialistic children isn’t about shaming luxury downplaying the joy of new items. I love the feeling of getting something new, and we need material items to survive and enjoy life.
But we can also help our kids shift the focus away from material goods and cast the sources of their joys wider. From experiences, from others, and from their own intrinsic selves.
Read more posts about raising children:
- The Benefits of Fostering Gratitude
- 10 Children’s Books about Making the World a Better Place
- Are You Responding Correctly when Your Kid Says a Bad Word?
- How to Teach Gratitude to Children So They’re Thankful for What They Have
- How to Raise a Kind Child
Tell me in the comments: How are you raising a non materialistic child?
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