On more than one occasion I have witnessed a curious phenomenon with my young children. It starts like this, a bunch of kids are brought together for a play date. The room is filled with toys that the kids are expected to share with one another. Some toys are clearly more popular than others but inevitably a child picks up a toy that has until this point been completely ignored. All of a sudden that toy becomes the “it” toy of the gathering, the previously ignored toy is the envy of every kid in the room. Fights break out, crying ensues and inevitably the toy has to be removed from the room to restore calm. What happened here? Well, we saw the sin of Envy at play in probably it most simplest form. One child saw that another child had something that they wanted and they went and took it. The sin of envy is rampant in our society, in fact you might even go as far as to say our economy, maybe even our entire society, is motivated by it. Luckily there is an antidote to envy, it is called contentment. But, how we do teach contentment to our kids who live in a world of envy? Three things can help you battle the curse of envy in your child’s life:
1. Teach your kids the difference between wants and needs
It is amazing how simple life can be and how complicated we can make it. When kids get the “gimmes” use the opportunity to draw a distinction between things that we want and things that we need. Explain that God loves us and has promised to provide for our needs in life (see Matthew 6:26-34) and because he delights in giving his children good gifts he sometimes blesses us with our wants but they are not guaranteed or promised. Also, take time to manage expectations around our needs, God may promise to clothe us, but a $200 pair of blue jeans might not be exactly what he had in mind.
2. Introduce your child to those who have less than you
There is nothing that shines a light on the hypocrisy of envy as much as taking notice and showing love to those with less than us. A great way for families to highlight this on a regular basis is to sponsor a child through Compassion International. Place your sponsored child’s picture on your refrigerator and take the time to read and write to them. Let your kids ask them questions about their life and especially what they do for fun. As your kids are exposed to the story of child with far less material wealth it will hopefully help them to see that fun and joy are not dependent on material possessions. Be careful to not let this turn into a “there are starving kids in China” moment. The point is not to make your kids feel guilty about their possessions, rather you want them to look differently at how much (or how little) they need to be truly joyful in life.
3. Model contentment
The mantra of parenting should be “model the behavior you hope to see.” If you struggle with envy in your life then there is a good chance your child will struggle as well. I once heard it said, “having kids is our last chance to grow up in life.” That is not meant to be a dig at childless people, rather it is meant to highlight the fact that there is nothing so sobering as seeing your bad behavior mirrored back to you by your child. Work hard to model contentment in your own life and there is a good chance your child will model it back to you.