Raising a Conscious Consumer

Feature image with graphic of child playing with dolls. Text reads "7 Tips for Parents on Raising a Conscious Consumer"

 

Conscious consumerism is NOT easy in today’s culture of excess.  We are inundated by marketing at every turn that encourages us to buy more and more.  We’re told at every turn that we need the newest items on the market. We fill our lives with so much stuff! Then we raise children and all too often our kids are quickly brought into the world of constant consumption.  Every holiday, no matter how small and no matter what the original intention, has become an excuse to shower children with more stuff.  It’s hard to escape it! But if we want them to be a part of the solution, we need to start helping them develop their own eco-consciousness from an early age.  

The following 7 tips for raising a conscious consumer come from my own parenting practice.  As a mom of two pre-school age girls, these are things you can implement early! And they largely remain relevant to older children, too.

 

White boy with brown hair in flannel shirt with his hands against a glass display cabinet in a toy store.

“…if we want them to be a part of the solution, we need to start helping them develop their own eco-consciousness from an early age.”

01

Embrace Hand-Me-Down Clothes

Children grow incredibly quickly. Often children grow out of clothes before they have time to wear them, let alone wear them out! If you have someone who can pass clothing to you or someone you can hand clothes down to, encourage your child to be an active part in giving or receiving those hand-me-downs. 

We always talk about where the girls hand-me-down clothes come from.  They LOVE knowing that a shirt came from their friend Lara or that their favorite pajamas used to belong to cousin Julia.  We also talk about what happens to their clothes once they grow out of them. Now they cannot wait to hand them down to baby cousin Tara.

Even if you don’t have someone in your family or friend group with whom you can share kids clothing, you can still rely on used clothing by taking advantage of thrift stores, yard sales, Facebook Marketplace, and online thrift stores like Kidizen & Swap.

02

Celebrate Pre-Loved Toys

We teach our girls to appreciate pre-loved toys in the same way as we teach them about hand-me-down clothes.  We buy pre-loved for rewards, birthdays, and holidays just as we would a new gift. We don’t buy EVERY SINGLE THING pre-loved, but it is our first option in most cases.  The girls appreciate having the new-to-them item regardless of whether or not it came with the original box and plastic wrap.  

When they outgrow toys, we talk about giving our toys to other kids.  Sometimes we share them with baby cousin Tara. But often, we are sharing them with another kid that we don’t know.  We discuss the fact that we are giving away some of our toys because some kids may not have these cool toys. It is our hope that we are teaching our littles a bit about empathy, while we are doing our part to reduce waste and raise conscious consumers.

03

Reduce Influence

We don’t have live TV, so we don’t have standard commercials.  In many cases, we can skip the ads on the programs we stream, which helps. I also don’t allow the videos that focus on unboxing and introducing new toys. My kids find them entertaining, but I don’t like the fact that they’re trying to influence my kids to ask for these new toys. So I don’t allow them. 

04

Encourage Care

Like most parents, we encourage our children to clean up their toys and take care of them. As we set those expectations and provide reminders, we also discuss the reason behind our requests.  We talk to our children about how important it is to treat our belongings gently and appropriately so that they last longer.  We tell them that if we have to replace it and buy a new toy, it takes more resources from the earth. We remind them that super heroes that care about the planet take care of their toys.

05

De-Emphasize the STUFF

Our kids have plenty of toys. But we are also doing our best to share more with our children than things. We want to teach them to value nature, experiences, and family time MORE than the accumulation of more toys.  So we have started to reduce the spending on tangible material items and shift that budget to experiences.  We also used this philosophy to help us revamp our reward system for good behavior and potty training to shift away from the party-favor plastic toys and lollipops toward something that better aligned with our values.  Interested in knowing more? Read about it in our previous blog.

06

Discuss Choices while Shopping

My daughter’s love to be my “shopping buddies,” a hyped up term to get them excited about completing errands with me.  However, that term can easily be associated with a love of shopping, which is definitely not what we want to encourage. Aside from the choice of terms, we are developing some good habits while we shop.

When we are shopping, we talk about the items we see in the store.  The girls are free to talk about things that they like and tell me at any point that they’d like to add them to their wish list.  We also discuss that they don’t receive everything on their wish list. 

Sometimes when the item is not easily broken or destroyed (like a ball), we let them hold it in the store for a few moments, but they know that we cannot take it home.

Additionally, we discuss a very low-level of the concept of need. We largely focus on not buying things we already have.  That can be a really hard conversation for littles, but because we’ve been having the same conversation since they were very small, they seem to understand. 

What does this look like in action? Something like this: 

Lovebug (3-year-old): Look a baby! 

Me: Aw, that is a cute baby! 

Lovebug (3-year-old): Can I have it? Pleaseeeee? 

Me: Do you have baby dolls at home? 

Lovebug (3-year-old): Yes…

Me: So if we already have baby dolls, we don’t really need another one, right? You can add this doll to your wish list, though. 

This conversation has happened so often that Cuteness Everbean (age 4.5) tells me things we don’t need without prompting as we are going through the aisles.  She’s got the makings of a conscious consumer!

07

Model the Way

Here’s the tough one for many of us.

To raise a conscious consumer, you have to BE a conscious consumer. You need to model the way for your little(s). They are always watching and seeing what is happening around them. They notice when the third Amazon box arrives for the day.  They see the amount of items that you add to the cart. Observational learning happens whether you intend it to or not– so you might as well be intentional about this one! 

When you add think-aloud to your conscious consumerism, you can help your children learn even more.  Let them see that you really would like to buy that new shirt, but explain out loud that you aren’t going to buy it today because you don’t need it.  Tell them that you are going to think of a gift to give Mom/Dad for their birthday that cannot be wrapped so that you reduce waste.  Explain that you’re going to make them breakfast in bed to show Mom/Dad you love them instead.

Blue wooden arrow facing left with metal letters that read "Second Hand"

 

I am a recovering shopaholic.  Especially when it comes to clothing and craft supplies.  But I am actively working to buy less and buy more sustainably.  It is important to me to help my kids learn these habits early, so that buying less and shopping second hand comes naturally to them.

Do you have other strategies that help you teach your little to be a conscious consumer? I’d love to hear about them!

 

 

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