“I want it! Can I have it? I want it NOW!”
Regardless of how articulate your teen or toddler may be, most parents are familiar with variations of this demand. When we hear this from our kids we’re inclined to quickly pronounce, “No!” and the fight or flight game is on. The two options we’ve given our kids are to 1) give in or 2) dig in and fight. When our kids give in, it’s not because they understand our logic or reasoning, it’s because they know they can’t win the fight. More often, however, they dig in and the power struggle intensifies.
The truth is, whether kids give in or not, simply pronouncing “No!” misses a great opportunity to help a child learn responsibility and wisdom, and our quick, firm refusal may also provoke an even stronger compulsion to get stuff as a way of feeling significant.
So consider this approach instead:
- Reflect: Identify what your child is feeling and wanting to make sure you understand and they feel understood.
- Validate: Find something with which you can connect or agree. This does not mean you agree/grant the request; it just means you find a way to connect with the desire for it.
- Ask: Use thoughtful questions to help your child take responsibility for either working toward obtaining the item themselves, or finding an alternative way to be content.
This approach will help both of you be more rational and respectful. Whether it’s demanding more Legos, the candy by the checkout aisle, or the newest basketball shoes on the market, here’s how the interaction might look:
Child: Mom, I want that. I REALLY want it! I want it NOW!
Mom, with a gentle and understanding smile: Wow, these Legos seems really important to you. (Reflect) I’m glad you like to build things. (Validate). How much does it cost? (Ask)
When kids are asked sincere questions, not ones that make them feel trapped or accused, it invites them to think with the rational left side of their brain instead of the primitive “fight or flight” part of their brain. Kids accustomed to using the “fight or flight” system 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 sets! Everyone else has one!
At this point, parents usually start feeling frustrated. The new approach isn’t working! But it’s easier for parents to stay calm when they remember that it will be hard at first. They can even take their own time out if needed. And the conversation can continue:
Mom, taking a deep breath: I understand. Your voice is raised and I can see you’re getting tense (Reflect). I know, because I’ve felt that way too. You feel REALLY determined to have this thing (Validate). Would you like to find out how much it costs so we can start making a plan about it? (Ask).
This approach helps kids of all ages feel respected, even if they don’t get what they want, and even if it feels completely unfair to them. Once they feel respected, they’ll likely be more thoughtful and less reactive. It could go so many different ways. But with a calm and level-headed parent working toward the goals to reflect, validate, and ask, the child is less likely to feel trapped into selfish tantruming or fighting, and more likely to think before getting demanding!
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