Mom and toddler rubbing noses

How to Raise Grateful Kids in a Materialistic World

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On the way home from school yesterday, my son asked for an Xbox. I told him no. My son burst into tears and told me we never buy him anything.

I was at a loss for words. First of all, an Xbox is not a little toy from the dollar bin at Target. It’s a major expense. Secondly, my son lives in a home bursting with toys. He gets spoiled every Christmas and birthday by well-meaning relatives. His outburst angered me. Recently, he’s been complaining a lot. When we do something nice for him, he always wants more. I wondered if it was our parenting, his age, or our move back to the United States that was contributing to this new, entitled behavior.

Whatever the reason, I decided it was time to make raising grateful kids a priority. After all, it’s November. As Americans prepare for Thanksgiving, it’s the perfect time to encourage gratitude.

Western Culture

Mom holding huge teddy in toy store

It’s difficult to raise grateful children today. TV commercials, ads on video games, and storefront displays all send subliminal messages to our children. Buy more! You need this to be happy. Your current game isn’t nearly as exciting as this new one.

It’s hard enough for adults to resist the temptation of accumulating more and more things. Children are even more susceptible to the power of advertising.

The APA (American Psychological Association) notes that children, particularly children ages 8 and under, “lack the cognitive ability to recognize advertising’s persuasive intent.”

Children are helpless in the face of relentless advertising. We must be their moral compass when they’re young. We must model restraint and say ‘no’ often.

“Increasingly, advertisers are targeting younger and younger children in an effort to establish “brand-name preference” at as early an age as possible. This targeting occurs because advertising is a $250 billion/year industry with 900,000 brands to sell, and children and adolescents are attractive consumers: teenagers spend $155 billion/year, children younger than 12 years spend another $25 billion, and both groups influence perhaps another $200 billion of their parents’ spending per year.”

In the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, authors of the article, Children, Adolescents, and Advertising, note that several European countries forbid or severely curtail advertising to children. In the U.S., selling to children is normal.

My family and I recently moved back to California after living in the UK for five years. My eldest son’s sense of entitlement seems to have grown after starting school here. It may be his age (my youngest isn’t showing this behavior). It may also be American culture and its allowance of ads targeting children.

Whatever it is, I don’t like it. So, I’ve implemented a few strategies at home to combat this entitled behavior and help my sons become more grateful kids.

1. Model Grateful Behavior

Each night at the dinner table, we share something we are grateful for. This shifts the focus from the things we might want to the things we already have. This practice helps my husband and me appreciate our blessings as well.

In the book, Raising Kids in an Entitled World, Kristen Welch writes “as uncomfortable as it sounds, parents who want less entitled kids have to be less entitled themselves, and parents who want to raise more grateful kids need to start by living more grateful lives.

2. Teach Children to be Financially Literate

piggy bank and coins

I’ve started including my eldest son in some of our financial decisions. I want to show him how we decide which items to purchase and which ones are unnecessary. I’m sharing our household budget and showing him how much money we pay out for our bills each month.

By sharing our finances with my son, I’m showing him that we can’t simply buy him toys whenever he wants them. First, we must have money in our rainy day savings account in case we have car troubles or extra medical bills. Next, we must make sure we have enough to cover the essential like groceries and the electricity bill.

Teaching children to be financially literate is an important part of parenting and one that will help them become fiscally responsible adults in the future.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say ‘No’

Last week my son wanted money for the school book fair. After shelling out money for pictures, yearbooks, fundraisers, and school supplies, I decided books from the book fair were non-essential items. It was time to say ‘no’. By constantly spending money I wasn’t setting a good example for my sons. How will they learn to save if they see me spending all the time?

Since my son earns an allowance, I gave him the option to buy the books himself. I felt like a mean mom. He cried like his heart was breaking, but eventually got over it and decided to save his money instead. When we went to the library we discovered the new Dogman book he wanted. My son was still able to read the book and he learned an important financial lesson.

4. Give Children Chores

Chores help teach responsibility. Children need to learn that everyone in the family must contribute.

In The Me, Me, Me Epidemic Amy McCready writes, “Don’t let your home become a child-centered home, kids expect more of us and less of themselves.”

If we want to raise grateful kids we must teach them to be independent. As they grow up, we gradually give them more responsibility. My son has started packing his lunch this year. As he gets older, I will give him more and more chores. He now appreciates the work that goes into meal preparation and the importance of planning.


Even though our children are surrounded by a culture of wanting more and never being satisfied, there are many things we can do to combat this culture of entitlement. It starts with instilling gratitude. This month, try shifting the focus. Model grateful behavior, involve children in financial decisions, say ‘no’ to excess and unnecessary purchases, and give children chores. I will be sharing other ways to encourage gratitude at home, but these strategies provide a good foundation for raising grateful kids.

If you liked this post, you may also like this one:

How to Reinforce Positive Behavior and Catch Kids Being Good

14 thoughts on “How to Raise Grateful Kids in a Materialistic World”

  1. Great article! It really can be challenging to stand your grand and say no, as well as model the behaviour we want to see in our kids. The influence of advertising and the culture of the society we live in play a huge part in the challenge, but if we can maintain that self restraint as you mention then we can have the biggest influence on our kids.

    • Thanks, Zak. I appreciate your feedback. I will keep telling myself that if we keep up the self-restraint, we can have the biggest influence on our children. You made a great point.

  2. Hi, Becky,

    I loved your article and I totally agree with you. It’s very important to teach kids the value of things.

    American culture is very materialistic in my opinion. It’s always about the newest videogame, the newest clothes, the newest car, etc. It’s a never ending story.

    It can be tough for kids to see their friends with something “cool” and want it themselves, just to be told no by their parents. Been there. But I can understand my parents now.

    Parents have to preach with their example. Eventually, their kids will follow suit.

    Thanks for your excellent recommendations. Look forward to reading more from you.

    • Thank you, Enrique. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle raising grateful children these days, but I think it is still possible. Like you, I understand my parents more now, too. Thank you for your kind feedback.

  3. This post is very well written & very relevant today. It’s terribly difficult to raise grateful children in the world we live in, especially in America. The sense of entitlement is rampant & keeping them balanced is a full time job! I do believe it’s totally worth it & saying no is the best way to do that!
    You have given me suggestions for my own daughter who is doing her best to raise grateful children too! Thank you!

  4. Totally agree it is hard to raise kids in Western material abundant culture. The best feeling a person can have is to do work and receive a payment for doing good work. This is a great concept that you are making with your strategy here. Gives you a warm feeling when you can earn your wage doing chores is a good way to teach the value of a dollar. That couple with saying no to your kids great work ethic training as well as appreciation for what have. Also teach giving there is something about providing something to those less fortunate will help kids understand that not about stuff to be happy. Wonderful article some great ideas here.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Daniel. You are right that it is a great feeling to know you have done good work and to be paid accordingly. I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

  5. My partner and I are about to have our first child and we’ve had several discussions about the way we want to raise her. While I know pre-planning must often go out the window when the reality of actual parenting hits, I appreciate being able to hash out where we stand on certain issues in advance.

    We both agree that gratefulness is something we absolutely want to instill in our children and something we have been genuinely worried about given the current way our world works.

    It’s so good to see other parent’s strategies on how to deal with it! I do agree that the parents need to be the ones who model the behaviour first – as I can pinpoint so many positive qualities that I inherited from my own mother demonstrating them to me.

    Thanks for the article!

    • Congratulations and best of luck, Raff. Being able to discuss parenting issues with your partner is so important. It sounds like you will be a fantastic parent.

  6. I love this post. It’s such an important value to share with your children. I too don’t like the amount of advertising targeting children. They are so susceptible and by teaching them more about learning life lessons with saying no occasionally and aligning that with setting boundaries and showing them how to prioritize, you’re helping them learn such an excellent lesson in financial knowledge as well as delayed gratification. I also love your gratitude for sharing. When I remember I too do this at dinner time. It also helps create family discussion time and build connection with each other. Thanks for sharing.


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