Teaching our kids not to covet

Money, electronics, clothes, toys . . . kids learn from a young age to covet material things. How can parents teach their kids not to obsess over things they can't have?

Teaching our kids not to covet

Money, electronics, clothes, toys . . . kids learn from a young age to covet material things. How can parents teach their kids not to obsess over things they can't have?
  • To me, the word “covet” conjures images of dollar signs, sparkly diamonds, name-brand bags and clothes and grand houses with lots of shiny new cars parked out front. I imagine that a covetous person longs for a lavish life of extravagance.

  • But when I desire more attainable things, like new books, a decadent piece of chocolate cake or a cool bracelet, am I in danger of coveting?

  • To covet means “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others,” or, “to wish for, especially eagerly.” ( Some words associated with coveting include greed, lust, desire, jealousy and envy.

  • The Lord commands us, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” (KJV Exodus 20:17)

  • The emphasis in this commandment regarding covetous behavior is desiring something that belongs to someone else. So, I think I’m safe to wish for the books, cake or bracelet so long as they’re not my neighbor’s. And as long as I don’t obsess over them or get carried away by greed.

  • From the time they’re small, children are bombarded by the media and clever advertisers. They see all the colorful and enticing toys that could be theirs. They start to demand what they don’t have. As kids grow, items such as electronic gadgets or new clothes usually replace their desire for toys.

  • Sadly, many people, including kids, feel defined by their belongings. It’s hard not to. Wearing the “right” clothes can become more important than developing attributes like integrity and moral character. As parents, it’s not entirely our fault — it’s just the way the world has become. Unless we keep our kids sheltered away, their peers, and what they own, heavily influence them.

  • How can we teach our kids not to covet what their friends have?

  • Be an example

  • If we complain about our friend’s new car or compare the size of our house to our neighbor’s, our children will pick up on our cues. Try to grumble in private, or — even better — swallow that envy. Don’t be jealous in front of your kids or they’ll be sure to model your behavior.

  • Show your kids how much they do have

  • By volunteering at a shelter or collecting household items, clothing or food to donate, we can teach our kids to count their blessings. When they understand how fortunate they are compared to so many, their perspectives will change. Serving the less fortunate brings true joy, as opposed to the fleeting excitement of a new purchase. As your kids help others, they will learn the difference.

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  • Help your kids focus on non-material things

  • When their self-esteem is dependent on their possessions, kids become superficial and greedy. Their confidence lacks a solid foundation. As they take pride in their individual abilities (dancing, running, cooking, painting, singing, swimming or helping others) they develop confidence based on their worth as human beings. They develop skills and attributes that will help them through life.

  • Helping our kids become well-rounded, grateful for their blessings and empathetic to those less fortunate will help curb their desire for material things and others’ possessions.

Megan Gladwell, a freelance writer and sometimes teacher, lives in beautiful Northern California with her husband and four children.


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