How to Teach Children the Difference Between Wants & Needs

By Kay Ireland
Take your child shopping with you to discuss your family's needs.
Take your child shopping with you to discuss your family's needs.

Any parent who has been subject to a full-scale tantrum in a grocery store can attest to the idea that, sometimes, kids can't tell the difference between a want and a need. In the heat of the moment, it can seem as if your child definitely needs a treat. But differentiating between wants and needs is a financial lesson that can stick with kids into adolescence and eventually adulthood. By having frank financial conversations with your child, you can help her understand more about wants and needs.

Talk to your child about the difference between needs -- things that are necessary to survive -- and wants -- things that are fun or make life easier. After your discussion, label a piece of construction paper with "Needs" written on one side and "Wants" on the other. Grab a couple of old magazines and look through them with your child. When you find an item, cut it out and ask your child to glue it on the correct side of the construction paper. For instance, food items would go under "Needs," while toys should be pasted under "Wants."

Ask your child a series of questions when she whines about a product she wants. This helps her understand the criteria that make an item a need, rather than a want. If she wants a piece of candy, ask "Does this make your life easier? Do you need this to survive?" to help her think objectively about the differences.

Allow your child to make spending choices, suggests Whether she receives an allowance or she has some spending money from a relative, remind her that in order to purchase her "wants," she sometimes has to give up a "need." If you're shopping for school clothes, for instance -- she might really want a flashy new dress, but she really needs new socks and jeans. Give her the choice between the two, asking her to weigh the pros and cons of each.

Utilize open and frank dialogue when it comes to discussing needs and wants. A 2008 issue of "Illinois Parenting News" suggests parents remind their children of the difference between purchasing something that would be nice to have versus purchasing something that is necessary. If your child wishes he had the latest version of a video game console, for instance, remind him his older console works well and plays games, so he doesn't need a new one.

About the Author

Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.