On this Cyber Monday, we hear news of the billions of dollars spent during the holiday season. It’s all the more important to help children appreciate the difference between what they want and what they need. The two easily get blurred.
I recommend parents try a three-pile process. Before bringing any new clothes or toys into the house, take inventory of what you already have. Make three piles with the help of your children. Pile one: the toys and clothes used most frequently, most enjoyed, and certainly keep clothes that are needed. Pile two: what kids sometimes use or need, but may not be 100% essential. Pile three: what they haven’t touched or seen for a few months (seasonal clothing excluded of course).
Seeing piles helps kids visually appreciate the abundance of their good fortune. It often shocks parents to realize how much money is spent on things not appreciated. Box up pile three and put it aside. If you or your child doesn’t go into the box for several weeks, chances are you can part with those items. Giving unwanted and unused items to friends, neighbors, relatives, or donating them to the millions of people suffering in these tough times, teaches children to think of others and be thankful for what they have. Surprisingly, with less objects and possessions around them, children seem to like what they have more. The value of things goes up if we have less of them.
The value also goes up when kids split the cost. As the saying goes, they have more skin in the game! One teenager I know loves the newest and often most expensive Nikes that come out every year. He’s a terrific athlete and great student. He wants to feel proud wearing them. All great reasons to own them, but he doesn’t “need” them. His parents have a simple rule. Split the costs 50-50. He does special errands, baby-sits, saves birthday money, and pays half. His mother tells me this results in him taking better care of his sneakers. He keeps them clean and doesn’t leave them around the house.
Also, ask yourself who’s doing most of the buying? Parents today are very busy, working long hours, and often try to compensate by buying more things for their kids. We tend to make more out of holidays and birthdays than ever. It feels good to give and make kids feel happy, but its only temporary, and it sends the wrong message. We should be linking new toys, fun clothes, and electronic games to maintaining healthy behaviors, better school effort, and compliance at home.
Finally, watch out for begging. Kids who push and push to get something they want only learn to push harder should you cave in. I recommend that parents have a strict rule on begging. If begging gets out of control, then the whole discussion is put aside for a week. I know too many adults who push, plead, won’t take no for an answer… and we all find such people very challenging to deal with. We see how they make others around them uncomfortable and angry. I wonder what they were like as kids? Maybe their parents didn’t help teach the difference between want and need.