Picture yourself strolling in a mall with your child. How many times does he stop and insist that you buy him something? How often does that scene end up with him throwing a tantrum right there in the store? How important has owning stuff become to your child?
With advertisements aimed at kids everywhere these days -- the Internet, TV and magazines have made sure of it -- children are growing up with a skewed sense of entitlement, Fran Walfish, Psy.D., child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond With Your Child told LearnVest.
They expect to get the things they see in commercials, whether they be toys, gadgets or clothes. What’s more, the message they’re getting from these ads is that spending money and owning stuff boost self-esteem and satisfaction, that happiness can be bought.
As parents, we want our children to learn that true value lies in people and experiences. Material possessions can be replaced; friendships and memories can not. Raise your child to have a healthy understanding of the value of “stuff” with these tips:
1. Have fun without spending much. Show your kids that they can have fun (alone or with you) even without toys and a lot of money. It doesn’t cost at all to play pretend with you at home, for example, or to have a dance party in the living room. Introduce her to hobbies that don’t cost much and can teach her skills too, like painting or gardening.
2. Instill gratitude. Without gratitude, it’s easy to feel disappointed and frustrated with our lives. Gratitude keeps us happy and content, saysChristine Carter, a sociologist, happiness expert, and director of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Parents program.
A good way to practice gratitude with the kids is to ask them to name three things they’re grateful for every day, suggestsNancy Shah, a psychologist specializing in parenting.
Shah explains that materialism happens when a person looks for happiness outside of himself and towards things that can be bought -- which comes from a feeling of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. “If we focus on creating kids who are happy and fulfilled, by definition they won’t be materialistic.”
3. Role model. As it is with parenting, our kids learn a lot from how we live our lives. Monkey see, monkey do. If you want your child to not grow up with an unquenchable itch for the latest iPhone, you have to keep from doing the same as well. Don’t send the wrong message.
Little things matter too. Avoid envious comments on a neighbor’s new sports car or a relative’s extravagant clothes, especially when you're within earshot from your child.
4. Reward with experience and memories. For hard work and achievements, instead of promising a trip to the toy store, reward your child with an activity instead. These can include a visit to a children’s museum, a day at the park, a family picnic or even a day out with her favorite cousin. Your child will learn to value interactions with loved ones and grow a fondness for trying new experiences.
5. Talk to him about the truth of ads. Marketing ploys are unavoidable -- they are a fact of the world we live in today -- so empower your child with tools to help him understand. Teach him how ads and commercials work, and how they are designed to make people want things. Explain that they are made to sell products, and that ultimately, people have to decide for themselves whether doing so will be necessary to make them happy.
6. Teach kids to give and share. It can be difficult for little kids to give and share, whether it be toys or food. “At this stage, kids’ only reality is themselves. Everything is directed at themselves,” Brian Vincent Calibo, school coordinator of Playgym, Britesparks International School and Fastrack Kids, told Smart Parenting.
However, thinking of other people’s needs and doing something kind (like helping a classmate study for a test) will not only help your child grow into a compassionate and empathetic individual, but will also help you curb him from a materialistic life.