raising children

By Kathy Longo, IRIS

It is human nature for all of us to feel the need to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ from time to time, children included. As more and more kids get smartphones and their popular gaming platforms grow ever more sophisticated, their brains are being primed to want the things their peers have.

These feelings can be complex, with things like new clothing, electronics, and accessories on the minds of many kids. As parents, it’s up to us to help our children mitigate these complicated feelings and avoid falling head-first into materialism.

Child psychologists and parenting experts have studied the issue of materialism in children for several decades. Below we will discuss five findings to help parents lead their children toward a non-materialistic mindset.

Tip #1: Have frequent money discussions

Our children learn quite a bit at school, but money management isn’t often included. Since education systems in the United States don’t require financial education, our children learn their spending habits from – you guessed it – us.

If we want our children to understand the value of money, we need to talk openly about it and do so often. This includes the classic “money doesn’t grow on trees” narrative, which the Child Development Institute says will help kids learn how quickly money can disappear. In turn, this leads to establishing responsible spending habits into adulthood.

We’ve all faced the scenario of a child desperately wanting a particular item before school starts, and the good news is that we don’t necessarily have to say no. Instead, take the advice of parenting coach Alice Kaltman who says we can hear our kids out and, if they want something very badly, partner together to create a strategy that lets them work to earn it. This means we aren’t giving an easy yes, but we aren’t forced to say no either.

Tip #2: Stop using material rewards and consequences

The habit of showing love or molding our child’s behavior by giving things or taking them away is referred to as ‘material parenting’. These tactics are common and most parents have used them. Maybe it’s to reward good report cards with shopping trips or taking away electronic devices as punishment for acting out, for instance.

Though material parenting is common, research has shown that it can lead to our kids becoming materialistic adults who continue to reward themselves with things – and who, importantly, exhibit reduced feelings of wellbeing. If we stop associating behavior with things, our kids will place less value on things, too.

Tip #3: Don’t neglect quality time

While our kids might tell us that the things they want most are clothes or toys or electronics, we would do much better by giving them more of our time and attention, says Dr. Kaltman. Her research has shown that engaging in forms of fun with our children that aren’t reliant on quick-fix fun like electronics draws attention away from material things.

Instead, our kids feel the rewards of our encouragement, comfort, or family fun. Most of us are very busy, of course, and more quality time can seem difficult to fit in. However, we don’t need to plan anything elaborate. Simple things like taking a walk are more than enough to help our kids feel more connected to us.

Tip #4: Set an example

The experts at the Child Mind Institute have found that one of the best ways for children to learn to be responsible spenders is to have parents who actively model responsible financial behavior. This means having a budget and sticking to it, not making impulsive purchases, setting personal and family financial goals, and strategizing as a family to afford big purchases.

Being a financial role model for our children also means resisting the urge to keep up with the Joneses. Reminding our kids that more stuff doesn’t equal more happiness is foundational in developing their sensibilities about envy. We should be actively working to quell their desires – and our own – for more ‘stuff’.

Tip #5: Develop an attitude of gratitude

Medical professionals have known for years that practicing gratitude is good for our physical and mental health, and it turns out it’s good for our kids’ future financial health, too. This study revealed that there is a link between gratitude and decreased feelings of materialism, and even that fostering gratitude makes for more generous children.

Practicing gratitude looks a bit different depending upon a child’s age and interests, but there are many ways to do it successfully. Many families commit to a “gratitude jar” where, each week, every member of the family writes down something they are grateful for and adds it to the jar.

Kids who like to write may even want to keep their own gratitude journal. Families who are looking for a different approach may simply focus on gathering around the dinner table regularly and asking each family member to reflect on something they’re thankful for that day.

Closing thoughts

Raising children is no walk in the park, and there are many ways for us as parents to make mistakes along the way. When it comes to teaching our kids to be non-materialistic, however, the experts have already done most of the work for us. By following the above guidelines, we can encourage our kids to know the value of money, to understand the relative unimportance of material things, and to grow into responsible and generous adults.


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Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based independent, objective Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) providing investment advisory, fiduciary compliance, employee education, provider management and plan design services to employer retirement plan sponsors. The firm specializes in sustainable investment strategies for retirement plans that incorporate Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) factors and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) elements. LRPC currently has contracts in place to provide consulting services on more than a half billion dollars in plan assets. For more information, please contact Robert C. Lawton at (414) 828-4015 or bob@lawtonrpc.com or visit the firm’s website at https://www.lawtonrpc.com. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser.

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