Needs and Wants: Let’s Review the Critical Basics

Needs and Wants

Age: 4+

Time: 10–20 minutes

Materials: pen and paper


Focus: develop life skills

Understanding Needs and Wants

Needs and Wants - Part 1

Things you must have to survive:

  • food
  • shelter
  • clothing
  • safety
  • healthcare
  • whatever else your family values determine
Needs and Wants - Part 2

Things you would like to have but do not need to survive:

  • everything else
  • these things are often still important for mental and emotional health
  • learning to differentiate is why families need to talk about it

Learning to differentiate between needs and wants can be difficult for both kids and adults.

Too often we think of it as purely a financial lesson when we’re thinking about budgets. But there are also important nuances to consider in developing emotional intelligence as well.

There are a couple of scenarios where this is a really valuable and timely family discussion.

The Holidays

Before the frenzy of the holiday shopping season is upon us, take a moment to talk with your partner about how you want to approach things this year. What value are you showing yourself and your kids by what you purchase?

Even in nonpandemic years, many parents struggle with wanting to buy ALL.THE.TOYS because that’s what must happen to have a happy Christmas, even if that means going into debt. Right? Well, not so fast.

Whether or not your family falls into that category, remember that the desire to have a huge pile of presents under the tree is a want. It’s not a need.

It’s an emotional reaction, and a perfectly understandable one, to a day when all of society says we must buy to show our love. Look back at the examples above of what really constitutes a need.

As a parent, you might want to recreate what you remember as glorious Christmas mornings from your own childhood. Or perhaps you may want to make up for any number of disappointing holidays.

Both of those things are okay. But by having the needs-and-wants conversation with your partner and children, you will likely discuss and discover many family values and feelings about Christmas and the entire holiday season that could change your mind.

Whatever the outcome, your family can come to an understanding about purpose and intent way before purchasing crunch time.

The Rest of the Year

Discussing needs and wants is not just a financial lesson. Savvy parents like you know that there are plenty of things, like close friendships, alone time, a scum-free shower, that won’t outright kill you if you don’t have them but are high-priority “wants” that need to be addressed.

While in the strictest sense, needs are universal to the human condition, classify things however you’re most comfortable.

Talk about the important things in your life that you really NEED to have to feel good, be taken care of, and especially, be safe.

Encourage your kids to do the same and reassess as everyone’s wants change over time. As your kids mature, they will be tempted by different things and part of your job as an intentional and thoughtful parent is to help them make good decisions for themselves.

You won’t always be around to make decisions for them. So helping them develop their own values and reasoning skills while knowing the difference between needs and wants is a truly remarkable gift.

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Somer Loomis

Somer is the Chief Content Officer at Raising Families living in Southern California with her husband and five-year-old son. She spent 10 years in the architecture field as a designer and medical planner and now applies her love of integrative thinking and big-picture planning to her family and career. Read full bio >>

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