What To Say to Your Kids When Their Friends Get Everything They Want

I tucked her in bed and pulled up the cozy pink comforter to her chin. “Mommy?” she whispered after prayers were said.

“Yes, honey?” I waited.

“I am sad.”

“Really, why?” trying to remember what would cause this statement.

“I’m sad I don’t have my own iTouch like my friends.”

SAY WHAT?

“A lot of my friends have them and iPhones, too,” she said as she rattled off half her first grade class.

“Why do you want one?” I asked, even though I could have guessed her answer.

Because my friends have one.

what to say to your kids when their friends get everything they want

And then I went on to tell her this wasn’t right for her at seven years old. But this wasn’t about technology (although- really?)–she could have asked for a purple pony named Lucy or a giant stuffed marshmallow that all the kids must have now. The point is, we cannot give our kids stuff just because their friends have it.

And we cannot give in to giving our kids stuff because our friends are giving it to their kids.

It’s a dangerous cycle that is hard to break.

These over-the-top two year old birthday parties are more about the moms competing with their friends than the cake-covered baby having a meltdown due to exhaustion. I watched a mom at my daughter’s tumbling class tap on the glass and give her little girl a stern look and whispered through gritted teeth to “stop having fun” and then I overheard her comparing her daughter’s skills with another mother.

That little girl flipping on the mat just wanted to have fun. Her mother was the real competitor.

We cannot make our parenting choices based on what others are doing. We have to purpose our lives with intention or we will just end up being like everyone else, caught in a trap in our culture that demands we fit in.

What do we say to our kids when their friends get everything they want?

1. We don’t do what everyone else does. We will not try and keep up. Sometimes we just need to say no.

We must choose what is best for our own family today, so that when the latest fad or must-have is hot on the market, we have a plan that isn’t tossed around by the gimmes or the pressure to give in because everyone else is.

2. We remind them about perspective: Not everyone has this or (fill in the blank). It may seem like you’re the only one in your class or in your grade or on this planet who isn’t fitting in or keeping up. But if we are going to compare ourselves to others, let’s also compare ourselves to kids who live in poverty. That way we will live in the middle of those who have everything and those who have nothing.

3. We have to plan for what we say yes to. We are intentional. Saying it too often only fans the flame of entitlement.

4. We are more concerned about who you are than what you have. I love seeing my kids happy. But keeping them happy all the time isn’t my number one priority. Parenting is a marathon and we have to remember our longterm goal of raising beautiful people who love God and others.

Sure, your kid might end up with the latest technology that you require them to save their money for and you may throw that one over-the-top 13th birthday party you’ve been planning all year. There isn’t anything wrong with these things when they are a part of your plan.

Because here’s the thing: When we parent with intention and moderation and our kids end up getting something they really want or have worked for–That gift will be intentional and not just another thing to add their pile of stuff. It will be appreciated.

Because we have to balance the natural desire to give our kids the world without giving them over to it.

Motherhood is messy.

But we can say yes in the mess and live a life that is making a difference in our world and most importantly, in our home. Because families who choose to live different do.

—————————————————————

Read more about the twelve things we are doing to try and raise our kids different from our culture in my new book:

 motherhoodismessy


Comments

  1. 1

    Sheila says

    I have a question & maybe you can address in a future post. Kids are 8,5&2 & so far we have tried not to fall into the trap of saying yes to everything & have stuck to our beliefs that just b/c everyone else has it doesn’t mean they should. And it’s not so much technology at these ages but stuff aka “crap” as I like to call it (palace pets, barbies, ponies, etc etc) . But I have a mother in law & these are her only grand kids & she won’t stop bringing the stuff all.the.time. When I tell you she brought a laundry basket full of toys & clothes & candy for each I am not kidding. And it’s not just holidays although those are the worst. It’s hard to then turn around & teach limits & need vs wants when grandma will get it for them. I try to tell her they don’t need it & it will be in a pile never played with again in 2 days but she doesn’t listen. The older child gets it & will say “grandma we don’t need all this” but the middle just wants & wants & she’s the one asking for the phone at 5 yrs old!

    How do I keep on message when my house looks like toysrus exploded on it?

    • 1.1

      Tara says

      My mom is very good at sending stuff for the kids. I tell them that they can play with it for a while (if it is something they want to play with) but that when we’re done with it we are going to give it to someone else who doesn’t have a (fill in the blank). My mom is showing love by buying gifts, that’s how she does it. They can graciously receive the gift (and show Gramma love) but that does not mean that the gift has to stay!

      Before you get concerned about casting off the used stuff to Savers (where I do 99.9% of my donations) keep in mind that the stuff Gramma buys is already used. If she sends a new something that the kids really aren’t going to play with it goes straight to the donation box!

      • 1.1.1

        Kelli says

        We have this problem too. And I have asked that the toys be left at Nana Papa’s house and I get a verbal rebuke from them about how I am trying to keep the grandchildren from them. We have piles and piles of junk they’ve given us and then they get upset because they find toys they brought in a corner still in the bag – um, we told you that was going to happen.

        My oldest son is nearly 9 and is begging and begging for a Wii (just like the last 4 years) for his birthday. Unfortunately, he doesn’t say it’s because everyone else has one. His arguments (well , the short version) is that 1) It’s fun 2) We can do bowing without going to the bowling alley – and it’s cheaper than going to the bowling alley [he seriously made this argument with me] 3) It will keep the garage neater because he can play Wii Sports without having to drag everything out. Then, the aforementioned in-laws make comments of, “we need to get you boys some video games to play.” – seriously? I even made the argument to him this weekend that it wouldn’t be fair to him to just now get a Wii when his sister (who is 5 months old) would have one from the time she’s a baby. His answer, “I’m okay with that.”

        I would love some advice on how to (keep) standing our ground when it seems harder and harder to do.

        • 1.1.1.1

          Parent says

          I wouldn’t use your youngest child as an excuse not to purchase a gift for your oldest. This situation will occur ALL the time as your children get older. It’s just a fact of life that the younger kids often get things earlier in life than the oldest. If you have moral reasons as to why you do not want to give him a wii, then don’t buy him one. Otherwise, if the in-laws want to buy him on, let them! There are far worse things than the wii out there. Limiting his gifts simply because he has a younger sibling is not fair to him.

      • 1.1.2

        Toni says

        Must be nice to give away stuff that the grandma sends!! We have a FB site that is local that we can sell (or give away) stuff on and she found out that I had posted a swimsuit (that was a hand-me-down) on it for free so someone else could have it since it was too small for my daughter and I got yelled at!! She wanted to buy a bike for my daughter and her words to my husband was “as long as you don’t sell it like the swim suit”…uh, then what are we to do with it when it gets too small for her? So we told her no. At first it was because my daughter was too small for a bike and couldn’t even peddle her tricycle so she didn’t need a bike she couldn’t ride. But we refuse to take anything from her now. Anytime she asks what she can get our daughter we tell her to just give her cash so we can add it to her college fund.

        But we also buy my daughter whatever I want to give her, since the last thing she asked for was a hamburger from burger king! She rarely asks for toys or anything else. She’s just not into the “want” scene at (almost) 4. She knows that when we can afford something then we will get it and surprise her with it. Her 4th birthday is in 3 days and her party in 5 days. In the past we’ve been told that we go “over the top” with her parties. Well…All we have done is decorate for a specific theme and make sure she has a good time. This year is a FROZEN theme and I’m sure I will get told the same thing. All it boils down to is the jealousy of the parents who either didn’t think to do something or they don’t work so can’t afford to do anything for their child. We have one child, who was born 7 weeks premature, so her birthday is very special and we celebrate her being born with no issues and celebrate that I was able to survive that day, as I almost died. We’ve decided to see how this year goes and if we still have the negative comments then we will be taking the money we normally spend on her party for next year and putting it towards taking her to Disney World to celebrate her birthday (talk about “over the top” ;) )

    • 1.2

      says

      We also have this situation. I require my children to earn and save for field trip money, skate nights, book fairs, etc., but then grandma simply hands over $40 and then they just have it with no effort required. On our big DC trip, my son went into Gamestop to buy an itunes gift card with some of that cash and I had to say, “um, no, that is not souvenir shopping”! I also pulled out $20 of it for his savings. Easter=a carload of candy and stuff….

    • 1.3

      meagan says

      my mother in law loved to throw gifts at my son and we finally realized just because she gives it to him doesn’t mean we have to bombard him with the gifts. It isn’t an issue now, but I will tell you what we have done in the past (he had like 20 friends show up for a birthday party once), we let him pick one toy to play with right then and there and we stuck the rest in our closet, when he did something worth a reward (finished homework without complaining, did chores without being asked, etc’ he would ‘earn’ a toy, and could pick one out….I mean after all, isn’t that what we want to teach them, how to earn the things they want? he also has to take care of it all or he lose it, one year for Christmas we asked him what he wanted and he was specific that he wanted to add to his train tracks, a chicken, and one othe thing, saying he wanted nothing else because he had a hard enough time keeping his room clean as it was

    • 1.4

      Wendi says

      My mother was constantly buying things for my son that he didn’t need, want, or played with. As a child he was a 1-2 toy child and wouldn’t even play with other things after they where out of the package. Holidays and birthdays were the worst!! My husband and I sat her down and told her that from that point on – any thing she bought our son outside of a holiday had to stay at her house for him to play with. Anything she bought him for holidays or birthdays had to fit into a gift sack (and not the super sized bicycle sacks!)! We were very firm with this but not harsh about it. We explained to her that we could appreciate that as a grandparent she wanted to “spoil” him. We told her that as parents , we had to have boundaries and rules for him to grow into a young man she could be proud of. It took her about 6 months to become tired of all the excessive toys that “he just never plays with” before she became more selective with gifts.
      We never denied him a Wii or and Xbox – he just had to save his allowance/birthday money to buy them. We felt that if he had enough determination to save several hundred $s for them – he would appreciate them. We found that in the process of saving for items he would quickly decide if it was something he really wanted or if it was just because everyone had one. Of course he quit saving for the items he decided he didn’t really want.

    • 1.5

      Stacey Perea says

      My Parent’s NEVER buy for our boys, unless it is Christmas, so I haven’t had to handle this specific situation. Birthdays are a check in the mail, so that isn’t an issue for us. I sometimes feel like my boys miss out on the the whole Grandparent experience of spoiling. I had a wonderful Grandmother that spent lots of quality time and bestowed sweet gifts that I still treasure as an adult. We do have several friends that like to have gifts for the boys when we see them. Legos were really piling up!! I told them that we LOVED their generousity but they boys were not playing with many of the toys because they had soooo many. Then we came up with the idea of giving t-shirts of their favorite interesting characters – ie Star Wars, Chemical equations, Tom and Jerry….. Now it’s a challenge to see what neat t-shirts they come up with! Our other friends send treat boxes from Trader Joe’s! I love food boxes – you eat it and it’s gone…. We live in a small southern town that doesn’t have a health food grocery store so TJ”s is a HUGE treat!

    • 1.6

      pauline says

      you are so lucky your parents and in laws can be so generous,
      Mine were the same, and I really appreciated it, as a single mom of 3.
      We were not in such a high tech era then, but the clothes alone save tons of money.
      I had to give bedding as gifts, because that was what they needed, but I couldn’t afford for a non reason.
      Think they grew up to appreciate things more,
      I did re marry and the ours kid doesn’t appreciate anything, since he got everything as soon as he looked at it
      Yes he was the baby, but my husband didn’t think his kid should even want, just have.

  2. 2

    says

    My children are the only grandkids on my husbands side and are 3 of 5 on my side. We get a lot of things from family members. Mostly toys or clothing. I had started off by telling family members that if they wanted to spoil the kids then it was fine, but soon enough it became an uncontrollable monster. In the last few years of birthdays and Christmas’s I have told everyone that if they would like to pay for an “experience” then that would be greatly appreciated. For examples: science camps, piano lessons, swim lessons, bouncy house memberships or contribute to a new swing set or trampoline etc. These have been a huge hit and work well with entitlement issues. It also seems to give my children what they really want and need with out feeding into the everyone else is getting or doing it syndrome. I think that each family situation is different but I think that everyone wants to get their grandkids/nieces/nephews, something that they will like and they don’t think outside of the box, especially when they aren’t dealing with them on a daily basis.

    • 2.1

      pauline says

      what a great idea
      I am doing this for a couple of great grands, who for some reason live in a very expensive area, when it comes to sports activities
      The parents likely could scrounge up the money for this, but I would like to make sure that the children have it, they really don’t need even clothes, and have lots of other relatives who can indulge them in more than I can.

  3. 3

    Carol Phillips says

    As a mom of older “young adults” (now ages 25,22 and 17–yes, yours will be there before you know it!), we faced this situation many times as we sacrificed to send them to a private school where many of their peers got more things earlier. We stood (fairly) firm, and only later did I realize the secondary impact of this practice: Because we showed them how to take a stand early in life, as they grew into teens, they learned how to take a stand with other things, and NOT cave in to peer pressure or desire to do everything everyone else was doing. Not perfectly of course, but I’m fairly sure they are all still virgins , haven’t tried drugs, and for the most part, didn’t drink alcohol until legal. One more thing: WE as parents tried to not cave in to our own peer pressure to buy bigger houses, nicer cars, etc. We drove the old minivan until the wheels fell off and shopped at Target instead of J Crew. So we tried our best to set examples for them to follow. They will do what we do. And FYI, we aren’t antisocial, and have a large circle of friends. Remember, if one person stands up and says “NO”, others have the courage to follow.

    • 3.1

      Nan says

      I love this comment. It’s hard enough to deal with telling the kids no when you yourself want the bigger house and nicer car. But we make do with our little house (which we are now deciding what size/year built to upgrade to) and drive the car that’s new enough to not be a clunker, but old enough to not be considered new.

      I explain to them how it sounds awesome to get everything we ever wanted but how awful it would be if we actually got it. Where would we put it and would we lose the things we really love in the pile of stuff we thought we wanted?

      There is nothing wrong with buying stuff…. just need to save the buying for the things we really want and love. (I sometimes slip and impluse buy and turns out I really didn’t use it like I thought I might. But hey, we’re human right?)

  4. 4

    Karri says

    I really like this blog…especially the statement We cannot base our parenting choices on what others are doing. “we have to purpose our lives with intention…” and so forth.. Because if we have a plan, and intention, we are guided, and can stay on track / or get back on track. Parenting without a plan, or copying what others are doing isn’t what I believe God is after.
    With the variety of people, families, gifts, God created, I see us being in partnership with God raising the children He has loaned to us. It is an awesome gift to us as well as responsibility.
    Thanks for the encouragement to live Intentionally in this life…especially in our homes. :)

  5. 6

    Traci says

    Thank you, thank you for your message. I truly needed to see it today. It’s a positive reinforcement for parents to stand firm in what they believe is right for their family and NOT give in to whatever everyone else is doing. This family of six (girl, 12 1/2 yrs and three boys
    9 1/2, 8 and 5 1/2 yrs) are indeed THAT family as well. Blessings to you, Kristen and your precious family.

  6. 7

    Leona says

    While I agree with your conclusion, I do not agree with how you got there. You lumped all parents into one bunch who provide what you judge to be over the top material gifts and parties into one bunch. That is a judgment. You conclude to parent on a spiritual basis yet your evidence doesn’t support it.

    In my experience, I provide things to my daughter as I determine I would like her to have them. We have an agreement in our home, 3 gifts for Christmas and her birthday. The year is interspersed with various purchases as I decide to provide. But during gifts time, the three gifts are followed by three donations of existing “stuff.” We appreciate a minimalist lifestyle and I follow the tenets. I prefer to spend in areas for “experiences.” And a party is an experience.

    Treating my daughter to a birthday party that includes things such as catering (so I can spend my time elsewhere), beautiful gifts for attendees (Build a Bear for her 6th), ponies, petting zoo etc.- I do this because I can. I teach my daughter that generosity to others is more important than receiving. I don’t expect gratitude from those that attend because quite frankly, what they think of me is none of my business. And I certainly don’t compare up against other parties since I don’t compare. Life is so much happier without comparison, without judgment, and with acceptance. I accept I have the means to provide a celebration of life to my one child that another family may not have. And I make no apologies for it. I practice my principles and values without fear of judgment from others and I reach my daughter to do the same.

    As you shared, happiness derives from within. I cannot gift happiness to my daughter. She must find it for herself and I encourage her to do this my knowing herself and her “God” as she understands through spirituality, openmindedness, whole hearted living and vulnerability. Be vulnerable or be unhappy. Shame and guilt do not lead to happiness and no one should be shamed even if they make choices based on comparison and keeping up with the Jones. We are all human and entitled to make our own mistakes.

    Thank you for sharing your thongs and giving those like me an opportunity to dissect your thoughts. THIS is true vulnerability and for that I give praise and gratitude!

  7. 8

    Amy says

    Recently, I sat in a school drug awareness program as the moderator explained how we want teens to choose to be different than their peers and not use alcohol or drugs. In that moment I realized….well, their whole lives parents have done nothing but encourage them to be just like their peers. Parents have maxed out credit cards making sure their kids “fit in” or are in the popular group. Parents often allow privileges (pg-13 movies, unlimited gaming,etc.) or buy items just because their peers do/have it. And now…when their lives depend on it, we want them to choose to be different? I think saying “Well, everyone might be doing/having it, but you’re not.” for about 13+ years might help them be more confident and choose to be different when it really matters.

  8. 9

    Lena Dolder says

    Would yoh deny your child a bike because other kids have one? I disagree with this entire premise. All my kids are grown up and moved out except for one teen still at home. I know they had happy childhoods. My adult son had an NES nintendo and a phone line for his teen years, and a computer. H is now a networking exec in a large corpoaration. My middle child had a laptop and a cell phone, and her own website and advanced computer programs because she loved to do do html and photshop. She is now an Architectural librarian. My teen has gaming systems, a laptop and an iphone. He wants to be a Doctor same day but he enjoys gaming when his homework and chores are done. His iphone was only $100 with our cellphone company and I want him to have a cellphone anyway. There is nothing inherently wrong with technology or communication. We live in the days of technology and I want my kids to have an edge. Besides, if we tell them NO to things like video games and cellphones it will only make a bigger deal out of it than it is. Being so strict with your kids and you will end up with Pastor’s Kids syndrome, and we ALL know what that is! I am glad my kids had a happy childhood and yes, I am best friends with my kids, and my MOM!

    • 9.2

      Nana says

      I don’t think kids should be given things as a result of emotional blackmail, but like you, neither do I think they should be denied them because others have them. The best choices are not what is popular, but what is right for the child.

      “Santa” may not have brought TV toys, as my mother would tell us when we were young … but grandmas often did. :D Now it is my turn to spoil the granddaughters rotten with presents, just as my grandmother spoiled me, and my son’s grandmothers spoiled him. I turned out fine, as did my son, as will my granddaughters be Godly conservative adults with no sense of entitlement, because along with the “spoiling” was, and will be, instilled a very firm sense of responsibility, by parents and grandparents. There will be presents, yes, but there will also be chores, charity, and community service.

      It’s not about the presents. It’s about the lessons that are taught, and the examples that are set by the children’s elders.

  9. 11

    as says

    While i believe God is a giver, it does teach that sometimes theres a requirement for the gift AND that sometimes God says no. Esp if that gift will harm you or take you away from Him.what children need advanced technology for is beyond me. Unless they are going to be programmers one day. It leaves room for all kinds of things and robs them of simple joys of childhood. Im my own life its HARD to resist the everybody gets to go but you. Its a painful feelings to be left out, but when you have neither earned or will not treat the gift with respect or do whay is proper God has every reason to say no to your request. It also reminds us we are a separate people from the world and not to love anything in it more than God. Its a reminder.

  10. 12

    Barnheartbabe says

    I think she’s saying that ‘because everyone else has one’ is not a sufficient reason to get something, not that getting that item is inherently wrong. My parents denied my brother and I many things, but were conscientious in explaining why we couldn’t have it or do it. Their reasons usually fell under the ‘can’t afford’ or ‘negatively affect family time’ catagories. Where it was reasonable they worked with us to find ways for us to budget our own money (birthday and Christmas gifts, usually) and save up if we wanted. If we desperately wanted something more expensive our grandparents would encourage us to write a list of a couple things we’d like for Christmas or birthdays. Since both fell in the same month we often had to wait a long long time for the unearned gift. In hindsight I’m grateful my parents were not well off because I learned a lot of lessons on delayed gratification and money management. For what it’s worth, my brother and I are both university graduates. He is head of IT for a large area company and I was in management prior to marrying and having kids. My husband and I are trying to raise our kids within a similar framework, having ‘needs’ met but not getting all their ‘wants’ and them learning to know the difference.

  11. 13

    sarah says

    Thank you for this message. I had to smile as I read it and looked at the photo you posted: my daughter is in 1st grade, just finished reading that Junie B Jones book…and we JUST had that conversation last week. There is so much truth in what you’re saying. Keep writing. I appreciate it.

    • 13.1

      Kathleen says

      My 6 year-old granddaughter is into the Junkie B books, too. The last time she was looking for a ‘more than the usual’ present, she prefaced the request with, “Nanny, are you a ‘Richie Nana?” That’s what Junkie B calls her friend’s grandmother who gives her what she wants. I let her know that she had the plain old regular kind of Nanny. Kids are a trip!

  12. 14

    says

    I have 6 kids, as a single mom. I started paying my kids to do big jobs and/or extra chores. They must then take that money and buy the extras for themselves. It has really toned down the begging!

  13. 15

    rkokes says

    “Because families who choose to live different do.” I love this quote! Wonderful article as well-thank you for sharing!

  14. 16

    Jules says

    I loved your words today. It is so true. We try not to give our kids everything that they want. They understand that their sports are not cheap & that we want them to have that special activity with the equipment that they need. They appreciate the things that they get. I love that they are excited when they get a gift & know that we chose it special for them. They don’t have everything that they want but they have everything that they need. Thanks for your lovely way of giving us that reminder. It is hard to not get sucked into the ‘we wants’.

  15. 17

    Amanda says

    I actually have a problem buying things for my daughter. I was the youngest growing up (by 10 years) and didn’t get a whole lot. When I go out shopping, I see things and think “I wish I had this growing up” and if I think it’s something my daughter will use, I get it for her. Most of the time it’s books that I buy her, which I don’t see a big problem with because I want her to love reading as she grows. Of course because of my problem, our house is full off toys, most of which she doesn’t play with on a regular basis. Then there is the problem with my mother. She is always sending stuff for my daughter, even if she is 1 out of 9 grandkids. So for her birthday this year I said that she could send her a check to put into her savings account. So she bought a new bedding set for my daughter for when we move, which was actually helpful so I couldn’t complain, and also some new plates and cups since my daughter doesn’t use sippy cups anymore. Perfectly fine with those things because they will be used. She also sent a pack of 2 Equestria girl dolls that my daughter will play with for all of a week (like the my little ponies she sent a couple months ago just because). It doesn’t matter how many times I tell me mom to stop wasting her money all she says is she’ll buy what she likes and doesn’t care if she’s “wasting” it on my daughter. Now my in-laws rarely ever send her anything and she is their only grandchild. After my daughter’s birthday though, in a couple of weeks, I won’t be buying much unless I find more books for her. When we pack for our move I am going through her toys and donate things she has grown out of or that she just isn’t that interested in anymore. Once we get settled in our new place and she’ll be a little bit older I plan on doing the allowance thing so that she can save up her money and pick out what she wants to buy with it.

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