The Disobedient Consumer – Tips for Toddlers

In an earlier post, I mentioned that raising my children to be creative contributors, rather than just consumers forms an important cornerstone of my parenting manifesto. This is all very well, but is often easier said than done; after all material consumption is the foundation of our Western society.

I’ll be the first to admit that my daughter is still far too young to know if these strategies are successful long term (and my other child is still in utero), however it is my hope that by laying the foundations from an early age we will be on the right track.

It is important to remember that encouraging your children to contribute rather than consume should not be a process of deprivation. Instead focus on the unexpected gains that you all get!

  • Make special occasions about experiences, not gifts. Prior to having children, one of my Christmas traditions was to always engage in some form of volunteering during the festive season. Once we relocate back to a more populated area, I plan to engage my children in age appropriate volunteer activities (visiting aged care facilities to distribute gifts, selecting presents for Operation Christmas Child etc). Ensure that birthdays are celebrated through a special experience with family and friends – visit the zoo, go to the beach or allow your child to pick the special activity. Take the focus away from material presents by creating a 1-2 present limit.
  • Engage your children in creative / imaginative play. Who needs toys when you have an empty cardboard box, a wooden spoon and some dining chairs? Allow your child to create their own world and you will be amazed what they come up with.
  • Give generously to causes that you believe in.  If you sponsor a child, place their picture in a prominent place in your home and regularly discuss the sponsorship with your child. If you put coins into a tin at the shopping centre, explain why (or better still, give your child the coins to deposit).
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle… Do you shop out of habit or for entertainment? Challenge yourself on whether you can reduce your purchases or reuse and recycle what you already have.
  • Involve your children in the shopping process. There will always be occasions when shopping is unavoidable. During these times, talk to your child about your purchasing decisions, explain that cheapest is not necessarily best and teach them to enjoy chatting to local independent merchants rather than visiting the soul destroying major conglomerates.
  • Avoid or limit exposure to marketing. Simply turning off the television can go a long way towards limiting your child’s exposure to marketing.
  • Frame problems as opportunities. Recently my husband put a hole through the gas pipeline that provides our hot water and cooking facilities and left us without either for 2 weeks. Rather than viewing this as an insurmountable problem and relying on takeaway, we took the opportunity to try adventurous new recipes on the BBQ, including Weetbix slice and a tasty Jerk Brisket!
  • Engage others. If there are other people who are important in your child’s life (for example grandparents / godparents), talk to them about your desires for your child to grow into a contributor. Gently ask that they support your wishes, remembering that grandparents especially often love shopping for their grandchildren. If grandparents are adamant that birthdays are a time for spoiling with gifts, ask that the gifts be either second hand, handmade or sourced from environmentally and socially responsible options. This can be a fun and enjoyable experience for all generations!

Lastly, remember that creatively contributing should be fun, interesting and engaging. By challenging your own mindset and leading through example, both you and your children will learn a lot and have some great experiences along the way.

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