There’s a scientific method to raising kind, non-judgmental children. Photo: Corbis.
No parent wants their child to grow up valuing things over people and experiences. Yet a new study suggests that even well intentioned moms and dads might be setting up their kids to be materialistic. The study of 700 people, published in the April edition of the Journal of Consumer Research, found that adults whose parents rewarded their childhood good behavior with objects were more likely to grow up basing their self-worth on acquisitions. Not only that, but they turned out to be more judgmental about other people’s possessions, basing their opinion of others on what they owned.
The takeaway from the study is clear: to reduce the odds that your kid develops a materialistic, judgmental mindset, try not to make physical objects your go-to way of expressing love. Sure, it’s tempting to reward a child who went potty all by herself or won a school prize by indulging her with a toy. Problem is, you’re reinforcing the idea that to feel good and appreciated, she needs gifts. Instead, your praise—and her sense of accomplishment and satisfaction—should be their own rewards, Jeanette Sawyer Cohen, Ph.D., a New York based clinical psychologist, tells Yahoo Parenting.
That’s not the only way to discourage materialism in kids. These five tips will help them see that joy and fulfillment have zero to do with how many Frozen dolls or Lego sets are in their toy box.
Start young: It’s never too early to teach your little one that the people in her life offer greater joy than material items, says Sawyer Cohen. “Make the most of routine occurrences like diaper changing and meal time to show her that social exchanges are more rewarding than any toy,” she says. “Tap into your inner silliness to demonstrate that connecting with people can be more fun than even the most compelling games and devices.”
Practice what you preach: Kids are super perceptive, so think about the materialism you might be unconsciously modeling. Do you express envy over a neighbor’s new car, or make comments about high-end brands being better than discount ones? Without realizing it, you’re signaling that possessions and status are linked to satisfaction and self-worth. “Be aware of your own desire to keep up with the Joneses, and instead make friends and socialize with other families who don’t buy into that message,” child psychologist Heather Wittenberg, Ph.D., tells Yahoo Parenting.
Give experiences, not items: Think back to a birthday party you had as a kid: chances are you have a clearer memory of the celebration you shared with friends and family than all the presents you unwrapped. Gifting your kids with experiences rather than items will show them that moments of fun are more enjoyable than the latest novelty or toy, Sharon Silver, founder of Proactive Parenting, tells Yahoo Parenting. The best part is, experiences don’t have to break the bank: think a campout in the backyard, a trip to the museum, even an extra story at bedtime.
Try to limit exposure to advertising: There’s a reason advocacy groups want to reduce the number of ads aimed at kids. Younger children don’t understand that the people behind the ad are just trying to sell them something; they absorb the idea that buying a toy or doll will make them happy. Curb exposure to ads, and they won’t internalize this message. If that’s not possible, have a dialog about it. “When your child sees a commercial and says she must have the item advertised, ask why it’s so important,” says Silver. “Turn it into a conversation that makes her think and reconsider if she really needs it.”
Encourage gratitude and giving: Next time you’re putting together a bundle of old clothes to give to charity, make sure your little one is part of it. She’ll see that items her family has too much of, can be given to people who need them, and that’s an essential lesson in gratitude and empathy. “Rather than simply writing a check, make giving a family ritual your kids can participate in,” says Wittenberg. “Helping others who need it is an essential part of raising non-materialistic kids. They’ll be less ‘thing-oriented’ and more compassionate because of it.”