If you are a parent, you are already well aware of how challenging it can be to explain to a young child why they can’t have something.
Acknowledging your child’s desire respectfully doesn’t mean you have to buy them the item they are requesting. Wish lists are a fantastic, simple way to help your children learn to make choices and prioritize while practicing their literacy and numeracy skills at the same time.
For our family, the creation of the wish list started almost four years ago when I read a specific story in How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (this is definitely one of the best parenting books I’ve ever read.) One of the examples in the book talked about how a family successfully dealt with a full blown tantrum in public. The family had gone to a museum and like many site seeing places do, the museum had a gift shop that the family had to pass through when they exited. Unfortunately the four year old son wasn’t able to cope with not getting the dinosaur he wanted and to his parents horror, threw himself on the ground screaming. As people watched, the mother had the brilliant idea to pull out a pencil and paper and start writing. She wrote down what he wanted as she spoke with him about it and he calmed right down. This story stuck with me, I thought it was quite interesting and knew it may be very useful in the future!
Fast forward two years. Max, my five year old son was three at the time, and had seriously entered the “I want” stage. The problem was he literally said “I want that” to every toy he saw because he didn’t understand the concepts of time, space or money! It’s understandable that little children want all the wonderful fuzzy, cute, fast, fun toys they see in advertisements and stores but we have to teach them delayed gratification for their long-term well being and our own sanity!
Why the excitement often wanes after a purchase
As is discussed in Your Money and Your Brain, by Jason Zweig, anticipation of a reward is very powerful. He quotes neurologist Emrah Duzel as stating “The anticipation of a reward is more important for memory formation than is the receipt of reward.” This helps explain why so often we see children who wanted something “really badly” and barely pay attention to it after they receive it. The fun was in the anticipation and often the toy doesn’t live up to the thoughts and dreams in the child’s head (same goes for adults!)
So, how was I going to deal with the “I want” stage? I began thinking about the story I had read with the boy at the museum and the powerful calming effect of his mother writing out his desire. I subsequently created a fun looking “wish list” so that we could print out what the “toy of the day” was, why Max wanted it, the price and so on. This way Max knew he was being listened to and there was no upset, he was excited to see the name of the toy on the piece of paper! Secondly, he often forgot about asking for the toy once it was printed on the sheet. Finally, if he continued talking about the item over a time period of months, I knew it would likely make a pretty good gift for his Birthday or Christmas, because it was something he had thought over. It was also a lot more time efficient and enjoyable to write down the name of the toy and discuss it briefly than to try to explain why he couldn’t have it right then or later that day.
Why the wish list works
Acknowledging a child’s feelings in a respectful way is crucial for keeping things on an even keel and definitely makes the atmosphere much more pleasant. Discuss the item and help your child write the name of it down. It will make them feel better because their needs are being addressed in a positive way. Parents who use wish lists tend to find their children become more understanding and realistic about wanting things. Over time, the children think through why they want something and the value of it, as opposed to just asking for it because it looks neat. These steps increase the child’s decision making skills and they learn to prioritize. As children get older, the wish list acts more as a “goal” sheet of things they can save for and achieve on their own.
Please feel free to download the Zela Wela Wish List. I hope you find it useful!
If you like this information, you may also find my new book a valuable tool to read with your children.
The Zela Wela Kids Learn about Needs and Wants helps a parent teach their children a number of important concepts. In the story, Jack, Emma, Mom and Dolly, the dollar fairy, take a trip to the grocery store where together they learn important life lessons like:
* the difference between needs and wants
* why using cash saves you money
* why an “ATM” doesn’t endlessly spit out money
* the importance of tracking your spending
* what a bank account is, and
* how a wish list can help you make good buying decisions and prevent “I want …” tantrums.