Veruca Salt doesn’t know the difference.

“I want it. I need it. I can’t live without it.” Let’s be honest, we have all said those words in the past when it comes to something we think we desire. Most recently, I said them about a pair of Michael Kors 4-inch stiletto booties. And I meant it, convincing myself of this absolute and extreme need, and I am now the proud owner of a pair of shoes that, at best, will remind you of a baby dear learning to walk when I wear them. Of all things I need, shoes reminiscent of stilts is not one of them. When I got home and showed them to my mini fashionista-in-the-making, she held them up and said, “I need these.” It dawned on me, at that moment, that I was creating a mini-me, and not just by passing on my quick wit or great kitchen skills.

We live in a world of so much STUFF. It’s not just technology that moves so fast — everything from fashion to fads in food to the newest and latest toys for kids and adults changes from one day to the next. It’s no secret that our society tends to live beyond our means (in 2014, the average American household had at least $15,000 worth of credit card debt). Then consider the fact that people who have children usually want to be able to provide them with everything they could possibly want, to give them everything that the never had growing up. So, the question is, how do you give your kids all you want them to have without spoiling them in the process? Especially with Christmastime right around the corner?

The first key to this conundrum lies in our own realization of actual needs, and not wants. And those needs are the basics. Food, water and shelter should be the first priorities when it comes to providing for our children. But when those needs are met, we have to consider the other things that should get attention. Does your kid bike to school? Then, instead of the newest Playstation console, maybe a new bike or tires should take priority this Christmas. Where we live and what we do and how much money we make will be unique to each of our families, so it makes sense that our needs and the needs of our loved ones will be unique, too. But recognizing the needs from the wants is a big first step.

The second step is to change our language. Instead of saying “I need it” in such a casual manner, consider if there’s a better phrase to use to express your desire for whatever that object is. Remember, kids are sponges, and they pick up on the nuances of language that we often take for granted when we’re using them. So if we tell them we “need” something versus “wanting” or “liking” something, we teach them that needs may not be as important as they truly are.

It’s not just material things I’m talking about here. In a world where there are so many things to try and experience, some of us fall victim to the over-scheduling dilemma.
We want our children to try everything that sparks their interest — to find their passion — so along with their responsibilities at school, we enroll them in soccer and piano and aerial acrobatics and pottery-throwing and whatever else they could possibly want to try. It’s great to expose them to so many activities but, at the same time, we are taking away one of their main needs: down time. We should be showing them that, sometimes, the best thing is quiet time, at home, playing with friends and family, and not trying to do or have it all. Everything needs a balance —  it’s our job as parents to be the scale and help them find that balance between want, need, and curiosity.

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