Raising a Non-Materialistic Child

Kids got the "gimme's"?
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10 Simple Ways to Combat Greed

Keeping Greed at Bay During the Holidays and Year-Round

Five-year-old Turner is a collector of teensy things – from stickers to fingertip-size toy parts. And with the holidays on the way, Turner’s counting on a major haul of loot. It’s all he talks about. His mother, Denise, wonders if perhaps Turner is becoming too materialistic.

On one recent outing, when her son clamored for a tiny plastic cartoon figurine that cost $3, Denise stood her ground and said no. But then, later in the day, when she was rushing through a drugstore with Turner, she gave in and got him “a little fire engine which we needed like a hole in the head,” says Denise woefully. “I’m not happy with him wanting things so badly.”

The clincher came when Denise, who recently cut her working hours to spend more time with her son and daughter, told Turner that since she’s not working as much, the family won’t be able to buy as many holiday gifts as last year.

“And then,” says Denise, “Turner told me quite matter-of-factly, ‘Well, then, Mommy, you’ll need to work so you can make more money and buy me more toys.’”

Are children like Turner on a one-way path toward insatiable greed? Clearly, anyone’s more materialistic side can be whipped into a frenzy by store window displays, TV ads and all the other reminders of holiday must-haves. When my first son was 2, I took him with me to a toy store to shop for his gifts. He stood in the middle of the aisle and screamed at the top of his not inconsiderable lungs, “I want toys!” I couldn’t calm him, so I took him home. And began to worry.

But the reassuring news is that it’s absolutely normal for young kids to want every intriguing item they see. Babies and toddlers can’t yet distinguish between wants and needs, notes child psychologist Lamia Barakat, Ph.D. And the even better news is that it’s possible to counteract this acquisitiveness through thoughtful parenting.

“From as early as age 2,” Barakat says, “a parent can convey the idea that you can’t have everything that you want.”

Limits and Spoiling

The key is to decide on your family’s purchasing limits and stick to them. Think about whether your child really needs, for example, another cartoon-character lunch box when the old one is still in perfect shape or multiples of any clothing item or toy she’ll outgrow soon anyway.

Beware of offering your child’s heart’s desire as a reward for good behavior. Such rewards can backfire and make everything a tit-for-tat situation, which is essentially materialistic.

“It’s best not to always define gratification in terms of things or money,” Barakat advises, “because when you use them as a reward, that gives them an even greater value in the child’s eyes.”

Children get a lot of satisfaction from achieving something on their own, reading a book or sharing an activity with their parents. One of the best rewards is to read your child an extra story or take her to the park and toss a ball around.

Help your child realize and appreciate what he does have, rather than focusing on what he doesn’t have, suggests Barakat. But don’t deny the wants. Say: “I realize you really want that puzzle, but you can’t have it.”

You might try making a “no-asking-for-treats-when-we’re-on-errands” rule. “Such a rule will give you nag-free outings,” says Cynthia Whitham, a clinical social worker at the UCLA Parent Training Program and author of “The Answer is No” – Saying It and Sticking to It. Whitham also suggests a “small toy per month” policy. Then, when your child asks for a trinket, you can simply say, “Is this your toy for the month?” 

See also:

  • 10 Simple Ways to Combat Greed
  • Get in on the Giving
  • How You Can Become A Care Champion: 20 Caring Tips For Kids