Q: I cannot take my son, Yeruchum, to the store without him wanting some object. If we go to the grocery store, he asks for a chocolate bar from the checkout line. In clothing stores, he wants a t-shirt or a new pair of tzitzis, and always finds a tchotchke in the toy store. He usually asks politely and I almost always say yes because the item is inexpensive and we are lucky enough to be able to afford it.
But, I worry. My son clearly does not need everything that he sets his eyes on. He would be fine without his third train yarmulke. So far, we haven’t had an issue when I infrequently say no, but I wonder: should I be saying “no” more?
A: In our culture of conspicuous consumption, it is not unusual for our children to ask for everything they set their eyes on. And, if we are fortunate enough to have the funds to buy them all that their hearts desire, we tend to think, “I can do it, why not?” There are, however, importance values that our children can learn when we set limits.
Psychologist Susan Newman, PhD, author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It — and Mean It — and Stop People-Pleasing Forever, explains the importance of setting limits:
Saying no teaches children important lessons – how to deal with disappointment, how to argue, how to prioritize, and how to strike a balance between work and play – that are essential experiences that aren’t always taught in school. Kids who understand that they can’t always have their way will be more likely to be successful in school, relationships, and their careers.
In other words, by allowing your children to experience disappointment, you are teaching them how to cope with frustration in the future. If you always give them everything they want, you are setting them up to fail in the “real world.”
It’s all about when and how you say no. If the discussion is about an item that your child wants, whether it is junk food from the supermarket or a new toy that all of his friends have, there are several approaches that you can take:
Before going to the store, be clear about what you are buying. Talk to your child about why you are going to the supermarket. Explain, “I need to go to the supermarket to pick up food for dinner this week. We aren’t going to buy any junk food, so please do not ask. The answer will be no.” Alternatively, you can say, “I need to go to the supermarket to pick up food for dinner this week. You can pick out one snack that you would like to take with you to school tomorrow. After that one snack, please do not ask for anything else.” Even if your child throws a fit, you must stand your ground. Otherwise, you are teaching him to expect to always get what he wants.
Allow him to “work” towards a larger present. If there is a large present that your child would like (and Chanukah or his birthday is not coming up), create a chart with chores or tasks that he must complete in order to gain it. This way, he will understand that things do not simply fall into his lap and that sometimes he must earn them.
Teach your child to give. This sounds counterintuitive – your child is asking for something and you are talking about giving? However, when you are not in a toy store, talk to your child (as long as he is old enough to understand) about the less fortunate. Have him pick out several toys that he no longer plays with that he wants to give to others. Then, go with him to a gemach or other tzedakah agency in order to donate them. Of course, don’t drive immediately to the toy store so that he can pick out a new toy. However, in the future, you can feel free to say “yes” every now and then to his requests, while pointing out his generosity in the past.
When you can, giving your child what he asks for can be gratifying for both you and your child. It’s when you consistently fail to say “no” that things can get out of hand. So, follow some easy steps and you will be on your way to teaching your child a new skill – how to function even when things don’t go his way.