When I first became a parent, the questions I kept asking myself were, “How much should parents be giving?” and, “Where should we as parent draw the line?” To answer these questions, I had to understand the “why” to this dilemma.

Why do parents comply with their children’s wants?

A few years ago, I read an article called “Longing and Belonging: Parents and Children,” by Dr. Allison Pugh, a sociologist from California. She had spent a little over three years studying the behaviors of parents and children. In her study, she wanted to understand what children want, why they want these things, and how parents decide whether to fulfill their children’s wishes or not. In her article, Pugh stated that there are three main reasons as to why parents buy-in to their children wishes.

1 | Kids deserve it

According to Dr. Pugh, many parents use children’s wishes as a form of reward for their child’s well-doing. Parents reward for behavior, grades, daily chores, homework, school accomplishments, etc. However, many of those actions should be the child’s responsibility and shouldn’t be considered as a reward.

2 | They want their children to have what they didn’t have as a child

Many parents didn’t grow up getting everything they wanted due to tight budgets, and so they want their children to live better than they did.

3 | Children should fit in with other children in school

In her study, Dr. Pugh interviewed several children who expressed they felt left out when their friends had better things or the latest items and they didn’t. This sentiment led to parents buying said items in order for their children to better fit in. About 45 percent of the parents interviewed said they didn’t want to disappoint their children who are under peer pressure to have the best of everything.


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Personal experiences

I personally can relate to all three points. Last year my nine-year-old son wanted $100 tennis shoes from his favorite basketball player, Stephen Curry. He argued that all his friends had them and he didn’t. My 12-year-old daughter has been asking for a cell phone for Christmas ever since she was nine. According to her, she is the only girl in school who doesn’t have one.

My children have much more than I could have ever imagined having at their age. Yet, compared to their peers, they have much less. I admit, it is hard not to give in to your children’s wishes, especially after so much insisting.

Several of my colleagues from work, many of who happen to be moms, can also relate to Dr. Pugh’s findings. Many of us can remember being young with parents who couldn’t afford to purchase the latest gadgets and toys. Each of us can recall a moment in our childhood where we felt saddened because we couldn’t have what we desired. Now that we have a stable income, we can afford to some degree to spoil our kids. At the same time, we also agreed that we don’t want our children growing up thinking that they are entitled to receive everything they want, when they want it.

We want our children to understand that once they grow up and go off to the “real world,” they will need to work for what they want, just like everyone else. We want to teach our children the values of hard work and earning what you own.

What can parents do to help teach their children the meaning of hard work?

According to the Dr. Pugh article, parents need to begin teaching their children the difference between a need and a want. Many children tend to confuse their wants and needs. Dr. Pugh proposes that parents allow their children to work for their wants by pulling extra duty to earn money. Dr. Pugh specifically states that children cleaning their room or cleaning after themselves is not considered extra duties – they are considered part of the child’s responsibility.

Some examples of extra duty include doing more chores around the house, helping a neighbor with yard work, and tutoring. If your child is willing to work for their “heart’s desire,” they will take better care of it, be more grateful for it, and will think long and hard before turning a want into a need in the future.

Set some limits

I think it’s important to have some limits on what you give your children. When your child asks for things, it’s perfectly fine to say, “You’re welcome to buy that with your birthday money,” “Why don’t you put that on your Christmas list?” or, “Why don’t you save up your allowance money and buy it?” It’s also important to communicate with your children as to why you may not be getting them the latest gadgets. I usually explain that we as adults don’t always get or buy everything we desire. Other priorities such as bills, mortgage payments, groceries, car payments, and children keep us from spending on things that we may want.

While it’s not a bad thing to give nice things to our children, it’s important that they develop a sense of ownership by earning things, and not a sense of false entitlement from getting what they want whenever they want it. Despite wanting to give our kids everything, one of the greatest gifts we can give is to literally give less and to force decision-making and awareness of all their choices.