Teaching Children The Difference Between Wants and Needs

Children need to learn they can’t always have what they want. Parents should teach children the difference between wants and needs. Parents are allowed to say No!

Children are precious little people and parents naturally want to do the best for them. However, it is very easy for parents to consider only the moment they are in and not the long term effects of their actions. Giving in to children’s requests or demands all the time does not teach children skills they will need in later life. Parents need to learn to say No.

At first children express simple demands with one word. They point to something and name it – drink, teddy, and toilet. This is their only way of expressing their needs and parents are happy to oblige. At this stage parents can easily introduce new vocabulary by commenting, “You’d like a drink? Okay, I’ll get it for you.”

As children develop more vocabulary they start asking for more, not just to satisfy their needs, but also their desires. I want a biscuit; I want a toy like my friend’s. This is an ideal opportunity to start teaching the difference between wants and needs. Children should learn they can’t always have what they want.

Parents who constantly give in to children’s demands are creating problems for the child later in life. We’ve all met adults who demand the best of everything, who insist on having the newest and best as it becomes available, whether they can afford it or not. These ‘want’ habits are set in childhood.

There are some things children need. It may be money for a school trip, new shoes to replace those they’re growing out of, or simply a little of your time to listen to them. Even needs such as these should have built in expectations or criteria, to help children understand that often things are not possible instantly. Answer these requests for needs in a caring way. Tell a child they can earn the money for the trip by doing a few simple chores for you, or suggest you go shopping together for shoes after pay day. Explain that as soon as you finish what you’re doing you can sit down together and talk. These answers will usually satisfy a child’s requests.

Children are losing sight of the difference between a treat and what is acceptable as an everyday event. Parents who give in every time a child demands something are helping establish demanding behaviours that are hard to break. By receiving everything they demand children are learning to demand more. Soon, without noticing it happening, children take control over their parents. This is very difficult behaviour to change if it is allowed to continue for too long.

Parents need to be the adult in any situation. They need to consider whether a child’s demands are wants or needs. Needs should not become instant expectations, but should have reasonable criteria attached to them such as earning or waiting.

Children need to learn that just because they want something shouldn’t mean they will get it. As with needs, children should learn to wait until an appropriate time, or maybe even be told, No, not this time. By hearing the word no, children learn to realise they can’t always have what they want. Sometimes they may be able to have it at another time, or sometimes the answer is No, you can’t have that. Remember, however, to explain why you are saying no.

Children shouldn’t always automatically receive everything they ask for. Going without enables them to grow into adults who are able to make appropriate decisions later in life. Children deserve the best from their parents and this best sometimes involves saying the word No.

Other parenting articles by Val Mills you may be intrested in:

Improve Children’s Behaviour Through Using Reward Charts

Buying School Shoes for Children

Inexpensive Ways of Developing Your Child’s Creativity

10 Skills Needed by Children Starting School

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  1. Ha! I’m thinking there are a lot of adults who need to be taught the difference.

  2. You are right Val.

  3. Very good advice for parents as well as adults dealing with children. True, we need to teach kids the difference between wants and needs, and that getting the things we need sometimes require hard work or effort to obtain. Instant gratification is something that is dominant in our society, where people are impatient to get the things they want. It’s time we teach the children values such as the one you wrote about. Excellent post!

  4. A very good share Val cheers

  5. i agree good one

  6. Not only children, adult needs to know about it.

  7. Nice Share.

    :-)

  8. yup.. many adults need to learn this too – maybe so many would not be in debt

  9. Very true…children need to be taught the difference.

  10. A valuable lesson for all.

  11. Like people here said, I agree, adults should learn the lesson as well. Excellent entry, good advice for parents.

  12. A very useful article…vil keep in mind these points when my kid starts demanding things..Thanks for the article

  13. Great tips, I unfortunately do not have children, but I can appreciate a well written article well done. LB

  14. Very true.

  15. I personally know kids who are spoilt rotten and useless because their parents give in to all their demands and wants. Giving too much money without holding kids accountable for anything is bad parenting.

  16. When you’re right, you’re right, Val.

  17. Good article on teaching children.

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