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How to Battle the “I Want” Syndrome

My son is four and has been attending preschool for the past two years. When my husband and I were the sole caregivers, it was much easier to shelter him from consumer influences and keep his desire for endless amounts of stuff at bay. However, as he becomes more immersed in the school “culture” and makes more friends, he has started to notice more and more what other people have. And sometimes, this results in his yearning to have what they have.

In short, the “I Wants” have hit our house hard over the past year, and will most likely continue until we boot him out of our house after high school (and maybe even longer than that…). So I’ve had to think creatively about how to counter the constant “I Want…” reasonably and without resorting to “Because I Said So” every time!. Out of necessity and the preservation of my sanity, I’ve developed a few techniques I use when explaining that we can’t always get what we want, in four year old terms.

Teach in Terms Your Child Understands

Translate the value of money in terms your child understands. For a long time after my first was born, I would say things to him that he found meaningless because I wasn’t used to thinking in “child” terms. Telling a two year old that we were leaving a playdate in five minutes wasn’t giving him any information that he could understand. Why I was befuddled when a tantrum ensued when I brought him his coat every time is beyond me. But luckily I’ve learned a few things in the ensuing two years [3], and one of them is that it’s important to break down abstract concepts into concrete terms that are applicable to my kids’ lives.

When he wants something, I use items he already has to explain what it costs. We still talk about money, but I put it into terms of “That robot your friend has and you want would be like giving up five of your matchbox cars and your favorite dump truck, is it still something that is important to you?”

Teach About Choices

If your child is old enough, you can give your child some of the responsibility for making choices. Giving your child an allowance can help with this. If your child wants something, show them what it costs in terms of weeks of allowance or what they may have saved already. This ties directly into putting money into terms that they understand. We are working on a sticker system to illustrate the passage of weeks for my son and give him an idea of how long he would need to “work” to afford something he wants. Oftentimes, the passage of time cures the urge of instant gratification and he decides he didn’t want that item as much as he thought he did!

Another big concept we are working hard on is instituting a toy, game, or other appropriate limit; and enforce a one in, one out rule. If your child wants to bring a new “something” into the house, they have to give up something else. This cuts down on clutter and teaches your child to make choices and trade-offs. Are they willing to trade the new for the old?

Teach Them How To Give

Finally, introduce the value of giving. Instead of agreeing to your child’s whims wholeheartedly, help them make choices to give to others. Taking advantage of a program such as Toys For Tots, and explaining to your child that there are others who don’t have toys and you are fortunate enough to be able to give toys to them. This may help your child understand that not everyone has the advantages they have. Instead of taking your child shopping for themself, take them shopping for something to give to a child less fortunate than they are. Understanding the power of sharing and giving to others is a lesson you can learn at any age.

Battling the constant “I Wants” can be tough. It is hard to find the line between not indulging your child’s every whim and teaching them to understand how to make thoughtful choices. With time and effort, your child may learn to save their wants for what is truly meaningful to them, and your ears may get a little break.

(Photo: luschei [4])