By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
Another concept from famed psychologist Haim Ginott involves giving your child ‘in fantasy’ what he can’t have in reality. Again, I’ve synthesized his work and my own ideas. It is the perfect solution to the question of “How to tell my child I can’t but him what he wants.”
When a child wants something, say, a toy, he wants more than that object alone. He also wants to be heard, listened to and respected. She wants her desires and feelings to be recognized and validated. He wants his struggles and needs to be appreciated and taken seriously. She also wants love and attention. You may not be able to give him the toy, but giving him his wish in a fantasy may well fulfill all the other needs, and that will satisfy him.
I Want a Car!
Let’s say a child wishes you had a family car. “But we live in Manhattan, we don’t need a car, besides there’s too much traffic and no parking. Plus, if we had one, you would quickly become bored with it,” you respond. This is logical and true, but it does not satisfy any of the child’s needs described above.
Instead you could try giving the wish in a fantasy: “I wish I could buy a car for you, in fact I would buy a Lamborghini and we would drive it fast on the highway every Saturday.” “Yeah!” he would say. “And I would buy a Jeep and we would go off-road all day Sundays. I would teach you how to drive and you could drive me everywhere.” “That would be great!” he responds. This shows the child that you recognize and value his burning desire. It makes his wants and feelings important. It shows you take his needs seriously and appreciate his struggle. Spending the time going through the fantasy provides much needed love and attention and makes him feel heard and listened to. In this way, many of his needs will be fulfilled and he won’t feel so keenly the desire for the actual car!
I Want a Sundae!
Let’s say you’re going to the ice cream shop for a cone. Your child insists she wants a huge ice cream sundae. Instead of just saying, “No, only one scoop on a cone,” which leaves her desire invalidated and unheard, give her her wish ‘in fantasy’. “If I could, I would buy you an enormous sundae with 7 different ice cream flavors and 5 different toppings, whipped cream, M&Ms and sprinkles. I wish I could buy you 2 sundaes and you could eat them both at the same time… but I can only get you a cone.” This says to the child, “Your needs and desires are important to us,” “Your feeling that you need a sundae is legitimate.” It helps soothe the frustrated desire. It is emotional first aid.
Show Her You Know How She Feels
Providing empathy, that is, showing a person you know how he feels, is one of the most valuable parenting tools. What a child is experiencing in his emotional life must be constantly reflected back to him, thus allowing him to process and resolve his feelings. You might reflect, “Oh, you’re feeling so disappointed that your friend can’t come over, you were really looking forward to it, now you’re so upset,” or “You really want that chocolate now, you just can’t wait until after dinner, you want it so badly, I wish I could give it to you right now!” Reflect, “You’re feeling angry because I won’t let you watch more T.V., that makes you furious, because you wanted to watch all night. I wish I could let you watch longer.” When something goes well, reflect “Wow, that really makes you happy, you’re feeling so satisfied that you could do it”.
Remember that feelings are the most important aspect of a child’s developing self. They must be addressed before giving advice or suggestions. When a child is upset or under stress, instead of dealing with thoughts, reasons and intellectual things, reflect and give the child conscious awareness of his feelings. Giving him his wishes in fantasy is a good way of doing that.
For a great understanding of how to deal with a child's feelings, click here.
Feel free to peruse other informative posts on my blog, the specialties on this website, or download one of my interesting free reports. If you are struggling with how to tell your child you can’t buy him what he wants, and would like guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan, you may call me at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!