There is a big difference between needs and wants, but it is not a difference many children initially see. This can be especially frustrating for parents on a tight budget, but Virginia Boga, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York, tells Parentology that this is actually normal.
Even so, what can parents do to resolve the issue? Boga recommends focusing on satisfying the needs rather than the wants of the child. Here are some additional recommendations from financial experts who mastered the art of delayed gratification.
1. Correct Their Grammar
Grammar Nazis can be downright annoying, unless of course, you are a Grammar Nazi yourself. Arguing over semantics often seems like a total waste of time, but aside from helping to improve your children’s vocabulary, it may also help them to better differentiate between a need and a want.
Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of personal finance site Money Done Right, tells Parentology, “I frequently used to say I ‘needed’ a new football. Whenever he heard me saying that, my Dad would make sure to jump in to correct my word choice … Even better, the insistence on proper word choice also highlighted why it is important to understand the stark difference between the [two].”
2. Make Them Wait
American culture has become one of not just convenience, but of immediate gratification. Even for children who have not yet become active consumers, the effects are profound. What they want, they want now. This is precisely why waiting is so important.
Allec advises parents to “teach your kids to use a one week waiting period between thinking about a purchase and making that purchase. If you teach them to wait a week and then evaluate if they still want it, they might find they’re no longer as interested in it one week later. By living through such an experience, your kids will have a tangible example of how a momentary ‘want’ is not a ‘need.’”
3. Use Games and Examples
Children may also benefit from real-world examples that they can relate to. Because children do not generally provide for their own basic needs, this can be tricky. So how do parents get around this? According to Steffa Mantilla, a wealth-building and debt-payoff strategist, you can do something many children love when they’re young anyway: play pretend.
“For the game, decide on the budget total. Then, list a few items with a dollar amount beside them,” she tells Parentology. “You can include things like rent, restaurants, new clothes, groceries, car, gasoline, and new electronics. Let your child decide which items to ‘spend’ the budget [on]. … [Y]ou can talk to your child about why … certain items are wants vs needs. ”
The Bottom Line
Teaching children the difference between needs and wants is no easy task. It may take years before children learn how to distinguish between the two. During that time, there may be tantrums in the store and disappointed faces in the backseat of the car. While you are unlikely to gain any thanks for your efforts in the present time, it is a lesson that may steer them out of trouble in the years to come.