I am sure we have all experienced the scene of an enraged toddler pounding his fists, stomping his feet, and screaming in the middle of the store aisle, “I WANT THAT TOY!” Everyone goes about their business pretending like they don’t notice the racket and trying not to cover their ears and make a mad dash for the door. But poor Mom, we all feel sorry for her, don’t we? Because we have been there! We know the feeling when our children act crazy in public and lack contentment, and we wish we could be at home under the covers.
Why is it that our kids can get SO upset that they could clear a store of shoppers just because they can’t get a simple little toy when they have hundreds of others at home? I’ll give you one main answer:
AMERICAN CULTURE BREEDS DISCONTENTMENT.
Americans are hit with advertisements to buy something new constantly. President of an advertising firm, Jay Walker-Smith says, “we’ve gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970’s to as many as 5,000 a day today.”  Everywhere we look, commercials, billboards, computer screens, cars, and even t-shirts are advertising something, and our kids pick up on it.
I was amazed to realize what a powerful role princesses and superheroes play in drawing my own kids’ hearts to want more things. If the healthy snack bar they weren’t so crazy about all the sudden displays a Spiderman or princess, it becomes SO much more desirable to eat!
Friends play a role in discontentment too, especially as they get older. Kids start to notice what other kids are wearing or toys they have, and all the sudden they have to have it too!
And let’s face it, we feel good when we get something new! Research shows that dopamine, a chemical in the brain that makes you feel good, spikes when we buy new things.
With the effects of advertising, friends, and our natural inclination to desire new things cultivating a spirit of discontentment in our kids, how can we possibly teach our children to be content as God desires? “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV))
Here are three great ways to teach children contentment.
1. Teach Our Kids to Love God More Than Anything
I believe one of the most important steps is to follow God’s command for families found in Deuteronomy 6:5-6.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Love God more than anything or anyone else in your family. It won’t seem genuine if it doesn’t really come sincerely from our hearts, so we need to get excited about God first as we spend time with Him, so our excitement will overflow onto them. We can talk about His awesome character and get excited about all the amazing things He has done for us! If we talk about Jesus more than princesses, superheroes, and the latest movies, they will see WHO is most important in our family culture. When we give HIM more glory than Disney characters, Santa Clause, and theme parks, our kids will desire what’s really important over other things our world throws at them. (For another great article to teach your kids to love God with all their heart, click here.)
2. Don’t Let Our Kids Have Everything They Want
Paul talks about contentment in the Bible when he says, “I know what it is like to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12 (NIV) I wonder if Paul would have known how to be content had he not experienced being hungry and living in want. While we want to give our children everything they desire because we love them, what if giving them everything they want is actually doing more harm than good?
We have seen a family whose kids get only one gift for Christmas from their parents, and it’s so remarkable to see how a child who gets one baby doll values and treasures that doll so much more than a child who gets a baby doll plus 10 other dolls or toys. When a child has lots of gifts to open, the focus becomes how many gifts they have to unwrap rather than what they are actually getting. They tear through their gifts, unwrapping the next and the next- and when they are done- the disappointment ensues when they run out of gifts to open. But the child with one gift treasures that gift so much more and becomes immediately content.
If we think about our child’s character- contentment- more than their happiness, we can make wise choices about how much and how often to get them new things. I have several friends who say they were pretty much given anything they wanted as children, and they all say they have struggled to learn to be content and limit their buying now as adults. While we sometimes may feel like the “mean parent” when compared to other parents, our children will grow so much more in character and contentment if we limit their gifts, that they will thank us later.
3. Encourage Our Kids To Ask God For Help
Paul goes on in his letter to the Philippians to explain the secret of contentment. He says these words, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Phil 4:13 (NIV) I believe this is so true! While we are up against constant advertisements, pressure from peers, and a sinful nature desiring something new to fill us up, we can stand against it and teach our children to do the same! If we did not have all this pressure, we would not HAVE to rely on God, and that is exactly where He wants us! He wants us depending on HIM for strength!
First, we can ask Him to help us work on contentment in our own hearts. Then we can pray each morning with our children and ask God to help us love Him more than anything else! When our children are feeling discontent about something, whether it is their dinner, toys, or clothes, we can stop and pray. We can teach them to ask God to help them be content with what they have and thank Him for all the things He has given them. Thankfulness leads to contentment. So ask the Lord together for contentment, and He will be faithful to give it to your children when they ask with sincere hearts.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)
To read my devotional on contentment with your kids, click here.
Would love to hear from you! Please post a comment below.
1: Johnson, C. (2006, September 17). Cutting Through Advertising Clutter. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cutting-through-advertising-clutter/