Kids have a lot of requests:
“Will you take me to the circus?”
“Can I have this giant basket of candy?”
“Will you take me for horseback lessons?”
I used the above examples because they are difficult questions to answer. The circus is sixth months away, he can get a much better deal on chocolate in aisle 12, and you don’t even know if there are horseback lessons in your town! So how should we respond?
We know what will happen if we just say “No”: the child feels ignored, hurt, or angry, and will likely find a way to hurt us back (more whining, disrespect, etc).
We know what will happen if we say “Sure thing!”: we’ll be on the hook for some future obligation, or we’re giving the child sweets just to shut them up. That will also result in increased begging, whining, and scolding us if we have to break the promise. (Following the NAP means not breaking promises)
I hear a lot of parents try the following middle-ground approach:
“I’ll think about it!”
Imagine being the child in this scenario. You ask for a handful of things everyday, and you’re constantly met with “Maybe!” (and a little half-smile), and then the adult just continues what she’s doing. I know when I was a kid hearing this, I knew exactly what my mom meant: “Not happening, leave me alone”. If you say “I’ll think about it” and you don’t think about it, you’re just lying, and kids aren’t dumb, they figure that out real quick!
One solution, which validates the child’s emotions, and respects their wishes, while simultaneously giving you space to continue what you’re doing and to consider the request when you’re not busy is to Write It Down.
I keep to-do lists, to-read lists, and a calendar among other things on my phone, where they are always handy. If you’re not in the habit of writing down your ideas, goals, to-dos, and commitments, drop what you’re doing and read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. It’s a game-changer for those of us who have trouble staying organized.
When a child has a request, and you don’t have an immediate answer, simply write it down (this applies to your inner child too, a topic for another time).
So when you’re in the grocery store, busy scanning ingredient lists and doing long division, and you hear:
“Will you take me to the circus?”
“Wow the circus, there’s an idea! Sounds fun, and I’d like to take you, but I have no idea when or where or if we’ll be available. Ill write it down so we can look into it later, sound good?”
And that’s it. You spent 10 seconds giving that answer and writing it down, and now the child can relax, you can relax. The circus is on The List, and you and the child know that The List is sacred. You WILL revisit it. Nothing comes off The List without being resolved in some way. (You could also simply snap a cell-phone picture of the box of candy, for example).
When and how you revisit the items on the list is up to you and your child to decide. I like to collect 3-5 ideas before spending a little time researching the cost and logistics of them all.
Negotiating is so important to a free and peaceful existence, and to NAP parenting. And one of the most essential pieces of information in any negotiation is knowing what the other party wants. Soon you’ll have a list of 30 or 100 things your child is excited about! And when it’s time for you to make your own requests of the child, you’ll have quick reference to some great bargaining chips.
You might also simply enjoy spending time dreaming about these things with your child, and find that sometimes thoroughly imagining the circus is a fine substitute for actually going. I know that I personally enjoy time spent fantasizing about new projects, products and experiences, and after thinking them over, I’m content with striking them off my list.
Or perhaps your child will enjoy sorting the items by price and by fun-ness and by educational value with you. Or tracking how these values might change. I always find it interesting when something SO important to them 3 days ago just isn’t anymore. It makes for great conversation about human impulses and value over time, etc.
This is one of the best tantrum-defusers I’ve ever used, with children and adults alike. Who wouldn’t like to hear:
“Tell me exactly what you want, I’m showing you how serious I’m taking it by writing it down, and I PROMISE we’ll revisit it soon when I have more information”