Getting a child out of the ‘Me Too’ zone can be one of the most challenging tasks for a parent. It is a phase that perhaps most children get into when their need for belonging and social acceptance overrides their own sense of being. Before you know it, ‘I want that toy too’ turns into ‘I want a brother too’ and ‘I want a new house too’ and the list is endless. While each of us would have different ways of handling such demands and we might, on occasions offer no explanation but just say a ‘No’, it is important to realize that every time such an opportunity presents itself, we have a window to help a child think and make a decision.
When my daughter gets into this zone, I start by asking her a series of questions – ‘Why do you need it?’, ‘What will you do with it?’, ‘Do you think this is the best thing for you?’, ‘What will happen if you don’t have it?’ and then usually, our discussion turns towards listing a set of things – material and otherwise, which she has, which many others might not have. We start talking about what we like about those things and people who are present in our lives and it is usually enough to deter her from picking up the topic again.
The idea is not really to distract the child but more to offer the child a different perspective, that we, as parents are equipped to provide. Buying something for a child just because someone else has it, is reinforcing the belief ‘I must have what someone else has’. At every step, making the child think and then choose, is what a mindful parent might consider doing.
As a coach, one of the many tools I use with clients is that of ‘Gratitude’. There are studies to indicate that people who are grateful about the things they have in their lives (including people and relationships), are far happier than those who aren’t. With adults, the situation is no different, really. Many of us want everything that the other person might have – that which money can buy and that which money cannot. Expectation is often the root cause of disappointment. In contrast, if we replace expectation of things we don’t have with gratitude for things we have, a new world of happiness opens up.
If that does not work, encouraging a child to say a small prayer at bedtime to say thanks for the things that made him / her happy through the day is another wonderful way of initiating a child into gratitude. Another practice that might work better for older children is that of maintaining a ‘Gratitude Journal’. Writing about the people and the things that made a positive difference every day or every week, can be very de-stressing and calming for any individual.