Dear Annie: Tips for how to get kids to focus less on material items

Dear Readers: Many of you wrote in with tips on encouraging children to focus less on material items. Thank you for sharing these terrific suggestions. Here are some of my favorite letters:

Dear Annie: I just read your letter from “Caught in the Middle,” the parent whose daughter is being spoiled by her grandparents and is looking for a polite way to call off the gifts. The letter writer should follow your advice and encourage her mother to start giving memories instead of presents. She should get on the floor with her granddaughter and play with her. Whether it’s having a tea party or building a fort or going to the zoo, those are the things her granddaughter will remember. She won’t remember the gifts after a week or two, but memories of play dates and special times with her grandma? She’ll remember those always.

My grandson has a family member who always gives gifts, and sometimes it’s hard when I don’t do that. But I’m determined to give him memories that will last. When he remembers how he pet the baby deer at the deer farm, he’ll remember that we took him there. Or how we were at every sporting event that he’s played in, being his loudest supporters. He often brings up some of the things we’ve done. That’s when I know we’ve done the right thing.

Grammy life is the best life. -

- Memories Forever

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Dear Annie: Many years ago, my grandfather insisted on gifting us something on every visit. This was in addition to taking us for treats and to the park to play. He also kept a change jar, and while we would hold our hands over a bag, he’d pour change until it overflowed in our hands.

My mom tempered the generosity by letting us keep an age-appropriate amount to spend and taking us to the bank to deposit the rest in our savings accounts.


I’ll always remember my grandfather’s generosity, but I also remember my mom teaching us to save. Maybe this would help this family, too.

When we got overloaded with toys at Christmas, we chose several to keep and donated the rest to kids less fortunate or the local Y.

I am 66 years old and very grateful for these early experiences. They taught me thrift, empathy and compassion and have kept me well-grounded through the years!

-- Feeling Compassion

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Dear Annie: I must preface my comment with the fact that I am a 64-year-old woman who has been reading advice columns in newspapers since I was a teenager. I continue to learn while reading these columns, but every once in a while, I see a very black-and-white answer to what seems a complicated situation.

If “Caught in the Middle” cannot get her mother-in-law to stop giving gifts, then she should accept them graciously.

My niece has dealt with this by talking to her now 5- and 8-year-old daughters and telling them they can only have as many toys or “stuffies” as can fit in the huge toy box in their room. As the toy box begins to overflow, they make decisions on what toys they are willing to give to other children. Plenty of charities are looking for “newer” toys.

There are variations on how this can be done, but it teaches children that when they are blessed with an abundance of things, it can feel good to give to children who don’t have as much as they do. This will keep the grandmother happy, as the daughter-in-law will stop nagging her, and peace will prevail.

Thanks for your column. -

- A Lesson for Kids

Annie Lane

Annie Lane offers common-sense solutions to everyday problems. She's firm, funny and sympathetic, echoing the style of her biggest inspiration, Ann Landers. She lives outside Manhattan with her husband, two kids and two dogs. When not writing, she devotes her time to play dates and Play-Doh. Write her: