What I am about to share is a little bit tricky and requires some judgment on the part of parents. However, it can be a way to appreciate what children wish for without arguing with them about why they shouldn’t have these desires.
Arguing is unhelpful, but here is one thing you can. do
Back in the early 1980s, authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish wrote a best-selling book called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. It has been updated and republished 20 years later and inspired a whole new generation of parents.
The book provides a myriad of suggestions for ways parents can connect with their children to promote strong relationships and emotional health for both parents and children.
In this season of kids wanting things, there are just so many tempting items for them to wish for! Children are often requesting (and even demanding) toys and gadgets they are seeing in ads on television, on social media, and in catalogs.
Many of us can remember longing for some big item we knew our parents were not able to afford, or knew they should not buy a “toy” like a pony, a puppy, a computer, an Xbox, or a big screen television.
However, wishing for things is not isolated to the holiday season.
On a daily basis, children can ask or whine about wanting or needing all kinds of things, and not just material things. “Why does it have to rain today? I wanted to go outside and play with my friends. We had it all planned out!” “Are we there yet? I’m hungry and I can’t sit in this car any longer! I need something to eat now!” “I don’t want to go to bed now. I want to stay up and play with my toys. I’m not tired!”
The authors share a wonderful suggestion that I know saved me many hours of having to endure whining and crying.
Faber and Mazlish suggest giving children their wishes in fantasy.
It is a kind of active listening that acknowledges the specific things a child wants, or changes a child is hoping will happen, and grants those wishes using a child’s ability to be magical in thinking:
- “I wish I had a magic wand that would stop the rain for the whole day so you could play with your friends. Then I could just make it rain at night and the rain wouldn’t bother anyone.”
- “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a special car that had a refrigerator with delicious food we could just grab and eat without having to wait to get home? What would some of the foods be you wish we could have just by pushing a button? What would the special refrigerator look like? Where would it be— on the ceiling of the car or on the back of the seats?”
- “You wish you could just stay up and play and play and not have to go to bed when you don’t want to. I wish I had special powers that could make the clock go back a few hours so you could keep on playing.”
Giving children their wishes in fantasy is a way to show how much you appreciate what they would like to have or see happen.
It respects their wishes without somehow explaining all the reasons why they are being unreasonable, demanding or selfish.
How often do parents respond to children’s wishes by giving them all the reasons their wishes aren’t realistic, trying to explain what the problems are around their wishes and sometimes making suggestions that often are met with angry reactions?
“No one can stop the rain from coming. We just have to find other things to do on rainy days. I’m sure you can think of something else to do.”
It’s hard to focus on other things to do when feeling sad and disappointed.
“I know you’re hungry but I don’t have anything in the car right now. Traffic is especially bad. You’ll just have to think about something else until we get home.”
Now I am both hungry and I feel discounted. How can I think of something else when my tummy is rumbling?
“Children need their sleep so they can grow. Once you lay down and close your eyes will be fast asleep in just a few minutes.”
I seem to be growing just fine. Maybe I don’t want to grow. I just want to play! You don’t understand!
How does giving in fantasy help?
When parents can give children their wishes in fantasy, they can often sidestep some of the negativity that happens when they try to divert, explain, or suggest that a child stop wishing for something.
In this way, children can feel understood and appreciated. They can even have fun becoming creative about magical ways their wishes could be fulfilled.
The tricky part about this is to not overdo it.
If every time a child says they want something, and we answer with wanting to grant their wish in fantasy, they can get annoyed. “Stop telling me what you wish could happen! I already told you what I want and now you can’t give it to me!”
We also don’t want to make it sound like every wish should somehow magically be fulfilled.
It’s a bit of a balancing act to consider if and when to grant wishes in fantasy. At the same time, when done judiciously, a child can feel heard, understood and appreciated. The child will also often relax and enjoy the chance to join their parent in using imagination.
There will be lots of times over the holidays to practice!
Invitation for Reflection
- Can you recall wishing for something and having a parent tell you all the reasons why your wish was impractical or unreasonable? How did that make you feel?
- Remind yourself the next time you hear your child wishing for something, you can easily grant the wish in fantasy without actually having to do anything to make that wish come true. Consider how much easier that could be, and how you might avoid tears or
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside Global Institute