Once kids learn to talk and learn that their parents are capable of acquiring new possessions using this magical stuff called money, they generally begin clamoring to own everything they see that is even remotely appealing. Every trip to the store becomes a constant barrage of, “Mama! Can we have peaches? . . . I want these cookies and those cookies! . . . Look, tinsel toothpicks!!!” Aargh. A parent quickly burns out on patiently explaining why we are not going to buy that, only to be interrupted by a demand for something else. It’s easy to see the kid as greedy and ungrateful!
I’ve tried saying things like, “If you ask for anything else, I’m not going to buy any of the things you want!!” Inevitably, he forgets and yammers at me about wanting some other thing, and then I have to make good on that threat . . . even if some of the things he wants are practical, bargain-priced items I hadn’t noticed until he asked for them! That doesn’t work out so well, but there’s another strategy that usually does work:
I say, “I’ll keep that in mind,” in my pleasant reasonable voice. This makes my son feel heard without promising that he’ll get the thing. Often, once he feels heard, he will shut up about that particular thing. In the ensuing calm, I can consider whether I might actually buy that thing . . . and if he’s soon asking for something else, well, then the first thing must be not really that important to him. But if he continues to study the first thing, pointing out its advantages and potential uses, I can do one of two things:
- I can decide to buy it. If it’s a nutritious food, item of clothing, or other useful object, then he’s helping with the shopping. If it’s a toy or something I hadn’t planned to purchase, I say, “That is a special treat. I am not going to buy more than one special treat today, and if you nag for other things, I might decide not to buy that after all.” Then I have to stick to that–although I typically give a brief warning, “No nagging!” if he starts up again, and put back the treat only if he nags persistently, because he is surrounded by tempting merchandise and that makes it difficult to avoid mentioning items of interest.
- I can explain why I’m not going to buy it. (If I’m willing to let him have it, just not willing to spend money on it right now, I tell him to ask for it for his birthday or Christmas.) Avoiding this explanation except when he’s persistently interested in something helps me avoid feeling worn out with defensive explaining, and that makes my word choice and tone of voice less likely to sound like, “Of course I’m not going to buy such a stupid thing!! What’s wrong with you?!”
I decided this approach must be working pretty well one evening at home when he was three years old. He was looking at a doo-dad catalog and announcing that he wanted just about every thing in it, while I was trying to read something else and responding with an annoying “hmmm” or not at all. Finally he said, “Mama! Will you keep that in mind?”
“Oh, yes, I will keep it in mind.”
I never bought any of the things from the catalog, yet he was perfectly happy about it. He just wanted to express his momentary interest in those nose-hair clippers and know that I had heard him.
It works for me! Here are some other strategies that work for me as a parent:
Remember that he’s life-sized but really only very small.
Use the POD Concept.
Be smart about offering choices.
Let him show me the way he usually does it.
Give him a second chance.
Relate to the Mad that he feels.
Let him keep some little stuff.
Throw the ball uphill.
Think out loud.