How to Raise Non-Materialistic Children

Ironically many children raised in wealth demonstrate the same tendencies as those who are raised in extreme poverty: depression, despair, attempted suicide, drug and alcohol use and shoplifting. Trying to be happy by collecting possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body. Raising children in a world obsessed with possessions is a difficult but necessary job. Advertisers target kids from toddlers, filling the cartoon channels with latest toys and gadgets, magazines aimed at 5 year olds, yes FIVE YEAR OLDS who can’t read but can see their favorite cartoon characters on the cover and a cheap toy as a free gift.

So in this materialistic society, how does one go about raising non-materialistic children?

1     Lead by example

If you buy cars to impress others, shop at the mall like it’s a sport, find yourself coveting the latest mobile phone, handbag and shoes and shop online instead of watching TV, then don’t bother reading the rest of this article. Why? Because what you do screams to your children louder than anything you can ever say.

Albert Schweitzer said it well, “There are only three ways to teach a child. The first is by example; the second is by example; the third is by example.” Your first step, therefore, is to purge materialism from your life and take a look at your own behavior.

2     Spend Time with Your Children

Do you find yourself giving gifts to your children to make up for lack of personal attention? Reality check: they won’t. Not ever. You are sending your child the message that you think stuff is more important than a close relationship. Once those child rearing years are gone, you will never get them back. Cherish every moment you can spend with your children and aim to create memories and build relationships.

3     Get a grip!

For some reason parents often use birthday parties and Christmas time to “out-do” the other parents and throw the biggest, most extravagant party with the biggest entertainment budget including catering and over the top decorations. Most children won’t remember the food they ate, the decorations they saw or even the presents they received.

They will remember the excitement of blowing out the candles on their cake…any cake….and the feeling in their tummy when their friends sang happy birthday and their parents beamed loving smiles at them. They will remember the excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning, the hugs and the games their parents played with them. Everything else is pretty unnecessary as it disappears to the background of memories, faster than water on sand.

4     Help Them Prioritize Their Own Money

As your children become old enough to have their own money, help them prioritize that money. A very simple plan is to give some, save some and spend some. If you emphasize giving, you will be helping your child develop a heart for others. Giving is the opposite of materialism so you need to constantly demonstrate a giving spirit. Find a local charity project where the child and the whole family can give easily to their own community. Like food for the hungry in your town or city.

5     Support a Child in a Poverty Nation

Still need something for that “giving” money to go for? Support a child in a third-world country. Children have a natural empathy for other children, so if your kids can support a child with real needs, they will not only learn to love that child, but will also appreciate whatever material possessions they already own. Our 6 year old daughter washes our family car and earns $US12 per month, the exact amount of money needed to support her sponsor child, an orphan girl about the same age.

6     Take Them on Foreign Charity Trips or Volunteer Locally

Nothing, absolutely nothing will impact kids more than seeing poverty up close and personal. It may be in your home town or in another country, but it will plant the seed of compassion, so deeply, it will grow their whole lives. They will notice how loving and happy those living in poverty can be, as long as they were fed and could get some medical treatment if necessary, smiles and laughter were plentiful. The pure antidote to materialism is witnessing an absence of it and seeing no lack of happiness as a result.

7  Shops at a Charity Shop or Garage Sale

Encourage your child to select an item of clothing, a book or a toy from the charity shop or garage sale regularly. Point out the new price sticker on the books is 10 times the price you just paid for it. Discuss who may have read it, or worn the clothing. Think on the history of an item and the enjoyment it will give the next child when your child passes it along. Teach them to appreciate the history of an item and see the value from new to secondhand falls the instant we remove the item from the shop or car-yard.

8     Demonstrate the joy of giving

It is often said those with less give most.

Those with little know the true value of things; food, water and shelter. They also know the power of that giving; true and lasting happiness in being able to help a human soul in need. If you are not in a position to give money or good, give of your time. Read to the aged, visit a hospital or tend the garden of a neighbor. Watch your child shine in the knowledge that their contribution mattered to an adult and made a real difference in another’s life. See their self-confidence and self-esteem blossom as a result.

9     Create Family Traditions

Give gifts like food and clothes to needy children for Eid and Christmas. Get your children to go through their own cupboards and select clothes they’ve outgrown and give it to others. Creating your own family traditions that involve time together and giving to others will be memories cherished by your children and your grandchildren forever.   Don’t just leave the Earth with part of you in your child; leave it with a BETTER you, so they create a better future for us all.

Michelle Bailey
Coach and Director EMEA Business Development