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Want Grateful and Non-Materialistic Kids? Do These.
PHOTO BY @Hakase_/iStock
  • How familiar are these parental grumbles to you?

    “My kids are so materialistic.”

    “My child doesn’t appreciate anything.”

    Honestly, we’re all tempted to claim our kids aren’t as thrifty or thankful as we were at that age. As parents who give and give and give, it’s easy to think kids just don’t appreciate how hard adults work to provide for them. But the truth is these problems are as old as parenting itself. Chances are, your parents felt the same way about you. And it’s a problematic habit that most people have trouble growing out of as we get older.

    Teaching your kids to be more gracious and grateful is definitely important because if they DO learn the art of gratitude early on, the benefits can be great: it staves off bitterness, resentment and overall materialism, and helps a person to be kind and generous, breeding optimism and joy.

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    Eager to instill these values in my own children, I employed my social science knowledge experience. Seventy years of social science evidence says that we have far less control over our behavior than we think. We are profoundly shaped by outside forces that manipulate, distract, arouse, and impede us. Having mentored and coached executives frame values and develop better behaviors, I came to realize that the best way to influence their behavior was to take control of the things that control them. 

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    In the same manner, parents who were best at shaping their children’s behavior were the ones who (consciously or unconsciously) bowed to this fact and made it work in their favor. Their path to changing their kids’ behavior was to take control of those relentless sources of influence, essentially helping their children into seeing a situation differently.

    How to raise non-materialistic kids

    Provide a new perspective

    When our kids are spending so much time noticing the bigger houses, the better toys, the fancier vacation by friends and neighbors, they are limiting their perspective by looking toward where the grass is greener only. Try talking through photos of children from around the world and showing them to your children. These will encourage your children to look around instead of up. It helps them see how rich their own family is, globally, emotionally, and historically.

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    Going on an exposure trip or volunteering in a community development will help your kids acknowledge the disparity when they see it in everyday life too. And you reinforce it by reminding them of people who are less fortunate as they go about their days. For example, if your kids leave the tap running, talk to them about how other people in the world don’t have basic necessities like water that they are fortunate enough to have.

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    Make gratitude a habit

    Ask your kids to name something they’re grateful for every day. It can be a ritual each night as part of their prayers and your conversation with them. Ask them to tell you two or three things that happened during the day that they were grateful for. Focusing on life’s positive experiences builds happiness. And this is a crucial weapon in the battle against materialism or covetousness. Materialism comes from a state of dissatisfaction or unhappiness, and looking outside yourself for happiness and fulfillment. If we focus on creating kids who are happy and fulfilled, by definition they won’t be materialistic.

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    Teach kids to give rather than take

    Doing something kind frees children from living a me-focused life by widening their circles of compassion. The exposure trip or volunteer work is good, but move further than that. Allow your children to give by sponsoring a child or donating coin boxes in that community your visited. At age 5, my daughter sponsored a girl in Misamis Occidental who is the same age as her. She eventually visited her and celebrated their birthday together two years after. When she was a teenager, she was helping me in a tribal group in Tanay, doing feeding programs and distributing school supplies. And if you are looking for an NGO to help, Save the Children is a good organization to support. 

    Remember, your child’s goodwill gesture can be as simple as helping a younger child study for an exam, or visiting an elderly neighbor who doesn’t get out too often. Your child will start spending more time thinking about what others need and how he or she can help, and less time thinking about his own, often fleeting, wants.

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    Define family values

    If you want your kids to absorb your core values, set aside time and ask them to come up with what they think are the five most important values, then show them how to put those values into practice in the real world. (It would help to have a family vision statement.) If being generous ranks up there, talk about how to share with others who have less. If empathy is in your top five, have kids suggest ways they can demonstrate this at school or in their community. By being clear about the importance of values and putting them into action, you’ll teach them that it's the non-materialistic things in the world that are most important, and that lesson is priceless.

    Make them mindful about money

    While parents don't want their kids worrying about money, letting them know a family budget exists is key to maintaining a realistic and grateful attitude. When kids understand that the sky is NOT the limit, it can help them curb their whining and appreciate the things they do receive.

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    Stop rewarding them with gifts

    Reward them with less expensive but meaningful alternatives to toys and gadgets. Playing with your kids as often as you can without shelling out big bucks helps teach little ones that having a blast and spending cash are mutually exclusive. Dance with each other. Sing loudly with each other. Video them while you are at it! These are ways of having low-key fun. Try making a painting together, with each family member getting a portion of the canvas to work on, or simply enjoy a game of cards. The possibilities are endless—and so are the benefits: teaching kids that having fun and feeling good have little to do with acquiring items.

    Everyone is entitled one way or another. All babies are born with the behavioral tendencies to want, get and take. We only become mature adults when we realize that life is all about what we give rather than what we get. So, starting them young, teaching them the principles of giving and gratitude can go a long way in changing your family and children’s lives forever. What better gift could you give your child than that?

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    Boris Joaquin is a corporate trainer, executive coach, and consultant. He is the founder of Project Purpose Philippines, co-founder of Breakthrough Leadership Management Consultancy, which carries Salt and Light Ventures and is an Investors in People specialist. Boris is married to Michelle Ocampo-Joaquin and has two daughters Ysobel and Julia.

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