Scarcity Mindset in Kids

By Sarah Earles, MS, LPC, NCC | September 01, 2023 

The child is impulsive. The child hoards food. The child takes things that do not belong to him or her. The child makes constant bids for attention. The child has a history of neglect and trauma, but why these behaviors now, in a home that is adequate, and even maybe abundant in resources? Perhaps the child’s trauma may have created a scarcity mindset.

What is a scarcity mindset?

The scarcity mindset is the idea that there is not enough (Brav, n.d.). It is a survivalist way of thinking about the world, designed to promote acquisition of resources in order to stay alive. Scarcity focuses the mind “automatically and powerfully toward unfulfilled needs” (Heshmat, 2015). The needs may be real and actual, or simply perceived or anticipated. In children from hard places, it is often the latter.

Which types of behaviors emerge from a scarcity mindset?

Scarcity mindset can lie at the root of many behaviors, most of which are along the fight-flight-freeze continuum (Brav, n.d.). Children may exhibit intense anxiety around food, for example, becoming very dysregulated when the food looks different, or when it is served at a slightly different time. Children may compete for resources, for example taking all of the balls they see, even though there are enough balls for all of the children present to have one with which to play. Children may fixate on who has what, or on keeping score. Their bodies may become tight and tense—on alert. They may literally fight for resources, whether those be food, toys, time, or something else.

In the face of scarcity, stress hormones may rush through the body. Cortisol and adrenaline may make the child edgy (Sweeney, 2022). The child may be fidgety, or impatient. Some children may cling to adults and become extremely needy. Some may self-isolate and refuse help (Marter, 2023). Others may be come perfectionistic, intent on making everything “just right” in an attempt to self-soothe.

Some children collapse in the face of perceived scarcity. They may become despairing or hopeless. They may cease trying to access resources at all, acting as if “paralyzed” (Sweeney, 2022). Research shows that perceived scarcity limits decision-making abilities and can actually lower IQ test scores (Brennan, 2021; Vendantam, 2017). Parents and caregivers know that children who want things are not fully focused on the present, but rather have tunnel vision focused on what they think they need or want.

How can caregivers and parents help children change their mindset?

Individuals with abundance mindset tend to be much more successful than those with a scarcity mindset. Abundance mindset is the idea that resources are ample and sufficient (Zimmerman, 2016). It generates proactivity, rather than reactivity. It helps children remain more regulated on a more regular basis.

The first step to creating abundance mindset is to ensure that children have ample resources, and to see that these resources are, in fact, plentiful. Trust-Based Relational Intervention practitioner Amanda Purvis (n.d.) suggests making snacks available every two hours and having water on hand. Mike Berry (2019) suggests making extra time to be with children, so that they do not feel alone. Other ideas can include having children help put away groceries and toiletries, or counting the number of items accessible. Remember that the scarcity brain has “’tunnel vision’” (Brennan 2021). The antidote is to widen the frame of reference.

Cultivating abundance occurs more readily when children are focused on the present, not the present lack, but the present moment. This is because many fears of scarcity relate to future survival. Practices to cultivate presence increase connection to the body and cultivate awareness (Brav, n.d.). These might include deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. Caregivers and parents might also model gratitude, which raises awareness of current resources (Cleveland Clinic, 2022). Adults can encourage win-win situations, where everyone can get something, even if not exactly what they want (Brav, n.d.). The goal is not to capitulate to the child’s every want, but rather to help the child see that care is sufficient, ample, and adequate.

Conclusion.

Kids from hard places may not recover from scarcity mindset quickly. They may often want and need more than they are given. They may need a lot of repetition to understand the concept of abundance. Brains are plastic and they do grow, and caregivers and parents have a role in that growth. Caregivers and parents just need to see that they are abundantly capable of working towards change.

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The child is impulsive. The child hoards food. The child takes things that do not belong to him or her. The child makes constant bids for attention. The child has a history of neglect and trauma, but why these behaviors now, in a home that is adequate, and even maybe abundant in resources? Perhaps the child’s trauma may have created a scarcity mindset.

What is a scarcity mindset?

The scarcity mindset is the idea that there is not enough (Brav, n.d.). It is a survivalist way of thinking about the world, designed to promote acquisition of resources in order to stay alive. Scarcity focuses the mind “automatically and powerfully toward unfulfilled needs” (Heshmat, 2015). The needs may be real and actual, or simply perceived or anticipated. In children from hard places, it is often the latter.

Which types of behaviors emerge from a scarcity mindset?

Scarcity mindset can lie at the root of many behaviors, most of which are along the fight-flight-freeze continuum (Brav, n.d.). Children may exhibit intense anxiety around food, for example, becoming very dysregulated when the food looks different, or when it is served at a slightly different time. Children may compete for resources, for example taking all of the balls they see, even though there are enough balls for all of the children present to have one with which to play. Children may fixate on who has what, or on keeping score. Their bodies may become tight and tense—on alert. They may literally fight for resources, whether those be food, toys, time, or something else.

In the face of scarcity, stress hormones may rush through the body. Cortisol and adrenaline may make the child edgy (Sweeney, 2022). The child may be fidgety, or impatient. Some children may cling to adults and become extremely needy. Some may self-isolate and refuse help (Marter, 2023). Others may be come perfectionistic, intent on making everything “just right” in an attempt to self-soothe.

Some children collapse in the face of perceived scarcity. They may become despairing or hopeless. They may cease trying to access resources at all, acting as if “paralyzed” (Sweeney, 2022). Research shows that perceived scarcity limits decision-making abilities and can actually lower IQ test scores (Brennan, 2021; Vendantam, 2017). Parents and caregivers know that children who want things are not fully focused on the present, but rather have tunnel vision focused on what they think they need or want.

How can caregivers and parents help children change their mindset?

Individuals with abundance mindset tend to be much more successful than those with a scarcity mindset. Abundance mindset is the idea that resources are ample and sufficient (Zimmerman, 2016). It generates proactivity, rather than reactivity. It helps children remain more regulated on a more regular basis.

The first step to creating abundance mindset is to ensure that children have ample resources, and to see that these resources are, in fact, plentiful. Trust-Based Relational Intervention practitioner Amanda Purvis (n.d.) suggests making snacks available every two hours and having water on hand. Mike Berry (2019) suggests making extra time to be with children, so that they do not feel alone. Other ideas can include having children help put away groceries and toiletries, or counting the number of items accessible. Remember that the scarcity brain has “’tunnel vision’” (Brennan 2021). The antidote is to widen the frame of reference.

Cultivating abundance occurs more readily when children are focused on the present, not the present lack, but the present moment. This is because many fears of scarcity relate to future survival. Practices to cultivate presence increase connection to the body and cultivate awareness (Brav, n.d.). These might include deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. Caregivers and parents might also model gratitude, which raises awareness of current resources (Cleveland Clinic, 2022). Adults can encourage win-win situations, where everyone can get something, even if not exactly what they want (Brav, n.d.). The goal is not to capitulate to the child’s every want, but rather to help the child see that care is sufficient, ample, and adequate.

Conclusion.

Kids from hard places may not recover from scarcity mindset quickly. They may often want and need more than they are given. They may need a lot of repetition to understand the concept of abundance. Brains are plastic and they do grow, and caregivers and parents have a role in that growth. Caregivers and parents just need to see that they are abundantly capable of working towards change.

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References

Berry, M. (2019, December 17). How to manage your child’s food insecurity. The Honestly Adoption Company. https://honestlyadoption.com/how-to-manage-your-childs-food-insecurity/

Brav, J. (n.d.). Beyond a scarcity mindset. Radiant Wholeness Healing. https://www.radiantwholenesshealing.com/beyond-scarcity-mindset/

Brennan, D. (2021, October 25). What is scarcity mentality? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-scarcity-mentality

Cleveland Clinic. (2022, November 30). Scarcity mindset: Causes and how to overcome it. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/scarcity-mindset/

Heshmat, S. (2015, April 2). The scarcity mindset. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201504/the-scarcity-mindset

Marter, J. (2023, March 24). Scarcity mindset: What it is, causes, & how to overcome it. Choosing Therapyhttps://www.choosingtherapy.com/scarcity-mindset/

Purvis, A. (n.d.). Starting small: Nutrition and hydration. The Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development. https://child.tcu.edu/nutrition-and-hydration/

Sweeney, E. (2022, December 16). 14 signs you’re stuck in a scarcity mindset. Men’s Health. https://www.menshealth.com/health/a42268136/14-signs-youre-stuck-in-a-scarcity-mindset/

Vedantam, S. (2017, March 23). How the ‘scarcity mindset’ can make problems worse. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2017/03/23/521195903/how-the-scarcity-mindset-can-make-problems-worse

Zimmerman, A. (2016, August 12). Discover the 7 key traits of an ‘abundance mindset.’ Inc. https://www.inc.com/angelina-zimmerman/discover-the-7-key-traits-of-an-abundant-mindset.html

 

References

Berry, M. (2019, December 17). How to manage your child’s food insecurity. The Honestly Adoption Company. https://honestlyadoption.com/ how-to-manage-your-childs-food-insecurity/

Brav, J. (n.d.). Beyond a scarcity mindset. Radiant Wholeness Healing. https://www.radiantwholenes shealing.com/beyond-scarcity-mindset/

Brennan, D. (2021, October 25). What is scarcity mentality? WebMD. https://www.webmd. com/mental-health/what-is-scarcity-mentality

Cleveland Clinic. (2022, November 30). Scarcity mindset: Causes and how to overcome it. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/ scarcity-mindset/

Heshmat, S. (2015, April 2). The scarcity mindset. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ us/blog/science-choice/201504/the-scarcity-mindset

Marter, J. (2023, March 24). Scarcity mindset: What it is, causes, & how to overcome it. Choosing Therapyhttps://www.choosingtherapy. com/scarcity-mindset/

Purvis, A. (n.d.). Starting small: Nutrition and hydration. The Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development. https://child.tcu.edu/nutrition -and-hydration/

Sweeney, E. (2022, December 16). 14 signs you’re stuck in a scarcity mindset. Men’s Health. https://www.menshealth.com/ health/a42268136/14-signs-youre-stuck-in-a-scarcity-mindset/

Vedantam, S. (2017, March 23). How the ‘scarcity mindset’ can make problems worse. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2017/ 03/23/521195903/how-the-scarcity-mindset-can-make-problems-worse

Zimmerman, A. (2016, August 12). Discover the 7 key traits of an ‘abundance mindset.’ Inc. https://www.inc.com/ angelina-zimmerman/discover-the-7-key-traits-of-an-abundant-mindset.html