Is Your Child a Materialist?

Recently I have talked with a few parents who are frustrated that their children seem always to want something new or better. You may have experienced this yourself. Perhaps your child wanted one particular toy and was tremendously focused on it for days. In time you purchased the toy or video game, but soon your child asked for something else. It can feel to parents that their children are self-centered and ungrateful. Parents feel angry with their children and fear that they will grow up into shallow adults. I want to address some ways you can help them grow into more grateful and appreciative people.

Parents of children with learning disabilities are sometimes more challenged here. Kids with ADD, nonverbal learning disability or Asperger Syndrome naturally focus intensely on particular items so that you as a parent are submitted to quite a barrage of requests. In addition, you may feel, rightly so, that life is more difficult for this child. As a result, you might be more likely to try to gratify him with the desire of the moment. You might feel that you really want to introduce some happiness in your child who is unhappy at school or who has few friends. But if your child then moves to want the next thing soon, you are likely to feel resentful.

I found some helpful ideas about dealing with children’s wants in a book by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. Dr. Mogel is a child psychologist who draws on Jewish teaching to illustrate ways to raise more resilient, self-reliant, and grateful children. I am not Jewish, but I am a parent and a child psychologist, and I think she shares a great deal of wisdom.

Don’t Argue With Desire

First of all, Dr. Mogel advises not to get angry or impatient with their children’s acquisitive nature. This is a part of human nature. Desire and wanting are related to passion, ambition and creativity. Think about it — all are based on wanting something. But this drive needs to be moderated. That is where parents come in. So, when your child once again expresses unrealistic expectations for designer boots, a high priced bike or an exclusive camp, it is better not to get angry or to try to shame her. Telling her that most children in the US would be very happy to have what she has is likely to bounce off her desire. Instead you can simply reflect to your child what you hear. “I understand that you want the designer boots.” Do not try to argue about whether it is right to want these things. The fact is that your child does. You might even privately admire the spirited force of desire.

Longing and Waiting are Useful Experiences

Your job is to explain, briefly, the difference between need and desire, not in a preachy way. Don’t expect your child to be won over. The lesson is taught in deeds, not words. If your child persists, you might need to tell her that you will not discuss the matter further. Perhaps you feel guilty at this point. Dr. Mogel talks knowingly about the ambivalence parents feel in this regard. You might think to yourself, “Well, I can really afford those boots; it’s just that she has good boots we bought a few months ago.” Here is a way to address your doubt. Dr. Mogel points out that it is helpful for your child to learn to long for something. If we immediately gratify every desire, children do not get the experience of longing, dreaming, even considering whether the boots will improve quality of life. Allowing children to wait begins to teach them in practice the difference between need and want. Some children have an allowance and can begin to save for items they want but do not need. Children can only learn this lesson when parents allow them to experience longing by declining to gratify every request.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Dr. Mogel talks about other ways that parents can teach about gratitude and the difference between needs and wants by example. Consider what example you present about acquisitiveness. If your family outings are likely to be trips to the mall, consider going to parks or museums instead. Do your receive many catalogs in the mail, and do your children see you reading them with great interest? Consider doing this when your children are not around. Giving them the impression that shopping is an excellent pastime only feeds the desire. Consider how much you talk about the things you plan to buy or the improvements you plan to make to your home. You know what you need as opposed to what you want. But your children are still learning this. You might be giving the impression that your major enjoyment comes from buying and acquiring.

Giving and Sharing Cultivate Gratitude

Lastly, there are ways to engage children in service activities that help them feel worthwhile and might actually bring them in contact with people less fortunate than they are. These activities are more persuasive than any lecture on this topic. Some schools and some religious communities regularly offer such opportunities. In my community last week there was a big effort on environmental clean-up. It was a great opportunity for family engagement in useful work for others. Volunteering with activities at a nursing home is another useful possibility. Some communities take responsibility for preparing and serving at a soup kitchen. It’s a great and safe way for children to come to terms with the tremendous needs that some people have. Perhaps there are even simple ways in the family and neighborhood that children can learn to give. An older child might read to a younger sibling or engage her in a game. Children could help an elderly neighbor with taking out the trash. Children could help you to sort clothing that can be given away and go with you to take it to Goodwill.

Obviously, there are many possibilities. Some will be greeted with more enthusiasm than others. But if such activities are a part of your family life, your children will have a better sense of their worth and of how the world lives. These activities take time and intention, but they are the way that young people learn how fortunate they are. Calmly but firmly declining to give into campaigns for the latest video game or gadget teaches the values that you want your child to have, and it gives them the opportunity to plan and dream. Noticing what values your behavior communicates is also very important. Good luck as you help your children learn to manage their natural inclination to want.

Author's Bio: 

Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist, Carolyn Stone, Ed.D. ( educates parents of children with learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome and anxiety about their children’s needs using humor and evidence-based practices. Parents learn new strategies through role play and homework. She teaches children to manage their anxiety and attention and to understand their learning styles. You can learn about Dr. Stone’s work from her blog at