How To Raise Kids Who Aren’t Materialistic
Parents work hard to give their children the best possible life. For affluent parents, that might also involve providing them with things they want, not just the things they need.
But in a deeply consumerist world, how do you raise kids who aren’t materialistic? How do you raise kids who may have stuff that they technically don’t need, but who don’t place too much value on those things?
The surest way is to not be materialistic yourself. (Easier said than done?) Check your own attitudes and responses. If kids hear you placing importance on the car you drive, the bag you carry, or other trappings of wealth, they will start imbibing the message that those things represent important values to your family. And ultimately, it’s hard to ‘trick’ kids into thinking those things aren’t important to your happiness, when they really are. Kids are too smart for that.
Here are some additional (though less effective) suggestions for ensuring kids don’t develop unhealthy consumerism.
Teach them the difference between need and want.
Kids are reminded of the difference between what they need in order to live — shelter, food, family, basic clothing, books for school — and what they want will be more cognizant of thinking about why they want the things they want — and therefore perhaps more likely to question an endless stream of wants.
Don’t make family celebrations about stuff.
Reframe family gatherings, such as festivals or birthdays, so that they’re not about the giving and receiving of things. Focus on the intangibles, like togetherness, family, celebration, even food, or music, or a performance the kids can put together. Keep the discussion and focus off of gifts.
Stay mum about stuff you’re buying.
Sure, you might be excited about your new pair of kicks, or even your brand new car, but the more you talk about these things, express excitement about them, and create conversations around them, the more your kids think those things are important to you. Nothing wrong with loving the new dress you bought, just make sure you’re not always coveting things openly in front of your kids, that’s all.
Ensure kids regularly engage with people from less fortunate circumstances.
Consumerism is usually a byproduct of having too much, in the sense that a child who yearns for a new toy or a tenth pair of shoes is clearly not the same one who needs more basic provisions to stay alive. A hankering for material possessions might signal some missing perspective. So ensure your kids regularly and organically engage with people outside their own socio-economic class, and show interest, respect, and curiosity about their lives. Whether it’s through the school they attend, their extracurricular activities, or engaging in a simple discussion with household helpers about their lives, there are many ways to ensure kids don’t stay trapped in a bubble of privilege.
Don’t create materialistic rewards for behavior.
Lots of parents unwittingly promote the importance of things in their kids’ lives by creating material rewards for good behavior. If the ultimate reward is ‘stuff,’ the message that things are important is clear. Try to use activities, such as taking your kid to the movies, or to their favorite restaurant, as a reward, instead of a material possession.