Squelching the 'Gimmes' in Kids Ages 6-10


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Remember begging your parents for Care Bears, Simon or leg warmers? Now our children want 21st-century versions of these fads, as well as electronic games and gadgets. With ads bombarding them daily, it seems there are more opportunities than ever for a case of the "I wants" or the gimmes.

'But everyone has one'

While this refrain can be frustrating, parents must help their children navigate this stage of life. "Parents should not indulge every wish," says Teresa Greco, licensed clinical social worker with Lucy Daniels Center Family Guidance Service.

Greco recommends that you explain kindly and rationally why you will not purchase an item. She suggests telling your child something like: "We feel that unlimited texting and a cell phone is not appropriate for you now, but you can blame us or come up with an excuse to tell your friends. When you are 'such and such' age you can get one."

"Parents should also have empathy for what it's like to experience peer pressure and attempt to accommodate realistic requests, since fitting in is an essential part of development," Greco says.

Katie and Glen Smith of Cary recently began letting their daughters, Elaine, 10, and Kira, 5, have faddish items. "If it is something I don't have a problem with, if it is not too expensive, and if it's relatively harmless or isn't total fluff, I consider getting it," Smith says. However, they won't purchase an item if they consider it inappropriate.

Stand firm to repeated requests

Children ages 6 to 10 are not likely to have a tantrum while shopping, although it could happen. Before going to a store, or if there is an upcoming gift-giving occasion, explain what you will and will not buy and stick to the plan, Greco says.

"The critical element in keeping away the 'gimmes' is not to give in during a tantrum," Greco says. "Empathize with your child's interest in getting a toy or candy, especially given the great displays in stores." She suggests encouraging your child to browse and make a wish list for later use.

Smith sets expectations for how much they will spend and gives her daughters choices: If they want a certain item, it will mean not getting something else.

Parents could encourage their children to save money for something they really want. This will teach money management and perhaps patience.

Smith says her girls don't make a scene in stores, in part because "they know I will do what I 'threaten' to do." She once walked out of a grocery store, leaving a nearly full cart, when Elaine, then 2, had a tantrum. (Smith alerted the manager to the situation.)

Smith tries to respond calmly to repeated requests. "If it doesn't really show that it bothers me, it is much less of a big deal," she says. "Of course, this only goes so far sometimes, and I mishandle the situation, as parents famously do."

"What is most important is that parents make an effort not to consistently give in to selfish behavior and encourage children to think outside of themselves — to consider their needs as well as the needs of others," Greco says.

Model unselfish behavior

To help children shift from entitlement to unselfishness, parents need to model the behavior they want emulated.

"Your child takes cues from you," Greco says. "If you think of others and model compassion and giving as well as receiving, so will your child. Also, don't be alarmed if your child doesn't want to give. Selfish desires are human, especially in children whose task it is to still learn and grow."

Smith says she tries to show her daughters the joy it brings others when they perform simple gestures like holding a door, giving away what they don't need or listening respectfully.

"Unselfishness is more than just giving things away. It is considering the effects of your actions on the people and things around you, and not behaving as if you are in a vacuum," Smith says.

The Smiths try to show their daughters there are different ways to give. "We enjoy making cards and gifts for special occasions rather than giving store-bought gifts. When able, we give food to those in need. Helping animals is a core value to us," she says.

Keep at it

Giving and altruistic behavior is shaped over time, Greco says. "Not all children want to give up their birthday presents, and that should be expected and is OK. It is a unique trait for children to instinctively put others first, but parents can instill good values in any child," she says. "An ongoing dialogue about how to share and give is essential and should unfold naturally at appropriate times."

Smith has found that her older daughter, Elaine, readily helps others and looks after their well-being. Modeling unselfish behavior may not appear to work at first, but if you plant the seed and nurture it, amazing things will happen.

Cathy Downs is a freelance writer who lives in Cary with her husband and sons.

Serving Others Throughout the Year

Teresa Greco, a licensed clinical social worker, recommends the following activities to encourage caring throughout the year:

  • Help prepare and take a meal to a sick neighbor.
  • Participate in a food, clothing or toy collection; let your child help choose items.
  • Ask children to make and sign their own thank-you notes for gifts received.
  • Ask for their ideas in helping others, such as donating clothes, books or toys; raising money for a nonprofit organization; or sponsoring a child overseas.
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