My older son is going to be 4 in a few weeks, and I was initially going to write a post covering Birthday Present Ideas for Four-Year-Olds and include all the little product images and links and so on . . . but I have a related topic I’d rather talk about. It has to do with greedy children, and more specifically, how not to raise them.
My boy Riley loves getting new toys. He gets so excited and thrilled over a new toy, no matter what it is, that it’s hard not to share in his joy. I take great pleasure in handing over something new, just to see his face light up like a pinball machine. For at least a few days, his toy goes everywhere he does, and he talks about it constantly. It’s like the entire world has become a shinier, happier place just because some little kid got a beat-up Buzz Lightyear from the discount bin at Goodwill.
Then, inevitably, the toy falls out of favor. It joins the throngs of other toys that clutter up every surface of our house, it gets gnawed half to death by his younger brother, and eventually it gets moved to the toybox in his bedroom. It may occasionally make a reappearance, but for the most part, the bloom is off the rose.
I understand this, he’s a little kid. He’s got the attention span of a fruit fly for the most part, and it’s probably kind of a miracle that any toy gets dragged around for more than an hour or two. I do what I can to manage the toy-chaos: we rotate toys, we store some for his brother, we occasionally have Riley pick through his stuff and choose which ones we can take to the thrift store for other kids to love.
The thing that kind of bugs me, though, is how focused he can be on getting new stuff. It’s one of the first things he asks when I come home from a trip: what did you get me? Often when we come across a toy in a book, he asks if he can have one of his own (”I want to BUY that train, Mommy!”). He’s been talking about his birthday for, no kidding, six months straight, his attention laser-aimed not on the cake or the party or the fun of turning four, but on the presents.
I’ve cut back on doing things like picking up some small trinket while I’m at the store, or randomly bringing home a new set of crayons. Which kind of makes me sad, because I love to do those things, but I feel like I’m maybe encouraging an environment of entitlement . . . and a lack of meaningful gratitude.
I realize this isn’t exactly a unique situation, but I’d love to know how you handle things like this. I’m more than a little bothered by the notion of us not being able to manage greedy behavior in the right sort of way, and yet I realize: I have no idea how to discourage it. Of course he’ll get presents for his birthday, but how do I begin teaching a four-year-old that the best things in life don’t come from stores?