The festive season - with its emphasis on Santa lists, gifting and indulgence – can easily tip a perfectly balanced child into a present-obsessed monster. And in a year where kids have been deprived of so much, it’s tempting – and natural – to try and compensate by bestowing upon the all the material goods we can afford. But where is the line between treating and spoiling? And how do you know if your little one is materialistic, versus just behaving like a normal, toy-loving child? From Lego to the latest LOL doll, sometimes it seems our kids never stop asking for things. To an extent that’s normal, but how can you tell if it’s reached unhealthy level?
Red flags that you are spoiling your child
Throws a fit when they can’t have something
While all kids are prone to tantrums – especially through the tricky early years – throwing a fit when you won’t buy them something shows they feel entitled to whatever it is they’re begging for, and that’s bad news. Setting a boundary and working through the tantrum rather than giving in is the best way to nip materialism in the bud here.
Refuses to get rid of things
We’ve all experienced that moment when your child spots something they haven’t played with for years in the charity box and declares an undying attachment to it. Struggling to give away something they no longer need could be a sign of materialism. Instead of letting them take the treasured item out of the box, why not use this as a chance to teach your child the value of giving to others less fortunate than themselves?
They’re more focused on getting the item than using it
When your child finally receives the thing they’ve been dreaming about, do they only play with it a handful of times before discarding it in search of the next big thing? If they’re more interested in the value of ‘having’ it than ‘using’ it, now could be the time to focus on other ways to reward your child and increase their self-worth.
5 Steps to non-materialistic parenting
The good news is that there are plenty of other ways to show your child how much you love and value them, without resorting to motivating through material rewards...
1. The gift of time
“Countless surveys and self-reports have shown that children simply want more quality time with parents, friends and extended family as opposed to more material items,” says clinical director and counselling psychologist at The Priory Wellbeing Centre, Tanya Dharamshi. “Adults have a tendency to pacify the guilt of not being more physically available with material items. If our children grow up learning to appreciate the benefits of spending time together with the family – completing a puzzle with grandparents or walking the dog with their siblings – they will naturally place a much greater worth on meaningful activities and life experiences.”
“I think often children enjoy experiences and time with loved ones more than stuff,” says Dr Rose Logan, clinical psychologist at the Lighthouse Center for Wellbeing. “The joy of receiving stuff is short whereas experiences create memories that last much longer.”
2. Counting your blessings
“Make it a rule to give back when we receive, be polite and courteous – holding the door open for the person behind you in the mall, reading a story to a sibling, or eating together as a family are all activities that can be incorporated into everyday life and help children to understand the true meaning of core values,” says The Priory’s Tanya Dharamshi.
“Ask your kids to name something they’re grateful for every day,” suggests psychologist Nancy Shah. “Materialism comes from a state of dissatisfaction or unhappiness. If we focus on creating kids who are happy and fulfilled, by definition they won’t be materialistic.”
3. Lead by example
“Children need their parents to be role-models who can explain and demonstrate the importance of non-tangibles,” says Tanya Dharamshi.
“We must ask ourselves if materialism is something we’re passing down to our children through our own actions – for example coveting the latest car or handbag,” agrees Dr Rose Logan. “How we behave will influence our children, no matter what we say.”
4. Make sure everybody is singing from the same songsheet
“Once you have defined a behaviour you wish to change or modify, you have to agree how you are going to do this with everyone who takes care of your child,” says Dr Rose Logan. “Consistency in applying rules is the key. This may lead to tantrums and tears. Validate how your child is feeling if they are upset about the changes and then try and redirect them to something else.”
5. Recognition rather than reward
“It’s not a case of never rewarding a child but it’s how you do it,” suggests Joanne Jewell, educator and mindful parenting coach at MindfulME. “If I buy something for my child it should be as a recognition for something they’ve done, never as an expectation for them doing it.”