We carve the path our children walk on. This is a saying that holds completely true, especially during the formative years of the child.
As a parent, one of the most important lessons that I want to teach my young son is the difference between material and immaterial. Giving our children experiences rather than just material gifts works out better for everyone in the long run. The inevitable cost effectiveness aside, it leads to better children who grow up to be wiser adults.
Want to reward them for a good report card? Choose to spend an evening swimming or an afternoon having a picnic lunch at their favorite park instead of buying them a toy. We are our children’s role models and the way they value things mostly depends on the way we guide them. It is a challenge in this day and age with all the temptations available and the media constantly reminding us of these temptations just in case we were to forget. Every time we turn on the TV there is invariably a new advertisement selling us something or the other . Children see these things and immediately want it, or are at the very least intrigued by its existence.
As a mother, I try to make sure that I don’t make a habit of using material objects as an expression of my affection. It could be misleading to my son; he might associate it with a feel good factor. Instead, I choose to reward him with experiences like a play date, some swing time at the park or a visit to the grandparents. Immaterial as they may be they hold a lot of value in the child’s life. Many a time even adults fail to stop and appreciate the little things in life that money can’t buy. Teaching my child the value of meaningful experiences has ended up being a learning process for me all over again.
It is very natural for children to be competitive with their peers and want similar toys, clothes, stationary etc. but our duty as parents is to teach them the important lesson of Need vs. Want. This is a lesson that will stay with them for life and it is best learned at a young age. We need to strive towards making them realize that there is a difference between really needing something and between wanting something they have no actual requirement for.
For instance, your child may feel they absolutely need that pencil with the fancy design. In this case, a firm “No” will not be enough; we need to be able to reason with them. They will need a valid explanation as to why they do not need that pencil but instead, they simply “want” it. Try talking to them about how they have a perfectly good pencil to work with as of now and therefore, a new one isn’t necessary. As parents, we should educate them that it is not important for them to have everything they want, and it is not possible to get everything they set their eyes on.
As we teach them to value these experiences we shouldn’t forget to teach them that even the material gifts they do get cost money and are not easily replaceable. Buying them the toy only because they are throwing a tantrum in the store, is not the way to go. As they grow older, children need to understand that these things cost money and there is always a right way to ask for them. If we buy everything for our children and they still seem demanding we need to ask ourselves what are we buying them? Is it something that they have been asking for or something we think they might need or enjoy? At times, we also need to let the child choose.
Teaching our children that the world does not revolve around possessions will allow them to value the immaterial more. Showing them that little joys do not necessarily come in big packages is a point we need to constantly visit. It is tough to always be a role model for our children, especially when they are watching our every move. We need to keep working hard at being the best version of ourselves for our kids. But hey, if the reward at the end of all that is a well-balanced child who doesn’t feel entitled to every shiny material object – I’ll take that any day!
Originally published on a new and upcoming website for healthy parenting, where I am a contributing blogger.