Ahhh, having to explain the difference between want and need to a child is not an easy task, hell, it’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re an adult sometimes! I bring this subject up because of a recent conversation I had with my 10 year old. He was making some comment the other day on our walk home about wanting something (I can’t remember what because he “wants” a lot of things), and I said to him, he didn’t need any of the things he was talking about, he just wanted them. Which of course started my analysis on the difference between the two. Now, let me be clear that my children don’t need or want for much, and we try very hard to make them aware of the difference. During our conversation I told him that when you’re young you want a lot more than you actually need. It’s mostly about “the stuff” until you realize the stuff isn’t free and has to be worked for. So I thought about it and decided to break it down for him, and my little guy too, because honestly, he “wants” every single thing he sees and has no concept of any of it. He’s four, never too early to learn!
This is the story I told my son: I told him that when I was single and had no kids (ah, memories!), I wanted a lot of things. I thought it was about the shoes and the clothes and the dinners out, etc. Then I got married and we had a crazy eye opening first year of life events that really changed me and my priorities. I quickly realized that the stuff doesn’t matter and the best things we can give ourselves are not objects. I remember consciously making the effort to focusing on things like giving back to others, education and self improvement rather than a new pair of shoes. Then we had kids and forget it – everything we do is about providing for them and making sure they have what they need and sometimes things they want. Trying to explain this to a kid is not easy so I used these scenarios:
The cell phone. This is a big one in our house right now. The big kid has been lobbying for a phone for over a year debating with us that some of his friends have phones, so he should have one, blah, blah, blah. My response to him was this: dude, we know you’re going to need a phone, and we know it’s coming soon because you’re going to be in middle school come September and you’ll be taking public transportation on your own back and forth, OF COURSE we’ll provide you with a device to communicate with us. But do you NEED it right now? No. Right now, you’re never in a situation where you’re going to need a distraction like a phone with you. I know where you are every minute of the day and until I don’t, you don’t need one.When you’re navigating the city streets, you’ll have a means of communicating with us. That seemed to appease him.
The video games. Screen time is the bane of a lot of parent’s existence, right? (totally raising hand here)…between the TV, the computer and the iPad it’s like enough already! I’m not interested in hearing the annoying videos of the guy telling you how to play Minecraft. And stop asking me for new games! So in an effort to curb the time they spend on the screen, we’ve offered this alternative: I get that you like to play your games, but why don’t you try a few that we found for you, like this one that’s fun and it’s also teaching you how to type the correct way. It took some coaxing and whining but eventually he relented and has now started to play the typing games. This one was all about compromise.
For the little one, it’s mostly about redirecting his attention. I want this matchbox car mom. Yeah? Well that’s nice, how about all these matchbox cars you have in this bin that you haven’t touched in 6 months? OH LOOK!! It’s like Christmas all over again – and he’s happy as a clam with the old toys. He’s easy at this age but also has to be reminded that he can’t have everything he sees.
It’s so hard to have to be the “bad guy” when it comes to things like this. Saying no is a drag, but it’s important that your kids know how hard you work for the things you want too. And it’s absolutely okay to make them work for reward as well. A few weeks ago we cleaned out toy and clothes bins and made a collection to send to Goodwill and I told the boys that there are a lot of kids out there that will be very happy with the stuff we are donating because they don’t have anything. I think the time is coming where we’ll start doing volunteer work so they can see first hand how fortunate they truly are. We try to set out to be good examples for them as parents, showing them that we are constantly learning new things. We focus on being better so we can be positive role models for them. Money doesn’t grow on trees is an important lesson and one that’s never to early to learn!