Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Toys: Overindulgence or an Opportunity for Effective Parenting

by Jane Nelsen, Author and co-author of the Positive Discipline Series, from the book Parents Who Love Too Much

Every Christmas, advertising creates a shortage for the latest toy rage. Remember the year it was Furbys? (That was the "good old days, when a popular toy was $29 to $59. Now they cost iPods, xBoxes, iPhones —items that cost hundreds of dollars.) And what do parents do? Anything they can to make sure their little darling is not deprived. They get up at 4:00 a.m. to stand in line at a toy store with a limited supply, or they pay 10 times the retail price to scalpers who advertise on Internet auctions or in local newspapers.

Parents to stop and think about the long-term results of what they do. What happens when they want and all-terrain bike or a new sports car convertible? When parents are indulgent and satisfy every demand, what are they teaching their children?

1. If you want it, you should have it — now.
2. Let materialism control your life.
3. Don't evaluate advertising commercials. Just do whatever they suggest.
4. You can't deal with disappointment in life — and I'll make sure you don't have to.

When parents overindulge, children are not deprived of the toy, but they are deprived of an opportunity to learn valuable life lessons. When parents avoid over indulgence, children can learn:

1. What I feel is always okay, but what I do is not always okay. I can learn to feel what I feel, and then to evaluate what can be done.
2. It is okay to want, but I don't "have" to have.
3. I can deal with disappointment. I may not like it, but I will survive.
4. When a goal is worth pursuing, I can help create a plan to achieve the goal that involves my participation: to save my allowance, to do odd jobs to earn money, etc.
5. My parents will listen to me, but they won't indulge me.
6. My parents have faith in me to deal with life problems and opportunities.
7. I am capable.

There are several parenting skills parents can use to help children learn these important life lessons. The first is reflective listening.

Reflective Listening

Reflective listening means to listen without fixing. Validate your child's feelings by reflecting back everything she says until she feels understood. You can avoid sounding like a parrot by reflecting the feelings you are hearing as well as the words.

Child: "I want a Furby."
Parent: "You would really like to have a Furby."

You might be surprised how often this is enough, especially with younger children. The older children get, the longer the conversation might last.

Child: "Furby is so cute."
Parent: "You really like this toy."
Child: "Everyone is getting one."
Parent: "You think all your friends and everyone else will have one."

If reflective listening doesn't seem to be enough, you might try asking curiosity questions. This can help your child enhance her thinking and problem-solving skills; and can leave her with the feeling and belief, "I am capable."

Curiosity Questions.

What, why, and how questions are "curiosity questions" and should not be asked unless you curious about what your child thinks instead of using the questions to manipulate your child to think like you think. Your attitude and tone of voice are the keys to effectiveness with this parenting tool.

Child: "I want a Furby."
Parent: "Why do you want one?" (Children are very suspicious of "why" questions unless they perceive that you are really interested in their answer.)
Child: "Because they are cute and everyone is getting one."
Parent: "How do you know that?"
Child: "I saw one on TV, and everyone is talking about them."
Parent: "Lots of toys are cute. What do you think has made this one so special?"
Child, after a pause to think about it: "Maybe because of all the advertising, or maybe because everyone says they are so hard to find."
Parent: "What is the purpose of advertising?"
Child: "To make people buy things."
Parent: "Can advertisers 'make' people do things? Can they control people?"
Child: "They can't control me."

Of course, this conversation could go as many directions as there are children. One child concluded, "Last year Tickle Me Elmo was hard to find. Now they are lots cheaper. I think I'll wait til next year to get a Furby."

Brainstorming for Solutions that Involve the Child

Another child concluded what and how questions with, "They can't make me buy one, but I still want one." His father then engaged his son in a brainstorming session to help him figure out what he needed to do to get one. After brainstorming several possibilities, he decided he would find extra jobs to earn the money and then get his 23 year old aunt to stand in a line with him.
It would not be helpful for a parent to say, "If you want this toy, get a job and buy it yourself." Brainstorming is effective only when the child is very actively involved in the process and then chooses the suggestion that would work best for him.

Decide What You Will Do and What You Won't Do

Too many parents have forgotten how to use this very important tool. They act as though they should feel guilty if they aren't willing to spend more than they can afford, or feel guilty about saying no when they can afford it. In either case, they make the mistake of overindulgence.
Considering the negative long-range results, it is important to avoid overindulgence. It is important to decide what you will and won't do and then to kindly, firmly, and respectfully inform your children of your decisions. If they get angry or disappointed, use reflective listening to validate their feelings. This may be more difficult for you than it is for your child.

In many ways it is much easier for parents to just buy the toy (over indulgence). This is usually done in the name of love. Most parents don't want their children to "suffer." It might help if you remember that they will suffer even more during their adult lives if they believe they should have everything they want —now. Overindulgence is a very unloving thing to do to children. When parents overindulge their children they are choosing ease instead of an opportunity to help their children learn important life skills and develop important self-esteem concepts such as, "I am capable, self-reliant, a good thinker, and a good problem-solver."

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