“Mommy, I want it! Can I have it? I want it NOW!”
When we hear this sort of thing from our kids, knowing that what they want is not really something they need, we’re inclined to quickly pronounce, “No!” Some kids may accept this answer, but most will quickly escalate into a power struggle.
Either way, to quickly pronounce “No!” is to miss a great opportunity to help a child learn responsibility and wisdom. It tends instead to create in them an even stronger compulsion to get stuff as a way of feeling significant.
But you can help them feel significant in much more constructive ways helping them learn to think it through for themselves. This can be hard work at first, but it pays off great dividends in the long run.
Here’s how we suggest navigating:
Start not with a quick “No!” but with observation, validation, and questions. This helps both child and parent become more rational. Then, don’t just mandate how it will go, but help the child into the thinking by laying out options and choices. Like this:
Child: “Mom, I want that. I REALLY want it! I want it NOW!”
Mom: (with gentle and understanding smile) “Wow, this seems really important to you. (observation and validation). How much does it cost? (question)
Note: when kids are asked sincere questions, not ones that make them feel trapped or accused, it invites them to think with their rational left brain, not their emotive right brain. Kids accustomed to going through these challenges in their emotive brain are usually harder to teach, so persevere! If you can learn to encourage them to use their rational brain, these struggles will be greatly minimized.
Child: “I don’t know. I just WANT it. I NEED it to go with my other things!”
Mom: (at this point, mom starts feeling frustrated. The new “trick” she learned about reflection, validation, empathy and questions isn’t working. But she remembers that the parent coach said, “it will be hard at first. just keep working at staying calm, and take your own time out if needed.” Just remembering this helped Mom calm down. When calm she thought more clearly. She took a deep breath and continued) “I understand. Your voice is raised and I can see you’re getting tense (observation). I know, because I’ve felt that way too, that you feel REALLY determined to have this thing (validation). So why don’t you find out how much it costs so we can start making a plan about it if you still want it. (options and choices).
Now the ball is in the child’s court. It could go any of a thousand different ways. But with a calm and level-headed parent working toward the goals of reflection, validation, and empathy, the child is far less likely to feel trapped into tantrumming or intensity to get his way. Then, instead of just telling him your logic for why he can’t have this thing, you can ask questions and give options and choices to help him discover this logic for himself. It might go something like this:
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Mom: “So what’s the first thing you have to do when you REALLY want something?” (question)
Child: “Find out how much it costs?”
Mom: “That’s right! (validation) And you also have to know how much you have to spend. How much do you have to spend?”
Child: “I don’t have any money. So you buy it!”
Mom: (with a smile) “You are very persistent. You could make a great salesman some day (validation). But from now on, if you want things, we need to make plans together about how the money will work. When would you like to start making those plans?” (question with choices and options)
This is just a snapshot of what is likely to be a full album of scenarios parents go through on the way to teaching kids to delay gratification and learn the function and value of money. In the simplest of terms, when parents focus on observation, validation, questions, choices and options, they find their kids growing in wisdom.
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