She doesn't understand why she can't have Sister's doll if she wants it.

Teaching Children Not to Covet

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

“Mine, mine!” your toddler screams. If he sees it and wants it, he thinks it’s his. Your child must learn that he can’t have what isn’t his and that he should be content with what he has. If you can nip this problem when he’s a toddler, it might make it easier to avoid coveting as he gets older. Perhaps you might also get to keep your stuff without a fight.

1. Explaining Coveting

Your little one might not understand the 10th commandment telling her not to covet, so you need to help her understand. Say, “You shouldn’t want something so much that you are willing to take it away from the person who owns it.” Ask, “What is one thing you wish you had, but don’t have?” Talk to your child about what she wants and why. Help her decide if that desired item is something she really needs.

2. Contentment

One way to combat covetousness is to be content with what you have. Ask, “How many things do you have?” Challenge your child to start counting the number of shirts, pants, toys or books he has. Ask, “How do you think children feel when they don’t have what you have, or if don't have anything? Do you think that sharing what you have would help another child?” Use pictures of children living in poverty to help your child understand how fortunate he is. Your child might understand your point and volunteer to donate items to children who have less.

3. Coveting Consequences

Your child might understand the consequences of coveting through the story of Naboth’s vineyard found in 1 Kings 21. King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, had Naboth killed so Ahab could have the land he coveted. Ask, “Was it right for Jezebel to have Naboth killed because he didn’t want to sell his land?” After your child answers, ask, “Would it be okay for someone to hurt or kill you to take something you have?” Talk about why coveting causes serious problems.

4. Thankfulness

Another way to fight covetousness is to practice gratitude. Ask, “If I gave you a new bicycle, would you be happy to have it?” Let him talk about his feelings. Ask, “If Johnny got a bigger, prettier, faster bike, how would you feel?” He might say that he would be unhappy and want a better bike. Ask, “Does that mean you weren’t really happy about the new bike?” Talk about why thankfulness is the best option, no matter what another child gets. Alternatively, say, “Which is worth more, you or your clothes? Which is better, my love or a new bike? Which would you rather have, a happy day with your grandparents or a candy bar?” Help your child see that people and things you can’t buy, such as love, happiness and time with people he cares about are more valuable than things that can get stolen, broken or consumed.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

Photo Credits

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