Are you teaching your child to believe in scarcity?

Young child looks longingly at Lego display behind glass.
Photo by Victoria Borodinova from Pexels

Money is a big, scary topic for so many of us. It can be confronting to notice our beliefs around money and resources (and the lack thereof) and how we are passing these on to the next generation.

At a certain point when my two sons were young I became much more aware of how I was speaking about money and resources. I was using some very tired old phrases that I heard a lot when I was young and that are very common in our society.

  • Money doesn’t grow on trees.
  • We don’t have enough money to buy you that toy.
  • We can’t afford that bike/Lego/special food.
  • You’re wasting food/money/shampoo/paint!!

The classic scenario in our home for so many years was a child asking for ANOTHER huge, expensive Lego set to add to their already enormous collection of Lego sets and me having a knee-jerk reaction and saying (yelling) “We can’t afford that!”

I bet you can imagine the scenario and the anxious, forceful sound of my voice. Do you ever have those tense toy store moments?

Do you dread even going near a toy store because you anticipate having a dramatic emotional reaction? I did.

I can feel the waves of those reactions echoing in my body even now. They were based on a fear of not having enough money, of running short and experiencing hardship.

My reactions were based on my belief in scarcity. I believed that money was scarce and limited and that every cent had to be earned through hard work. That is what I had been taught as a child and I hadn’t stopped to really investigate deeper until I had my own children and heard these phrases coming out of my mouth.

What happened when I investigated my old beliefs.

I know that some of you reading this will be thinking “Of course money is limited! Of course I have to earn my money through hard work!”

I’m not trying to convince you otherwise. I’m just letting you know what I discovered for myself and inviting you to look more deeply into your own beliefs. You never know what you might find out.

So what do I mean when I say I investigated my beliefs?

I’ll give you an example.

Lets go back to the toy store where my son is begging and pleading for me to buy him a Lego set that costs $200. I know that we only have around $250 in our “general household expenses” account to last until the next pay day. I don’t want us to dip into our savings again this fortnight.

When my child asks me again if I will buy the Lego set I react abruptly and say “No. We can’t afford it!”

This is what I want to investigate: Is it true that we can’t afford that Lego set?

When I was really honest with myself, I realised that it wasn’t true.

We did have the money to buy the Lego set — and we could anticipate more money arriving at some stage soon if we wanted to save up for it gradually.

It was simply an issue of different priorities.

My child wanted the Lego set as their immediate top priority and I had different immediate priorities. I wanted to buy more food and clothes, keep the car in petrol and save up for bills and a holiday.

Realistically, we could have had a discussion about what we each wanted and why we gave those things priority and figured out a mutually agreeable solution together. Perhaps the toy store was not the best place to have that discussion, but we could have moved it somewhere else or put it off until we got home.

Instead of having this chat, I clung to my belief that “We can’t afford it.” That’s when my emotional reaction escalated.

This is what often happened:

  • I felt stressed.
  • I resisted and opposed what my child wanted.
  • I told them that they shouldn’t want more Lego: “It’s a waste of money.”
  • I judged their desire as frivolous and wasteful.
  • We had an ugly fight in the toy store.
  • I attack my child with judgements and blamed them for “making a scene.”
  • My child learns lessons about limitation and scarcity and feels attacked and hurt.

Yuck. This was horrible for everyone.

So how can things turn out differently?

To avoid simply trotting out the same old story about “Not being able to afford it” (and enduring the scene that often followed) I found it helpful to be as honest as possible with myself and with my children.

This meant being a lot more honest and transparent about the money flow in our family and the decisions and priorities made by “the parents”.

When questions about money came up at home we had open discussions about where our money usually came from and how we usually spent it.

I was also honest with myself that there had been many times that money had come from unexpected sources just as it was really needed. Like the time we planned a family trip to London without knowing how we were going to pay for it and then were surprised by an inheritance of $20,000 that we certainly hadn’t anticipated.

Being really honest meant admitting that we had always had enough money as a family.

Without comparing ourselves to anyone else and without insisting on instant gratification of every wish — we had always had enough.

This is the personal truth that I arrived at after my investigation:

In any moment what I have is enough.

If I speak to my child from this knowing of enoughness, I can respond with kindness and respect rather than going into an emotional reaction.

I might say:

“I understand that you really want that Lego set. I don’t want to buy it right now. Let’s sit down when we get home and see if we can figure out how and when we can buy that for you.”

If I’m grounded in my own “enoughness” I can also be fully present to listen to my child express their feelings — even if that means they have a meltdown in the middle of the toy store.

I don’t have to “give in” to something that I’m really not happy with and I don’t have to resist or fight my child.

Instead, I trust that a solution can be found that everyone is happy with or can accept.

I’d much rather teach my child that we can trust the flow of life and all it’s resources.

I’d much rather relate to them with honestly and integrity rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

Those emotional scenes in the toy store turned out to be a real gift (even though they didn’t seem that way at the time). Because my children kept asking for what they wanted very assertively, they manged to push my buttons repeatedly. Instead of fighting and blaming them repeatedly, I chose to start investigating what I was believing in those situations.

Visits to the toy store turned into opportunities for me to unlearn my old beliefs and come closer to my deepest truth.

Gradually, visits to the toy store turned into joyful experiences for all of us.

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I’m a parenting, unschooling and spiritual mentor and writer. I help parents live with their children without stress or struggle.

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Freya Dawson

Freya Dawson

I’m a parenting, unschooling and spiritual mentor and writer. I help parents live with their children without stress or struggle.

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