Let’s be honest, we all over spend on our kids from time to time. We see that shirt, or that game, that we know will make their day – and we just can’t resist buying it for them! Indulging, or spoiling our children every now and then, is normal and totally harmless. But, if we start seeing a consistent pattern of over-spending and over-indulging our children, then we may want to start looking at our spending patterns and the messages that our kids may be getting.
We know that kids take their cues from their parents…so if a parent consistently (even if it is inadvertently!) places a high value on material items (clothes, toys, etc) by overspending, over-doing, or over-indulging a child, we can expect to see these children starting to place a higher emphasis on material items as they grow up. The inadvertent message that these kids receive is that “things = happiness”. Therefore, the more things I get, the happier I must be!
And there is plenty of research out there that shows a concerning link between materialism and mental health. Typically, kids/teens who place a greater emphasis on material items also show lower levels of self-esteem and overall happiness, while simultaneously experiencing greater levels of anxiety. We also know that children who are “spoiled” consistently, don’t develop a proper sense of limits, consequences or boundaries – all of which have been linked to irresponsible, even dangerous choices as adults. As adults, these kids and teens also tend to have poor social skills and be less independent, as they have learned that others will provide everything they want. And, we see these
kids grow up to have a strong and deeply ingrained sense of entitlement.
So, what can we do as parent?
Engage your children in experiences, instead of buying them more things. Develop fun activities to do with your kids, instead of taking them shopping. For example – ice skating, hiking and reading are all great ways to connect with your young children, that don’t involve material items. For older kids, try cooking a special meal together, watching movies or volunteering together. If you find you get stuck coming up with ideas, just ask your family what they would like to DO, instead of what they would like to GET. It’s a subtle shift, but it can have a huge impact on your mindset.
Consider getting involved in a charity as a family. Some folks like to volunteer their time together, others choose to sponsor a family, or participate in local fundraisers – you know your crew best, so pick something that will work for everyone. Maybe your family loves to be active? Then consider participating in a charity run! More of a crafty crew? Maybe you can work together to create items for a charity auction! Whatever you choose to do, just make sure you explain WHY you are getting involved with a charity. If you are worried about how to open a dialogue with younger children (4yrs +) I recommend the book “Maddi’s Fridge”(Written by Lois Brandt, Illustrated by Vin Vogel) it is a great way to introduce the idea that we don’t all have enough, while also helping younger kids see the value of giving.
Teach your children to practice gratitude. I always recommend that at least once a week, families sit down and have a short conversation about the things that they are grateful for.
Neuroscience has an undeniable body of evidence, proving that practicing gratitude can have a positive impact on our overall mental health. Most kids will include some toys or other material items that they are grateful for – and that’s ok. Just remind them to think about some of the other good things they have to be grateful for, like family, friends and even pets!
Remember, we all love our kids – and we all want them to be happy!