How do you teach kids Needs vs. Wants?

“I Want,” “I Want,” “I Want”

How do you teach your kids needs vs. wants when sometimes even adults have trouble with the concept? How many times have we said to ourselves “I don’t really need it, but I really want it!” and then succumb to our desires anyway? In today’s consumer-centric society it is sometimes hard to distinguish a need from a want. We need a place to live, but how big should that place be? There are so many options to consider: two bedroom, three bedroom, great room, family room, location, and don’t even get me started with bathrooms. Do we really need a full bath for every member of the family? Then there are automotive choices. Chances are we all need reliable transportation, but what qualifies as a need and how much should it cost? Do you need a new vehicle, or can you get by with a used one? If you work close to home, can you get away with walking or biking? Even if the answer is yes, most of us are not willing to give up the comfort and freedom of having our own transportation. We rationalize our decisions with a variety of counter arguments: “What if there is an emergency?”… “Look at all this stuff I have to carry!”…“I don’t have time to walk!”…and the list goes on and on.

Anyway, my point is that sometimes it can be hard for an adult to distinguish a need from a want in today’s world so imagine how difficult that concept may be for a child. As responsible parents, we want to teach our kids that they can’t have everything that they want. Otherwise they might end up being spoiled. But, on the other hand, parents want to give their children everything they missed out on as a child themselves, such as a good education, that special toy, vacations, etc. I know that I’ve fallen into the trap by buying my children more toys than they could possible use. Not because they needed them, or that they even asked for them, but because I felt I missed out as a child and wanted my girls to have more. The funny thing is, they don’t care about the toys. Sure, they love new toys and have an uncanny ability to spot anything new 100 yards away, but what they really want, what they really need, is time with their parents. They want the attention of the people they love.

As adults, it’s important to sit down and take inventory of our own lives and possessions to answer the question for ourselves: What is a need and what is a want? Only after we have truly taken stock can we begin to look at our relationship with our kids and start to help them sort out what they need and want. For instance, we have a tendency to overschedule ourselves and sometimes our kids. Maybe it’s time to ask which activities do they truly enjoy and learn from, and which ones can they do without to spend more time just being a kid? If we take stock of our lives and our value systems we can slowly answer the question. Only when we understand what qualifies as a need or want in our life, can we start to teach our kids the concept.

Teaching needs versus wants should start as early as pre-school or kindergarten and the lesson goes much deeper than food, shelter and clothing. Emotional and educational needs need to be met too. The more you start to examine the topic, the more you realize that it is not as clear cut as first imagined. It depends on your environment, personal goals, ambitions, social and economic status and attitudes. What qualifies as a shelter to some, may not work for others. My advice is to start the conversation. Sit down with your loved ones and ask them how they define needs and wants. The answers may surprise you!

I’ll leave you with a few more questions to ponder: What is working in your life? What can you let go of? Are your needs being met? If not, what are they and what can you change to make life better for you and those around you?

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