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How to Teach Kids The Difference Between Wants and Needs

Your child is bound to get several new toys as a result of the season of giving gifts upon us. The added stimulation is going to lead to your child wanting to play, which is fine during playtime, but there will also be times when playtime has to end like mealtime, bedtime, or a much-needed quiet time for the parents.

The fact that your child has so many wants does not mean that you have a greedy child on your hands. Simply put, very young children are unable to differentiate between wants and needs well enough for them to determine what is more important. In fact, they see them as the same thing.

There are good reasons to teach children the difference between wants (items like toys and cake pops that they would like but can live without) and needs (items like healthy food and supplies for school). You’re helping them think critically about the real value of “stuff,” for one, and you’re teaching them about empathy; after all, not all of us have access to the same resources.

mom with children reading a book

Parents need to teach their kids from the very early stage in life

Even after the season of giving, those are lessons that are valuable for any child to carry through life.

What can you teach your children (especially the ones who believe they should have it all) about the difference between what they want and what they need? Take a look:

Discuss Ways To Meet Others’ Needs

Because young children have no real sense of what it is like to live in a world beyond their homes and schools, they tend to be very self-centered. Make a list of needs in your neighborhood or community and ask him to think about them to get him thinking about others. If you have an elderly neighbor who needs her leaves raked or her driveway shoveled, would you be willing to help her? Can those old coats be donated to a homeless shelter that could put them to good use? If you are performing small acts of selflessness or kindness with your young child, take them along with you.

Shopping For Groceries: Identifying Wants And Needs

In a grocery store, you must make a choice between what to buy and what to pass up based on what you see. Maybe you go to the supermarket to pick up milk, but you skip the soda; you purchase toothpaste, but you don’t buy sparkly purple nail polish. Discuss why one is a need and the other is a want.

List The Wants And Needs Of Your Family

On a large piece of paper, make two columns. One column should contain your family’s needs, and the other should contain your family’s wants. Make a list of some ideas in each column and discuss with each other why warm coats are necessities, but that giant blow-up snowman for the yard your four-year-old is dying to own belongs squarely in the “wants” column.

Educate Your Child That Not All Needs Cost Money

Talk to your child about ways they can help meet a need without spending money. Does someone need a hug because they are sad? Can a hand-drawn card or a visit encourage someone in an elderly care home?

Discuss How Wants And Needs Extend Beyond “Things.”

Your aspiring actress may be eager to see a new movie in the theater, but it ends at 9:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night—way too late to be out when she’s got to be at school bright and early the next day. Talk to her about how she may really want to see the play, but needs enough sleep to function well at school.

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