I didn’t really see it coming until it hit me in the face directly.
I was having a mommy and me day with my youngest child, complete with a trip to the American Girl store that just opened up and then tea at a lovely hotel. While holding a doll named Sue I became giddy over all the little doll shoes, pint-sized picnic sets, and soccer clothes that this grand store was trying to pawn off on us. Although I’d set a fixed price before we left to commemorate our special day, I was so swept up in the moment that we ended up bringing home much more than I intended.
My middle child immediately cried foul that his sister got “soooo many goodies,” whereas he got only one souvenir from our day together earlier this summer. So he did what all good big brothers do: he bragged that he was going to a movie and lunch with me the next day when my daughter went to her camp. This naturally sent my daughter into hysterics about how unfair it is that her brother gets everything and she gets nothing, even after my credit card was still smoking from our day’s purchases just hours before.
I stared at the two of them and realized something: my kids are greedy.
Then I did what any good mother would do: I began to yell about how greedy they were, and informed them that there were children searching for food under the rubble in Haiti. I think the fact that my kids still wanted so much after all that they had been given put me over the edge. How could they want more?
After I calmed down I sent us all to some quiet time to figure out how to handle this ongoing issue that so many parents struggle with. Hopefully these suggestions will help you as well.
- Give consequences for greedy behavior. That day, each of my kids had to fill a box with 10 toys they no longer play with. A charitable group came the next week to pick up the goods. Now every time a new toy enters our house an old one has to be given away.
- Have your kids do a summer service project. My kids have handed out food from our church food pantry, stocked the shelves at our local emergency family assistance center, and picked extra produce from our farm to give to various food banks. This summer they are writing letters and sending care packages to soldiers overseas. This is a great way to teach kids how fortunate they are and how difficult some families have it.
- Be careful how much stuff enters your house. This is a rule I am always trying to follow and sometimes fail at. If it were up to my kids they would buy something every time we go anywhere. Set boundaries about how much they can buy and when they can buy.
- Make them earn what they want! My teen-ager wants an X-Box so I had him research how much it costs. He is spending this summer mowing lawns and working at our farm to earn the money to buy it. He is appalled that it will take the entire summer to earn enough money, but we have explained that’s how life works. Children as young as three can be taught how to save their money, put it in the bank or continue saving if they want to buy something. If you are at Target and your child wants something, ask them: “How much money do you have?”
- Talk to those people in your lives (think grandparents!) who have a tendency to over-indulge your child. Explain that you are trying to scale down the amount of “stuff” in your house. Ask them to help you with this by substituting buying something with a fun activity instead. Ideas can include going to the zoo, the library, the park, the movies, coloring, taking a hike, or whatever your family enjoys!
- Take things away. When my kids get extra greedy they lose privileges. Sometimes it is video games, movies, or even toys. The length of this consequence depends on how offensive the crime committed.
Most of us have kids who have an over-abundance of stuff. Between parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles and birthday parties it sometimes feels as if there is no end to the amount of gifts received! While this may never end completely you can set boundaries with your kids (and yourself!) to show them how to live a life that isn’t centered around material goods.
About Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals. She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in Colorado with her husband and three energetic children. She currently has a private practice in Boulder where she sees adults, couples and adolescents.