Kayley lies on the floor, throwing a tantrum because she only has pink flashing-heel shoes and she wants a blue pair to match her new jeans.
John sits on the floor, happily playing with a few blocks of wood. His dad found them lying in the street, brought them home and sanded them smooth. Yesterday he stacked them up to build a castle. Today they are cars, racing down a sandy road.
One child has everything and is miserable. The other has nothing and is happy. Children who learn to be content with what they have are happier than children who think they’ll be happy only if they have everything they want, right now.
We’re surrounded by messages telling us to keep buying the latest things if we want to be successful, popular and beautiful. Many advertising campaigns specifically target children and teenagers, tempting them with expensive goods and eroding the distinctions between needs and wants.
As a result, some parents spend hundreds of dollars each year to buy their children the latest “must have” gizmos, fashion boots, designer jeans and computers. The reality is that it’s hard to be countercultural and fight against these powerful voices.
“Why can’t I have a new phone like Lara’s? Everyone else in my class has one!”
“Hey, Dad, I really need some new running shoes. These are so last year!”
“If you don’t get me a laptop like Tom’s, I’ll be a total failure, because I won’t be able to do my homework properly.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to bow down to the mega-gods of money and materialism. But this won’t just happen. We have to be intentional and it has to start with us as parents.
Our values are our foundations. They can protect our families from being swept away by the tide of consumerism. Which values about money, saving and spending do we want to pass on to our children, and how do we do that? What values have they already developed and where have they come from? Which values need nurturing or training in the right direction?
Once we identify our values, we can understand how they shape our everyday attitudes toward money and materialism. Then we can think about the messages we’re giving our children that counteract the powerful voices of the advertising industry.
- How do we respond when we don’t have the things we want?
- How do we choose what to buy? Do we look for the best quality or the cheapest prices?
- Do we buy new things as soon as we want them or are we willing to wait for a while and perhaps buy something secondhand?
- How do we express our joy, contentment and gratitude for the things we already have?
- How do we encourage our children to make do and mend, to have fun recycling and adapting what they have?
- How do we share what we have with people who are in need?
- How can we adjust our own attitudes so that our children will learn the values we want them to learn?
I want it now!
Peter held a toy fire engine in his hand. His knuckles were whitened by his grip and his whole body was defiant. “I want it now!”
Mum crouched down to look into Peter’s eyes. “You want that fire engine really badly, don’t you?” She spoke gently.
“Yes! Get it for me!”
Mum stayed calm. “The first thing to do when you want to buy something is to find out how much it costs. How much is it?”
Peter turned the toy around. “It’s five dollars.”
“That’s quite a lot of money. The next thing to do is to count your money to see whether you have enough.”
“But I only have two dollars. You’ll have to buy it.” Peter looked hopeful.
“You really want the fire engine, don’t you?” Mum patted Peter on the shoulder. “If we want things and we don’t have enough money, we can’t just buy them, because if we do that, someday we’ll run out of money to buy the things we really need. We have to plan how to buy the things we want when we don’t have enough money.”
“The plan is you can buy it for me!” Peter dropped the fire engine into the shopping trolley.
“That is one idea, but it’s not a good plan because I don’t have money for toys either. You could save up and buy it next month. Or you could work to earn some money.”
“But that’s hard! Why can’t I have it now?” Peter stamped his foot.
Mum put her arm around his shoulder. “Yes, it is hard. But that’s how money works. If you still want the fire engine when you’ve saved five dollars, I’ll bring you back to buy it when you have the money.”
Peter was reluctant. “OK,” he sighed.
Mum put the engine back on the shelf. “Maybe we can find a cheaper one in an op shop, and then you won’t have to pay so much for it.”
Mum showed Peter that she understood how much he wanted the fire engine. Then she helped him to understand the value of things, the need to save up for them, the importance of working to earn money and where to find them at a cheaper price.
There are a number of ways to teach your children to be thankful for what they already have.
Ask your children to guess how many toys, books or items of clothing they own. Then count the actual amount. Your children may be surprised!
Walk around your house together. Stay in each room until you have found 20 things to be thankful for.
Make a lot of attractive “Thank You” cards with your craft materials. Use them to thank the local fire department, teachers, a neighbour, your rubbish collection team and others. Take your children to deliver the cards and to watch people’s faces light up.
At bedtime ask your children to think of three things they want to thank God for. Write them in a diary or let them draw quick pictures of their “thankful things.”
Fun to give!
Have fun together creating presents to give away. This helps your children to appreciate the effort that people take to give them presents.
Make quick, cheap and fun presents. Make play-dough snowmen kits, bake bread and cakes, and decorate pots and grow plants in them. The internet is full of simple gift ideas that children can make.
Encourage your children to play the rice game at freerice.com. Every time they choose a correct answer, more rice is donated to hungry people. Your children will learn new words and other children will be fed!
Give your children some money when you go grocery shopping and ask them to buy a few food items for a food bank. This can be fun and it also teaches them how much food costs and how to make good choices about healthy food when they have a tight budget.
Help children to think about the happiness, love and delight they feel when they’re giving to others.
The British preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.” It’s never too late to teach your children how to be content with what they already have.