My two kids are really blessed. They have involved parents who can provide for them without worry. They also have a small army of doting aunts and uncles, cousins and family friends that care deeply for them. With all of these relatives and friends that care for these kids, holidays and birthdays sometimes turn into an overwhelming cavalcade of gifts. Even outside of those events, people will sometimes pop in with gifts for the kids.
The challenge that we often face as parents through all of this is entitlement. How do we keep all of this from rounding a corner into a sense of material entitlement, one that will cause them to spend their lives, on some level, feeling that material abundance is normal and worth spending a great deal of money for? It’s a challenging issue.
What I do know is that a large portion of my sense of right and wrong came from my childhood experiences. I was influenced greatly by what my parents told me and what actions they took themselves. I think that’s a typical result of a childhood with involved parents who showed love, kindness, and attention. Because of that, I am really mindful of how I can use our day-to-day actions and the things we discuss with our children to constantly nudge them away from a sense of material entitlement. Here are some of the things we’re actively doing.
Remind them to be thankful. When someone gives them a gift, we not only remind them to be thankful in the moment (encouraging them to say “thank you” and telling them that they’ve done well later if they remember to say thanks on their own), we also remind them to be thankful later. We encourage the writing of “thank you” notes for gifts or pleasant occasions.
Expose them to others in need. I have encouraged them to strengthen their volunteer skills and to work with the disadvantaged. We want to make them aware that they have more than most of the people in the world. The constant accumulation of “more” can seem less important when compared to the plight of others, and being aware of such situations makes an enormous difference.
Encourage them to give some of what they have to others. We give them an allowance, but 10% of that allowance must be given to a charity. Once a year we take their charity money and give it to their favourite charity. Every so often, my wife does a “ purge,” and out of the purged clothing, we give many of them away to friends, family and Goodwill.
Talk about the issues involved. What is a gift? A gift is not something that you should ever expect. A gift is something given to you by someone as a way of showing they care. What are possessions? They can be nice to have, but the fun comes from within you. You can have fun with anything.
These are the tactics we’re using to reduce a sense of material entitlement in our children. Will it work? Only time will tell, but I feel pretty good about things when I see our kids sharing their slightly used clothing and giving their allowance to a good cause.