There are two times in the whole year when my kids go on a litany of “I want’s”. These are their birthdays and Christmas. They tap into the age-old tradition of gift-giving and suddenly they have reams and reams worth of gift suggestions you never knew they even had a clue about until now. Of course, it doesn’t help that the television flashes ad after ad of all these innovative, new, varied, and expensive toys. Even my kids, whom I try my very best to raise simply, succumb to the desire to own these toys. And this is a tough thing to fulfill being a single mom. But besides that, I really do not believe that they should have everything they want, any time they want it. I think it builds character to wait for a toy, to earn a toy, and to know that sometimes you can’t get the toy. And I have clinical support for this belief, apparently.
“ Kids who get whatever they want don’t develop the critical life skills of self-discipline” David Walsh, Ph.D. Author of No: Why Kids- of All Ages- Need to Hear It and Ways Parent Can Say It.
So here are some tips I’ve taken to doing to help my kids learn some self-control, and to save me from the needless and endless expense of too much toy shopping.
1. Earn your Toy
My 5-year old son really wants a Wii. Now, where we live, the kids don’t normally have Wii’s or PSP’s. But my nephew, who is younger incidentally, has a Wii and so my son knows exactly what this is and all the virtual fun it can bring. This is a very expensive toy though and not something I think a 5-year old should have yet. In fact, I am trying to limit their computer game exposure for the simple reasons that I want them to love reading and playing outside. I believe these activities enrich their minds and bodies. Reading allows them to stretch their imagination and creativity as well as communication skills because they learn a lot of different vocabulary words from these books. Playing outside will keep them agile, fit, strong, and will build their immune system as well. It is said that one of the ways to fight a cold is to get exercise because it is through physical activity that blood circulates and disease fighting cells are made.
So I told him:
That a Wii is an expensive toy that requires some prerequisite behavior. First, he has to show me he can take care of the toys he currently has meaning putting them away properly after he plays with them and making sure he doesn’t intentionally break them. Second, he has to show me that he can stop playing and eat or do his homework when he needs to. Finally, he has to earn the toy through a combination of good behavior and his allowance. Granted, he has a tiny, tiny allowance, being only 5 years old, but still, it teaches him how to save.
2. Look at the root of the desire
My daughter likes toys in general but nothing really in particular. Thankfully, she is growing up fairly satisfied with having one of one kind of toy. This does not include her true favorite which are bags and shoes but that is an entirely different post. Anyway, because of this, I am surprised when she accosts me with a barrage of toy requests.
This is what I do:
I sit down and listen to her and see if she really wants the toy for the toy itself. She can articulate why she wants the toy if it is really something she wants. Often it is usually parroting her brother or just the act of collecting things. If it is the former, then I have to sit down and look at the request. I have to see that it is age-appropriate and not too expensive. If it is, then I explain why she can’t have it. This usually works. If it is the latter, then I have to redirect her need to collect. So far, I’ve redirected her efforts towards creating cards from art paper. These she can collect all she wants and all year-round at that!
3. ‘No’ means No.
Sometimes, even the best efforts just fall by the wayside. These are the times when you have to look for your inner Hercules and stand your ground. My son keeps going on and on about getting this very expensive train track set that he doesn’t need because he already has 4 others. So finally I’ve told him that we won’t be getting it because he already has enough train track sets and that our budget would be better spent on something he doesn’t have or in saving for a rainy day. Naturally, he was upset when I told him this.
“Kids this age aren’t developmentally ready to understand that parents make and enforce rules to protect, not punish, them”. Dr. Walsh.
The thing that matters is that the kids see that you have values and that these are important and that you stand by them. These will be the values they will emulate themselves when they grow older.
More Helpful Tips:
1. Limit TV time.
Like it or not, kids get 80% of their ideas from what they watch on TV. Just as the take in and copy expressions and behavior, so do they take in what consumerism tells them they should want and have. Limiting TV time or popping in appropriate shows on your DVD will expose them to the good values in these shows and limit all the spending and collecting desires.
2. Explain things Clearly
When my son or daughter wants something, I talk to them about it. I asks them why they want it and I explain why I think it is not a good idea just yet. My son had adjusted well to this form of communication, so much so that I often hear him telling his play mates why he doesn’t have a certain toy, when he can get it, and all with ease and no acrimony.
3. If you must take them to the mall with you, reserve toy shopping for when they are at the play area or in the library.
Choose your battles. Remember that these are kids and that sometimes, no amount of explanation will calm a child who literally sees the toy of their dreams an arm’s reach away.
These tips have really helped me keep my kids tantrums in check when considering the presents they want this Christmas. I really think that these also apply to other aspects of life. It teaches them discipline, control, how to save and budget, and how to handle different, difficult emotions. If you get around to trying any of the tips, let me know how it goes.
How do you teach “no” to your children?