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“Gee, I wish I had that.” My parents told me I used to say that as a kid after every commercial during Saturday morning cartoons. Fast-forward a few decades: Now I’m the dad to a 4-year-old, and I hear similar phrases almost every day ⏤ especially since kids get more screen time. We can’t watch a show or walk past the toy aisle at Target without at least one request for an action figure, board game, or Nerf blaster. The challenge of raising a less materialistic child is greater today than it was years ago, and there are days I worry my kid is too focused on stuff.
So with the holidays approaching, it got me thinking: How can I help my child keep their materialism in check and be thankful for the things that they do have? How can I raise a kid who is more grateful and less grabby? So I came up with these seven strategies that we’re implementing this holiday season.
Develop a sense of gratitude
This goes beyond the simple (but important) reminder to say, “thank you” (or send a card) after someone gives you something. We try to give our son a greater perspective on the world around him by showing him how some kids don’t have the things he might take for granted. We’ve found “adopt-a-family” programs to be a helpful way to open his eyes to the fact that not everyone will have gobs of gifts to open on holidays or birthdays. And charitable giving is a good way for him to share the toys he’s outgrown with those who are less fortunate (that this clears room in his toy box and playroom is an added bonus).
If you want it, earn it
I’m not advocating child labor here, but having to do something to get something is a good lesson that can be taught from a young age. For us, a sticker chart offers a way to track various tasks to be completed to earn that giant transforming toy robot that will make life complete. One word of caution here, though ⏤ you don’t want to set up rewards for things the child should be doing already, as that becomes a bribe rather than payment.
Distract during commercials
If you aren’t watching kids programming on demand, the commercial breaks are a good time to hit the “mute” button and ask your kids about the show, what they think will happen next, or who their favorite character is. This can help prevent those marketing messages from being beamed into their heads; research shows that kids whose TV viewing was cut by one-third were 70 percent less likely to ask their parents for a toy the following week.
Our kids take cues from us. Are you thanking your child if he or she gives you something, even if it’s an acorn picked up from the sidewalk? Are you thanking anyone who gives you something? Do you take your kid when making a donation? All these are ways we can live the lessons we’re trying to teach our kids about being grateful.
Have “look” days
Setting expectations before you leave the house can help avoid a meltdown in aisle 3. This could be as simple as saying, “I need to go to the store to pick up diapers for your brother. We can look at the toy aisle, but since your birthday is coming up, I’ll take pictures of things you like and send it to Grandma if she needs an idea for a present.” And following up on “Live it,” adults have “look” days, too. If my son goes with me to get the oil changed at the dealer, I tell him the cars in the showroom are “just for looking” (even though part of me wants to blow his college fund on the shiny sports car we both admire).
Show the joy of giving
Yes, it’s easier to pick up little items for your kids to give relatives for birthdays and holidays, rather than spend time in the store letting them choose. But a hands-on experience makes giving something more fun and memorable. Even if it’s letting your kid help pick photos for the calendar you give your parents, they will have more ownership in the process while having fun.
Reward with an experience
Did your kid master the math test or ace the science project? That’s great, but rather than run off to get the latest toy or online game, why not reward him with a special experience? My wife started picking up our son early to take him on “cake dates” at a favorite bakery as a reward, and he knows it’s an exciting event worth more than a new Paw Patrol car.
Rob Pasquinucci is a PR pro and freelance writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he and his wife are raising two spirited boys. When not working or parenting, Rob enjoys bicycling, reading, or enduring the misery of being a Cleveland sports fan.