Can’t keep up with your child’s constant desire for more? Learn how to raise non materialistic children and instill important values.
Piles of holiday gifts. Extravagant parties. The desire for the latest branded toy and discarding the perfectly good ones they already have. Worse, looking down on other kids who don’t have the same things they do.
Regardless of how much a child has, it’s easy to value materials and use it as a measure of self-worth. Materialism doesn’t allow kids to learn skills like gratitude, empathy, and delayed gratification.
Materialism also exists regardless of a family’s income. After all, anyone—from those with the least money to the most—can still want what they don’t have. They value these items and status symbols above other parts of their lives.
So, we do my best to raise non materialistic children, no matter our circumstances. We can focus on the family values we want to promote and redefine what it means to raise kids into the adults we hope they become.
What makes children materialistic?
But first, what are the common culprits that lead kids toward materialism? Research points to a few sources:
- From us. Kids follow the behaviors we model. They see our excitement about smartphones or overhear our preference for high-end brands. They learn that we value expensive or extravagant items over second-hand or buying nothing at all.
- From unhappiness. Like adults, they can feel a void in their lives. These empty spaces can be due to low income, low self-esteem, and comparisons to others. Left unhappy, they turn to material goods for the initial rush and satisfaction they provide.
- From the media. Television and internet advertising sell them on the idea that they don’t have enough. Ads want them to seek more material goods (especially their items) to fit right in. With exposure to expensive lifestyles, they turn to items for fulfillment, assuming these will make their lives better.
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How to raise non materialistic children
This doesn’t mean we can’t be excited about new electronics or prefer name-brand, quality sunglasses that last over dollar ones that break in a few weeks. But it does mean being more mindful of the values we teach and live, especially if we want raise non materialistic children.
Thankfully we can do plenty to avoid this fate. Awareness is key, as this will guide your decisions on what to give your kids and how you behave in front of them. Take a look at these simple but effective ways to do so:
1. Encourage experiences over items
I asked my son what his favorite part of the day was, and he replied, “Playing the pillow game!”
“Pillow game” involved my kids taking turns hugging a pillow and laughing after the fact. They all had a good time for something they made up and didn’t need any material items (I won’t count the pillow).
If you want your child to be happy, ditch material gifts and give experience ones instead. 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 marveled at the new features you can use. Fast forward a few months later and you probably toss it in your purse and forgot about its hefty price tag.
Then, think about how much of a blast you had on your last vacation, the endless conversations with your partner, or playing a game of cards with the kids. Those experiences make a more lasting impression compared to an item you’ll forget in three months.
You won’t find a price tag on regular playtime with friends or a special one-on-one moment with you.
2. Limit how much stuff you give
Abundance isn’t always about quantity, but in practicing a ritual of gratitude and appreciation for what we have.
After a while, our possessions become plain items we 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 them. Think about whether they need the latest learning tools or the best toys (they usually don’t). Limit material rewards for good grades and focus on nurturing internal pride at a job well done.
Because the more you give, the higher the standards you set. Buying your child a toy car every weekend might bring joy those first few weeks, until she gets upset when you don’t come home with one. Rightly so—she has come to expect a toy every weekend and is upset when she doesn’t get one.
3. Require kids to earn treats and extras
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 them where they can learn how to budget for big-ticket items.
They’re forced to make hard decisions on what’s important and what isn’t. They’ll also learn a lesson on how much time and effort goes into making purchases.
If they 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 finally bought them. Sure, I could spend $2 to buy stickers, but I explained that I don’t want to buy stickers all the time.
4. Limit and talk about ads
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.”
When young kids watch the latest ads and TV commercials about toy cars, video games, and junk food, they believe them as true.
The less television and advertising they watch, the less they’ll take advertising as truth. They won’t feel like they need these items to have fun, have friends, or feel good.
If your child sees advertising, deconstruct the message and encourage conversation. Let her know ads are trying to sell items, and discuss the ways they’re doing so. Talk about the smiling kids, fast toys, bright colors, and big text—all techniques advertisers use to get kids to like their stuff.
5. Encourage gratitude and giving
Gratitude reminds children how much they’re blessed and thwarts the desire for more stuff. If your child has 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.
Perhaps you can give her a gratitude journal where she can down what she’s thankful for. Or start a gratitude jar with family members around the dinner table—everyone writes down one thing they appreciate.
And encourage giving. She can donate to charity, volunteer, help an elderly neighbor, or learn to share with other kids. You might even take her 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.
6. Expose your children to nature
One of the best ways to raise non materialistic children is to expose them to nature on a regular basis. Seeing nature at works provides them with a sense of awe and wonder that can only be found in nature.
This doesn’t mean going on an expensive camping trip, either. Nature is all around us—we are nature. Point out the beautiful flowers on your day hike, or that the green beans and sunflowers have started poking through the soil in your garden. Have a picnic at the park beneath majestic trees.
Allow them to find joy in natural settings—it truly can lift their spirits and reconnect them with the earth.
Raising non materialistic children isn’t about shaming luxury or downplaying the joy of new items. I love the feeling of getting something new, and we need material items for survival, comfort, and enjoyment.
But we can also help our kids shift the focus away from material goods and cast the sources of joy much wider.
Limit how much stuff you give, even if you have the means to provide them. Focus on a shared experience over material gifts. These will have a more lasting impression and teaches your child to value special moments.
If she wants something, have her earn or at least wait for it instead of giving it at her whim. Avoid exposing her to advertising, especially if she’s younger than eight-years-old (and talk about what ads are trying to do if she happens to see a few). Immerse her in nature and a low-key pace.
Finally, teach gratitude and the value of giving to others. This reminds her of how blessed she truly is with the life she has.
Raising non materialistic children is important for every parent, regardless of income. It’s our way to raise future adults who will value joy from new experiences, from others, and from their own intrinsic selves.
Get more tips:
- Children’s Books about Making the World a Better Place
- Easy! 12 Ways to Teach Preschoolers about Money
- 6 Unique Ways to Care for the Environment as a Family
- Raising Children on a Tight Budget
- How to Teach Gratitude to Children
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