How to prevent materialism in your child

There is often a flurry of articles about getting rid of children's toys in order to make them more grateful for the things they have or because the parents want their child to be less materialistic.
This is an admirable goal really. Although not often thought of when parents are teaching values materialism is undesirable on both an individual and societal level. For individuals materialistic individuals have poor financial skills, more frequent financial problems, gamble more and aer less satisfied with their marriages. Being materialistic and the increased consumption associated with it also has environmental and social implications.
If you even think about the definition of materialism it is clear that it is an undesirable quality. Materialism is defined as when possessions are used as a means of reaching life goals. Materialistic people judge success based on material possessions, believe that acquisition leads to happiness and centre their life around the acquisition of objects.
Yet as parents we do little to actively prevent the occurrence of materialism beyond occasional verbal abstract reminders (and occasional toy purges). In fact it has been suggested that many popular parenting techniques may actually inadvertently promote materialism.
This can be seen in three main areas.

  1. Conditional Material Rewards: Buying things for children as a reward for accomplishing something or for good behaviour. Beyond the message the parent is attempting to send with the reward, there is the inadvertent message that satisfaction is not a sufficient reward for accomplishment but that a material reward is also needed. When often repeated it can lead to a habit of self-rewarding with material possessions. Studies have also shown a tendency to judge success by the number of possessions in adults who received material rewards in childhood, this may be as it has led to an association between acquisition of material goods and success so that those who have more material possessions are more successful or otherwise 'better'.
  2. Unconditional Material Rewards: Giving children items without requiring any specific behaviour. Parents do this for lots of reasons, for the joy of seeing the child's pleasure, to ease guilt over not spending sufficient time with the child or to end repeated requests for a product. The frequent receiving of material goods may end up being habit forming and come to be seen as normal. Consequently, when they grow the may tend to place acquisition of objects as being central to their life. 
  3. Material Punishments: Removing a valued possession from the child as a consequence for a misdeed or failure. This may increase the importance of the possession in the child's eyes and lead to the escalation of the importance of material objects.

As a consequence of receiving material rewards children often end up with a large number of material goods. When children face the developmental task of identtity creation, they often use other resources that are available to them, since the task is difficult. Children who have a large number of possessions may use these possessions repeatedly as a way of developing and expressing identity. When often repeated this can become a habit that persists into adulthood and becomes materialism. In addition, if a child has recieved these possessions as a result of repeated conditional material rewards it may cause the child to focus on the material reward in the creation of self identity rather than on the skill that they earned the reward by acquiring.
So what can you do?

  1. Stop giving your children things or at least reduce the frequency. 
  2. Try giving your time, physical affection or verbal praise instead: parental warmth has been found to be protective against materialism
  3.  Encourage gratitude by teaching and encouraging your child to be thankful for the people and things in their life: this has been found to reduce materialism in children

All information from:


Popular Posts