Author: Umm Salihah
One of my most inspiring moments as a parent came, as these things often do, completely randomly. I was at a boot fair looking at something I can’t remember and a mother strolled past with her two boys. They looked about eight and ten and spotted a scooter they liked the look of. They pleaded with their mum to buy it and I expected her to make one of two choices – say “yes” or “no”. In fact she did something completely different.
She asked them to consider if they really needed a new scooter bearing in mind the toys they had at home. She explained the cost and what it meant they would have to miss out on instead. I was impressed; she laid out the options and asked them to think for themselves. I was impressed by the boys answer too. The older boy decided that he didn’t really need it that much and didn’t think his mum should spend that much.
I loved that she gave him the chance to think for himself and he was reasonable in his response. Over the years, her approach has been one I refer to when dealing with my children often. If my children want something, we discuss the cost, what it means in terms of the budget for the week (i.e. if we get this toy, then we can’t have lunch together in town on the weekend) and any implications – “if you are going to get it, tell me where you will put it and how you will look after it?”
To be honest sometimes the easier option in the short term is to just say “yes” or “no”. Let them whine for a bit and then forget. Or give in and spend money you can’t afford, on things you don’t need, knowing that you are setting a bad precedent – but at least you get your five minutes of peace.
Trying to reason with your children requires a bit more work. It takes mindfulness on the part of the parents and a level of trust that your children will make a good decision and emphasise with your point of view.
But having done it often enough, it has started to become habit to explain the options and ask the kids to make a decision. It requires them to understand that money is not infinite, there is an amount you can spend and no more (unlike my seven year old son who for years didn’t understand what the problem was, because of course “the bank just puts more money in your card when it finishes”). It also requires them to put their needs in the context of what the whole family needs – i.e. if you spend money on this, we won’t have money to go out for a trip somewhere nice on the weekend.
On the other hand if I am giving them the option, I have to trust they will be reasonable. I have to take the risk that they will just go ahead and ask for what they want anyway. This means I have to judge for situations if they are appropriate for this approach or if I am setting myself up for something I just don’t want to agree to. In these kinds of cases, the boundaries are set from the beginning – do not ask for fizzy drinks when we go out, do not ask me for dolls with skimpy clothes or toys with a million small parts because you will not get them, no you cannot play computer games on a school night.
This approach doesn’t work every time, but when we use it, I find that there is less whining, and more co-operation. It’s not a them (parents) and us (kids) situation, but one in which we are on the same side. It’s also taught the kids to negotiate – “If we do our homework, then can we go on the computer”, “If I am good all week, then can I get the woolly hat that looks like a panda?” (This is invariably my seven year old, when I tell him something is just too expensive – I always have to explain to him that he should be good all the time anyway).
So I am grateful for serendipitous moments that come at the right moment and teach you things and I am grateful to the readers here who often share their thinking and parenting advice with me. We are better parents when we consult with each other and share our experiences I think.
….Where Practice Makes Perfect
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