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Feb 17, 2017

5 Ways to Help Kids Avoid ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’

At some point, your child will probably notice that your family is a bit different from others, financially speaking. This can happen whether you’re a family of modest means or your income is way up in the stratosphere. There is always someone else who just has more stuff than you do.

Maybe the families around you have bigger houses, newer cars, glitzier toys, or go on more elaborate vacations than yours. Your child will eventually realize it. Then they may start asking you questions like: “Why don’t we have those cool things and how/when can we get them?”

Kicking the Comparison Habit

First, know that your child isn’t necessarily a materialistic person for asking these kinds of questions. Kids naturally compare. It’s a normal part of their development to wonder who they are in the world and how they fit in.

However, your child is likely to be a happier, more content and more grateful kid if you help them understand that constant comparing can make them cranky. Plus, it’s not always good or necessary to have the same “stuff” that other people have. Here are some ways to discourage your kids from trying to keep up with their friends and neighbors:

  • Listen to your own commentary. Do you ever make snarky or wistful remarks in front of your kids about your neighbor’s new SUV or your coworkers’ latest kitchen remodel? The children are listening. Every time you say something that sounds like you wish you had more—or that the belongings and experiences you have aren’t enough—you’re teaching your child to do the same. It may be time to edit yourself.

  • Answer kids’ questions. When kids ask why you don’t have a bigger house or fancier car, an honest answer might be: “We certainly could buy a larger house, but this one is just right for us. Plus, we’d rather use the extra money (that a big house) would cost to let you play travel soccer/ visit the grandparents more often/ make sure you have money for college, etc.”

  • Consider your children’s peers. It’s awesome that you bought a house in a great neighborhood so your kids can go to a top-notch public school. However, your kids’ social circle may be pretty affluent. Do all of your kid’s peers have designer clothes and expensive shoes? If so, that expectation could rub off your child.

No, you don’t have to move to a different zip code in order to burst your child’s materialistic bubble. However, consider enrolling your child in a scout troop or other activities in another part of town. Your kids may have a chance to meet friends who come from a more diverse range of families. They’ll quickly see that many kids happily get by with a lot fewer luxuries.

  • Encourage volunteerism. Teens can serve meals to the homeless or help deliver food to homebound residents. Younger children can go with you to a senior center and play games with residents.

Helping others is a great way to encourage kids to develop an attitude of gratitude. It’s much harder for kids to whine about wanting expensive electronics when they realize that some folks don’t even have enough to eat or can no longer walk without help.

  • Let them earn it. There are times when your child may really, really want something that’s a bit more expensive than you would normally buy them. Maybe it’s a certain backpack brand that’s currently popular at school or a smartphone with extra features, just like their friend’s. As long as the purchase doesn’t go against your family values, consider greenlighting it.

However, this is an ideal time to let kids save up and pay for all or part of the item themselves. Why:

  • When kids put their own money toward a purchase, they tend to treat their belongings better and appreciate them longer.

  • Your child might decide that the gadget just isn’t worth it—even if it’s the “it” item to have at school—if they have to shell out their own dollars.

By the way, you’re not being a mean parent—and you’re not dooming your children to be a social outcast—when you discourage them from comparing their “stuff” to others. You’re actually teaching your kids to be content and appreciative about the things that really matter.

(photo courtesy © Zack Weinberg cc2.0)

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