Material world: Tips to help children grow up free of entitlement

A large portion of a child's sense of right and wrong can come from early experiences. Help your children grow up free from the influence of material wealth and entitlement by encouraging them to volunteer, donate to charity and remember to stay thankful.

Sydney Brink/The Sedalia Democrat/AP
Volunteer Lana Parker, 13, digs a post hole in this June 2012 file photo, while other volunteers, in background, work to remove a rotted post before installing a patio fence for William Strohmeier, who is disabled in Sedalia, Mo. Having your children volunteer and do charity work are some ways to make sure they do not develop a pattern of entitlement.

Our three kids are really blessed. They have involved parents that are in a solid enough financial state to provide for them without worry. They have two sets of grandparents and a great-grandparent that dote on them, and they are the first grandchildren of two of the grandparents, so they get a special helping of attention. They have a small army of doting aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles, cousins, and family friends that care deeply for them.

With all of these relatives and friends that care for these kids, holidays and birthdays sometimes turn into an overwhelming cavalcade of gifts. Even outside of those events, people will sometimes pop in with gifts for the kids.

The challenge that we often face as parents through all of this is entitlement.

How do we keep all of this from rounding a corner into a sense of material entitlement, one that will cause them to spend their lives, on some level, feeling that material abundance is normal and worth spending a great deal of money for? It’s a challenging issue.

What I do know is that a large portion of my sense of right and wrong came from my childhood experiences. I was influenced greatly by what my parents told me and what actions they took themselves. I think that’s a typical result of a childhood with involved parents who showed love, kindness, and attention.

Because of that, Sarah and I are really mindful of how we can use our day-to-day actions and the things we discuss with our children to constantly nudge them away from a sense of material entitlement. Here are some of the things we’re actively doing.

Remind them to be thankful. When someone gives them a gift, we not only remind them to be thankful in the moment (encouraging them to say “thank you” and telling them that they’ve done well later if they remember to say thanks on their own), we also remind them to be thankful later. We encourage the writing of “thank you” notes for gifts or pleasant occasions.

Expose them to others in need. Right now, our children really don’t have a skill set where they can do much effective volunteer work with the disadvantaged, so our goal right now is to simply make them aware that they have more than most of the people in the world. The constant accumulation of “more” can seem less important when compared to the plight of others, and being aware of such situations makes an enormous difference.

Encourage them to give some of what they have to others. We give them an allowance, but a portion of that allowance must be given to a charity of their choice. Every so often, we do a “toy purge,” and out of the purged toys, we give many of them away at Goodwill, and during this purge we involve them in the choice of what to eliminate and also remind them of where these items are going.

Do enjoyable things without material items. Most of our evenings are spent out in the yard. They do a lot of things I did when I was a child – play in the sandbox, help in the garden, play tag, run through the lawn sprinkler, and so on. We go to free parks all the time. You don’t have to have a bunch of stuff to have fun.

Talk about the issues involved. What is a gift? A gift is not something that you should ever expect. A gift is something given to you by someone as a way of showing they care. What are possessions? They can be nice to have, but the fun comes from within you. You can have fun with anything. These are the types of discussions we have regularly.

These are the tactics we’re using to reduce a sense of material entitlement in our children. Will it work? Only time will tell, but I feel pretty good about things when I see our kids choosing to play in a state park instead of hoarding their toys or getting excited about giving some of their allowance to a good cause.

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