I am always interested in what my children say they “want”. I enjoy tracing the want back to the root of the desire. Is it because all the other kids have it? Is it because they saw a commercial that influenced their decision? Maybe they came up with it on their own. However these wants come about, I always inquire as to why just to hear their response.
Often I will ask them if they would still choose the item they wanted…if they were the only person on earth. Usually it stumps them because most of what people do is find and want things that will either make them a part of a group or make them stand out in some way. So as they grow up, will they become independent thinkers, or followers? I believe the answer is yes. They will be independent in some ways and follow the crowd in some ways, but the million dollar question is who will set the bar for how much it is ok to follow and how much it is ok to be independent? Parents will.
As a parent, it does not matter what we decide to say or do, our children will find out. Most will have similar behaviors in some way as their parents. So how can we, as imperfect parents teach them how to have a good balance when it comes to what they “want”? I have found one way that seems to stop the wanting very much, and that is to teach children each day to name the things they have that really are important. Expose them to things and people in much more difficult circumstances, people that would love to have their life.
When I was early in my career working with teens, I saw my young sons were going through some testing periods, trying to push the set boundaries and complaining that the other kids have this or that. I decided to bring them to work a few afternoons when they were done at school or when I had a day off. I would not say anything, usually I would make an excuse why I needed to stop at the facility I worked at for expelled, violent offenders. A few times they would ask me what was wrong with the kids or why they acted out so much. This was my chance. I casually told them these kids for the most part did not have a father or mother to teach them social skills, or even right from wrong. If they did have parents around, they were learning from them how to do very bad things.
I continued on in different areas of life with them. I brought them to some rough places and towns that I worked in, and they were mostly silent as we would finish our times. I exposed them to children with very severe developmental disabilities, and had them help me care for them. This went on when I could, for a year or so, and I noticed a change in their desires. It was not always so much about them, but others. Now they are grown, and I feel confident if anyone needed help that they would be right there. Had I let them ramble on for years about what everyone else has, they may be still wanting, wanting, wanting. I believe when children are trained to realize how fortunate they are, trained to be thankful for a healthy body, a stable family, food, a safe place to live that they will be positive thinkers. People who make messages out of messes, and turn tests into testimonies.
Ask a child you are raising to name 5 things that they like in their life. If they have a problem, it may be time to re-train their brain! If they complain about what they do NOT have, show them what they do NOT have! Let them see the less fortunate, the others that are worried about food tonight. Sometimes a brief trip to a homeless shelter to help out or a senior center to talk can change the heart back to warm as they navigate through this icy cold hearted world we live in. Lets not let these kids be products of their environment, but products of their parents who instill core values in them from the get go!