How to Raise a ‘Non-Materialistic’ Child

Once, I brought my then 4 years old daughter shopping with a friend. My friend was surprised that she never asked to buy anything despite loving to try out the toys at the shop.

We heard from parents having to struggle with their kids screaming for things they saw on the shelves. We also know that some parents would choose to go shopping without their kids to avoid the drama.

Here is how we might have had done differently from other parents

Have them go shopping with you often

Since she was a baby, we brought her along whenever and wherever we go shopping. Introducing and naming items on the shelf from groceries to toys is a good way to teach them vocabulary (Yes, even when they are still babies!)
Some of you may say this would overwhelm the child but children can absorb a lot of information thrown at them, even though they may not remember or understand every bit of it.
Inevitably, living in a consumer world, a child will grow up being constantly exposed to so many products and persistent marketing effort, it is a good idea to educate them earlier that whatever that’s on the shelves is not all necessities.
From her observation, we hope that she can understand that we buy the necessities when we go shopping such as grocery. Toy section will be a play area where she can try things out (most toys nowadays have a test button or feature) but not taking them home at the end of the day.
Sometimes we buy clothes for her only when they are on sale, when her clothing is either well-worn or she has outgrown it.

Limited gifting

We all love gifts, and sometimes we are tempted to buy stuff for our children because we love them so much, or use the kids as an excuse to buy the stuff.
It is part of the culture here that parents hold birthday parties for their kids since they were babies. Every year they are showered with gifts for birthdays, not including the gifts from grand parents and uncles/aunties in between their birthdays!
When we were kids, we were given cash in a red package (for luck) as our birthday gifts, and our mum will tell us to put the money in the (piggy) bank first, before even thinking of spending it.
So that’s how we grew up with the habit to pay ourselves first. There were not many toys available at that time, and the few toys we had lasted for a long time. Some we even keep till today!

How do we teach our kids about creativity? How do we raise our kids so that they do not end up being a materialistic person? Every year we have a birthday celebration for her with just mummy and daddy. No birthday gift until she turned four. Her grandparents still continue the old tradition of giving cash as gift and that goes into the four jar (spend, save, give and invest) that we started with her at the age of four. And her first birthday gift was simply a box of stickers.

Her fifth birthday was a Lambie (a character from Doc McStuffins) stuff toy that we promised her five months before her birthday.

However, by the time she got her gift, she didn’t like it as much as before. That was a lesson for her and us as parents. For her is that as a kid, her preference for toys changes from time to time, and she would realize that having a toy may not make her happy all the time. The lesson for us is to never ask for what she wants too far ahead of her birthday. We also discuss with her that only if the thing she wants for birthday is on sale that she would have it.



Attending community playgroup, which is often free of charge, is a good way to encourage your kids about sharing as well as understanding what kind of toys your kid likes the most. As mentioned before, a kid’s preference of toys changes every few months. Places for playgroup usually has a variety of toys for the kids to play, it also encourages them not to become too attached to toys, as at the end of the day they do not get to bring the toys home.
After two years attending playgroup, we noticed our daughter loves the Rocking Horse the most, and we found an exact same, used one, and it lasted till today.

As she grows up we would point out to her that there are only so many toys one can play in a day, and also which toys she has that has the most value, like it’s okay to buy the toys if it does not just sit at home gathering dust, and ends up becoming another home decor.

The young volunteer

We would bring her along, if possible, whenever we go volunteering. For example, when we were volunteering at Winnipeg Harvest, we explained to her that there are people living in poverty, with little food to eat everyday, and it is up to us who are fortunate enough to give back a little to society in whichever way required.

On New Year’s day, we would encourage her to spend some of the money in her savings jar on foods for the food bank.
The volunteer job mentioned included sorting canned and fresh food. You would not expect a kid to sit still all the time to work, so we would just let her work on her own pace and explained to her about team work.

Recycling and Made-by-Myself

Items such as milk jugs, water bottles, caps, toilet paper rolls, etc. can be used as artwork materials. Indirectly it also teaches about recycling, and saving the very environment in which they will inherit.
We built houses for Snoopy out of milk jugs. It encourages creativity, using her ideas and input as much as possible. Whenever we saw something on the shelf that she is interested, she would ask how we can make it at home. She would come up with ideas and we will help develop from there:

The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard explains how stuff affects our environment, communities and health. It is a good book to read together with your kids.

She is now a six years’ old, and would often refuse our intention to buy new clothing or toys if she doesn’t need it. However, the test of her determination and wit would come when she starts her grade school. With the influence from her peers, there will no doubt be temptation for certain items but we make sure the things that she wants help her develop useful skills and improve her fitness. Examples are scooter, roller blades, bow and arrow set and possibly for her next birthday gift, a skateboard.