I desperately fear spoiling our children. A number of reasons factor into this fear, but I know one of them results from my former teaching days. I taught at a fantastic school. In fact, I attended there for 4th through 6th grades. The majority of the students came from families that made average to above average incomes. Many of the parents worked at the local university and placed high value on education.
The students sported name brand clothes on a regular basis. Parents pumped tons of money into various sports, music, and social activities for their kids. I found my students often didn’t respect their belongings or mine. One time when I confronted a student about why he insisted on destroying his school supplies he simply replied, “My mom will buy me new ones.” As a person who holds a special place in her heart for the less fortunate, this scenario grieved me. My students were ripping up their notebooks and cutting off the tips of their markers while kids in other countries couldn’t go to school because they didn’t own even one pair of shoes.
I had a blessed childhood in my opinion. We weren’t wealthy since my dad taught high school and my mom stayed home, but as an only child I certainly didn’t want for much. My grandparents spoiled me with their time and not necessarily their money, but they portrayed generosity in their own way. My parents taught me to save for things I wanted and didn’t overspend themselves.
We, by nature, seem to be born selfish creatures. Some children struggle to overcome this natural tendency more than others. Other children develop the ability to put others first much earlier and with greater ease.
Our culture is one characterized by “more.” We now have entire TV shows devoted to home organization, how to rid our homes of unnecessary clutter, and even shows that exhibit hoarding to the extreme.
Our children are surrounded by messages that encourage them to be consumers. Commercials persuade them they need the next cool toy. Happy Meals inadvertently teach them that toys are simply disposable.
I talked with a friend at length about this topic the other day. I wish I could tell you we solved the answer to this growing problem. What I will do is share some of the things we brainstormed that might be of help to you.
1. Limit what you buy for your kids. Try to save special things for holidays and birthdays. Maybe instead of “things” you go for experiencing an event together. Give them a budget for such times like back to school shopping.
2. Develop the habit of giving away a portion of their money early. There is a book called The Three Cups. It teaches children to spend some, save some and give some away.
3. Delay gratification. If there is a special item, such as fancy new shoes your child really wants but seems excessive, provide ways for them to earn money so they can buy it. Make them wait until they have every last penny. This part can be hard…I might know.
4. Expose them in a safe, natural way to people who are less fortunate. I make the kids go with me to deliver items to the Crisis Pregnancy Center. They have helped us serve at Backstreet Mission a few times. We also sponsor a child from Rwanda through World Vision and this creates a great opportunity to have a semi-direct connection with someone in much different circumstances than their own.
5. Make generosity a topic of ongoing discussion at your house. Point out when your kids are generous to one another. Reward them for that if you can. Ask them at dinner how they were generous to someone at school that day. We frequently asked our oldest last year what he did that day to put someone else first.
6. Remember, you are the parent and the world should not revolve around your children. Saying no can be incredibly hard, but the temporary tantrum or disgust is far easier to deal with than the ongoing sense of entitlement that you might unintentionally cultivate in your children.
7. Assign chores. Some can earn money, but some don’t. We stress in our household that we are all in this together and some jobs are just expectations. When we are picking up around the house and someone wails, “But that’s not mine,” this statement earns extra work now. Oh, the injustice.
8. We go through toys a couple of times a year, especially before Christmas and have the boys donate some. We stress how there are many children whose families can’t afford brand new toys and we don’t need to hold on to things that others can make use of.
These ideas may or may not help, but each one leads to a step in the right direction. We have definitely made progress in our home, but we still have a long way to go.
One last word of encouragement: if this issue worries you, then congratulations! That means you actually care, and aren’t most of us just doing the best job we can? Give yourself a break, and take time to be grateful today for the good things you have been blessed with.
Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments!