For many families in the U.S. and North America, both parents work and are having children at a later age when they are more financially secure. This results in children never going without: they have food in their bellies, clothes on their backs, and access to education and activities that help them grow and learn. Sometimes though, our kids can become a little spoiled. They've been treated to plenty of toys and treats and it soon becomes a lot more “gimme” and a lot less “thank you.” So how can we avoid falling into the trap of overindulging and spoiling our kids? And if it has already happened, how can we figure out how to “un-spoil” them? Here are 15 ways to do just that.
15 Teach them about charity
It is so important to instill gratitude in kids from a young age on. They learn how being thankful makes them feel good on the inside and out. They show their parents, families, and others how much they appreciate the things they have knowing that not everyone in the world has as many blessings. Interestingly, we often see that children and adults in other parts of the world often have so much less, but they are actually filled with more gratitude than we are here. That is due to a cultural perception of wealth. This is why it is important we teach children wealth is more than just a piece of paper. It means appreciating the people around us, the home we live in, and beauty all around us.
14 Give them chores around the house
This sounds like a good idea, but one where you’ll get child rebellion alongside unhappy kids, right? This is not necessarily true, however. Yes, at the beginning you’ll get your fair share of complaints about “work versus play.” I’m currently experiencing this one myself. But if you gradually introduce your children to the concept of families working as a “team” to help each other get things done, kids will look at chores in a different way. It will not be about "them" having no free time, but about helping out the family have more free time. Kids will see that they can have more parent time and time for fun outings with said parents. Then, you’ll eventually be able to build in some cooperation on the child’s end. Start with simple things like sweeping the floor in the kitchen, helping load the dishwasher, or putting away clothes. Put on a snazzy upbeat soundtrack on the computer and away you go!
13 Be a minimalist
As a person with lots of clutter in her house who is slowly reforming, I can attest that getting rid of stuff is a hard thing to do. I have lots of nick knacks, and believe it or not, have a hard time parting with mementos like cards from special occasions or old clothes I MAY wear again. It's important though, that we model minimalism for our kids, and show them that we keep only the basic things that we use on a regular basis. The rest is not necessary and will not make us any happier. We need to reinforce the concept to our children that people are more important than objects. They will learn to see the bigger picture of life.
12 Yearly purge of toys, games, and clothes
Giving things away that we don’t use feels good, especially if it goes to a local school, daycare, or family that needs it. It’s the equivalent of strolling down memory lane when preparing for a garage sale, only minus sitting outside your house all day when no one will buy your stuff. This way you choose who you bring the stuff to, and your child will get the wonderful feeling of giving a good home to a beloved possession that served him/her well, and is now ready to move on. Seeing the look of appreciation on another child’s face, the family’s, or the teacher’s, will also show your child the importance of helping and being needed.
11 Pay them for doing chores
How many kids will want to spend ALL their money and have nothing to show for it? There is something to be said about paying kids to do chores. They will begin to learn the value of money, and how much money they need to buy a coveted article. Over time, as they see money disappearing, they will question how much do they really want the article, or is saving it for something bigger and better a good way to go. After all, they are working hard for their money now. Kids will also learn how to save money for a rainy day, and good financial habits are learned early. Parents will then be able to have some sensible financial discussions with their kids.
10 Volunteer work in the community
Seeing how others live for better or worse, opens up our children to new life experiences. Particularly when they view sickness, loneliness, isolation, and how they can be a light to people who are sad, this does much to fuel their sense of helping others versus their sense of entitlement. We all look to get things, but often take for granted what others have sacrificed for us to get these things. Not all people have their family and society’s full support. When kids see this, they see where their talents can be more fully utilized for someone else’s betterment and happiness. You can't have a spoiled attitude with that way of thinking.
9 Make versus buy
Making gifts is not only a good way to show kids that beauty does not have to cost a lot of money, but also highlights the importance of doing things from the heart, and feeling that sense of pride looking at a creation you made from your own two hands. As a writer and artist, I can attest to the joy I feel when writing, and when I was a child, making crafts and cards for my parents filled me with a sense of joy and purpose that a lot of other things didn’t. Kids practice other skills too when doing artwork, like attention to detail, fine motor work skills, and they get to use their creativity which helps build other parts of the brain. When they are engaged in a task at hand, they will not be looking at getting new things. They will be happy with completing the project they are working on.
8 Have a pen pal
Having a pen pal is a great way to forge bonds and work on social skills, no matter how far the pen pal lives. They could be over in the next state or in another country. You also share your own experiences, for better and worse, and they do the same with you. This way, you learn how other people live, handle problems, celebrate the happy times, and it becomes less about things and possessions, and more about human emotions. I had two pen pals growing up. One married and became a mother at a very young age. The other pen pal was in school like me, but had a very different upbringing. I learned new things about the world through both, and having the latest toy or gadget didn't compete with the cool things these girls taught me.
7 Give them time instead of things
You know the old saying that most kids just want your time? Well, parents, it is true. Remember, our kids struggle with a lot of the same stuff we did as children, only now we live in a fast-paced and more complex world. Sometimes, they may use things to replace worries and fears. They need to connect with you doing while simple things. Make time that is special and is ONLY for them. It could be talking over snack together, a walk after dinner, an ice cream, or coffee date. Your child needs this to learn about the richness of communication.
6 Take nature walks
Ah, nature, the eternal healer. It is true. When we are surrounded by the beauty of trees, birds, wind, the fresh air, tension just seems to melt away. You also realize the bigness of the world, the universe, and your part in it. No matter what, your problems will become lighter as will your child’s, as you take in the fresh air during a nature walk. Having the latest toy, article of clothing, or gadget is not as awe-inspiring as listening to nature in its peaceful beauty, or smelling fresh air and seeing beautiful plant life around you. Kids who are reluctant talkers and sometimes fill the void inside with things, are also more likely to open up to parents when walking in such a quiet splendor, and you will both have new mindsets when you get home.
5 Let kids get bored
When a good friend told me this theory years ago, I thought she was a little crazy. Bored kids make crazy parents, right? Well, I was wrong. Think about it. When you were a kid, when did your best and most creative ideas come to you? Did it happen when you were in school or at a structured event or party? No, it was when Mom or Dad told you to “go outside and make your own fun.” When I was a kid we would go and make up games to play in the street and in the nearby forest. All my fiction, poetry, and short story ideas still come when I am sitting doing nothing. There is something to be said for making time to be bored and not dwell on what to buy next. Kids who become creative don't have the "gimme" mindset. They are too busy having fun.
4 Have your child be your personal assistant
Having your child help you out at home serves many good purposes, including teaching them not to be spoiled and expect things to be done for them. For one, it teaches them about responsibility and helping. Secondly, they feel pride that they have accomplished something big, like helping Mom and Dad clean up the house so everyone can go and have fun together. The other things being “your assistant” can do is teaching kids the satisfaction that money can’t buy. This would be the great feeling that comes with teamwork, and getting the job done well. There is no toy, article of clothing, cd, or any material thing that can replace the feeling of self-confidence and contribution that a child learns when working in a group dynamic. These are things that will help them in all their relationships. You are raising appreciative kids by doing this.
3 Teach them the love of reading
Reading is a great and economic way to have fun, and readers are usually not spoiled due to being engaged creatively with the story they are reading. You can take books out at libraries or buy them at second hand bookstores, if you don’t want to pay a lot of money for books your kids may only read once. There are also comics, magazines, and newspapers, if you want to expose your children to different types of literature. The important thing, is that they get bitten by the reading bug, and see the joy in following a story. A good story or two can make you feel like you’ve taken several long vacations to exotic places. Most kids, once they take to reading, love the interactive quality of it. As they broaden their horizons and learn to think about the world in vast terms, it becomes less about what they want to buy and more about enjoying the experiences out there to be lived.
2 Keep a diary or gratitude journal
Keeping a diary or journal is a great way for kids to express all their feelings, good and bad, in a place where no one will ever see them. Their words are truly for them, unless they choose to share the entries. Here there is no judgment, and it is no holds barred. By being able to express all their emotions, kids will learn what they are really thinking or feeling when they want to buy a certain toy, article of clothing, or eat a certain food. They can analyze, is it the thing they want, or the feeling the thing gives them? This will come in time, but the art of teaching reflection teaches kids to pause before taking action of any kind. Materialism will go out the door slowly with this viewpoint.
1 Expose kids to spirituality, meditation, and yoga
It is important to practice some form of spirituality: a religion, meditation, yoga. All things that are spiritual, help kids see the world as more than just a collection of things to purchase, but that there is a rhyme and rhythm to life that we don’t always see as people. When we feel connected to something higher than ourselves, we will start thinking of feeling good in terms of feeling whole, happy, and connected to the world in a bigger sense. You don’t have to practice a formal religion to wake up, look to the sky, and see the miracle of your life and the living things around you. Meditation and yoga help bring our awareness of these things closer into focus, for kids and adults. An enlightened spiritual child will not be looking for inner fulfillment by purchasing things, but by being their best self.
So follow these tips, take it one day at a time, and be patient. Your child will see your positive cues, and in no time, he/she will be well-rounded, open-minded, and un-spoiled.