By Ron Huxley, LMFT
In today’s commercial society kids are bombarded with “buy me” messages. Parents, trying to live frugally, are faced with their child’s demands for expensive toys and clothes. In addition, many parents feel the pressure to keep up with other parents who buy their children everything and may even feel shame for not being able to do the same for their children. The reality is that you can give your child “wishes” even though you can’t or choose not to give them all their “wants”:
Wants List is a parenting tool that keeps a lid on children’s endless list of wants. A child’s want of a new bike, toy, or clothes item is, in itself, not wrong. Everyone has things they would like to have. But when these wants get out of control, parents need to limit their children’s excessive cravings. The demand for things often increases between the ages of 7 to 10. This is due developmentally to the cognitive changes in a child that allows them to be more aware of other circumstances that are different from their own. The result is often alot of comparisons between what one does and does not have compared to other children.
One way of dealing with these demands is to ignore them. Viewing a child’s wants as a cognitive exercise of comparisons and not feeling the need to respond to these cravings is one way that parents can cope with a child’s wants. Another way of dealing with a child’s wants is to make a family “want list.” This tool allows wants to be expressed openly without any feeling by the parent to fulfill them all. Whenever a child states that they simply “must have the hot, new computer game” or the “colorful, new doll” have the child write the thing on the want list and place it where everyone can see it, like on the refrigerator. Instead of reacting to a child’s demands, the parent can redirect the child to “Go, write it down on the want list.” Parents can put things down on the want list too. This demonstrates that parents often make do without things they want as well. Use the want list as next years birthday or Christmas list but don’t be surprised if the child no longer wants those items anymore.
Wishes are a parenting talk tool that acknowledges children’s wants without giving into their demands. Everyone has needs, wants, and desires. For example, hunger is a need, a turkey sandwich is a want, and a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings is a desire. Let’s face it, most parents cannot give their child all of their wants all of the time. Even if they could, it would probably be a bad idea. Unfortunately, children may have to settle for getting a need filled instead of a want or a desire. Using the food example, the child may have to settle for the turkey sandwich or whatever leftovers are left in the refrigerator instead of the full turkey dinner.
Wishes are unique in that they acknowledge a child’s desires as healthy and valid even when they can not have them. For example, a child who desires to have a pair of two hundred-dollar tennis shoes may have to settle for a less expensive pair. When children realize they cannot have the expensive shoes they often sulk, tantrum, or become verbally abusive to their parent who “never does anything nice for them.” To avoid this power struggle, parents can state, “Wow! Those are great looking shoes. And wouldn’t it really impress your friends when you show up at school with those shoes. I bet you could jump at least 8 feet straight up in the air with those shoes. But unfortunately I only can afford those shoes over there. Which one of those shoes would you like?” Another example would be in the situation where a parent and a child are on a trip and the child begins whining for something to drink and nothing is available for miles. The parents might use this tool to fantasize what it would be like to drink a tall, cold, thirst-quenching, sparkling, glass of soda. The parent can use humor as a parenting tool here. The actual desire can be met now in fantasy and later when they get near a store.