Teaching Kids about Needs Vs Wants

“Mommy I want that!”, exclaims your daughter during your weekly shopping trip. She will never forget that one time you decided to splurge and purchase a toy just to see the smile on her rosy face. To make matters worse, she just had a birthday in which friends and family showered her with gifts. How do you teach this impressionable mind the difference between needs and wants?! Ultimately how do you teach your growing child to be content in our materialistic culture? We don’t have all the answers but we’ve got a few ideas to help you and your children determine needs from wants.

What is a Want? 

A want can be described as something you desire, that may or may not be useful, but you’d like to have it none the less. It is not necessary for your survival and does not contribute to the greater good of yourself, family, or community.

What is a Need?

Basic needs are water, shelter, air, clothing, and food. Beyond this may be items you need to participate in an activity, a gift to give a friend, or a tool to help you accomplish your life goals and purpose.

So how do you break this down to help little ones learn the difference when to them, all wants may seem like a need? Here are a few strategies…

Self Articulation: Help your child talk through the idea themselves. If they pick up an item in a store and ask for it, make them tell you why it’s a want or need in their own words. Then continue to discuss the difference.

Make a list: Before going into a store make a list of what you need to get. Give your child the list and make sure they understand this is your needs list. Don’t allow any other items besides what is on your list to be purchased during that trip explaining you are only going to the store for “needs” that day.

Modeling: Smart shopping starts with you as the example.  Shopping habits can be formed as children witness and imitate their parents in the market. If you are constantly buying things you don’t need, it will be very difficult to curb your child’s appetite for wants.

Explain Spoiling: Children love stories. Find books or create your own that explain the downside of being spoiled. Here is a list of 15 books that do just that from Romper.com 

Special Occasions: Wanting things is not inherently bad, as long as you have patience. Don’t discourage the child from their wants, but rather explain that special toy may be more suited for a birthday or Christmas gift and that we must wait for wants.

A Disciplined Lifestyle: Not giving in constantly to our wants as a grown up or child takes discipline. Discipline is a skill that affects many areas of our lives. If you practice discipline in all areas of your life, it will be come easier to control your desires for wants.

Clean Out: Periodically clean out closets and toy boxes alongside your children encouraging them to share with other in need. Help them come up with a donation system to help people who have real needs, when they have more than they may need. Let them be in charge of deciding how to give generously to others.


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