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Am I Changing Minds or Just Modifying Behavior? ~ The Parent ‘Hood

The irony of hosting a parenthood synchroblog while not having grown children is not lost on me. My kids are 10, 7, and 5, so while I may know a few things about babies and toddlers, beyond that, I feel like the blind leading the blind. I’m relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance as much as the next parent.

One of the big questions I have right now is how to address my children’s lack of contentment and uncontrollable desires for something else. My children are so good at seeing what someone else has and immediately convincing themselves they must have it. Now. Then they proceed to make themselves and everyone around them miserable. Hmmm. I suppose self-control (or lack thereof) is mixed up in here too.

At the park the other day, we overheard some other kids begging their mom to take them to get ice cream cones. I knew that as soon as he heard them, my child would ask me for ice cream too. Sure enough, he came running over to me.

ice cream cone

“I have a great idea! Let’s go get ice cream!”

I said no, explaining that we have popsicles at home. He argued and whined and complained, saying things like “You never” and “You always” like an ungrateful urchin.

Then I said, “You need to learn to have your own ideas. You taking their ideas is weak.”

“I’m not weak!” he sputtered, highly offended.

“It is weak to let someone else influence you like that,” I repeated. (Not to mention the disrespect of arguing with me after I’ve given an answer!)

We watched a movie this weekend in which one of the main characters dresses up like a bunny. The next morning, in spite of the fact that we have three bins full of dress up clothes, costume accessories, masks, weapons, and shoes, one of my kids begged me, “Mom, I know you said you aren’t buying costumes this year, but I really really reeeeeally want to be a bunny.”

This child would not drop the matter either. Throughout the day, he tried different angles. He asked which stores I thought had bunny costumes. He tried talking as if it were already decided. He tried bargaining. It took hours before he resigned himself to wearing one of the costumes we have already.

All this wears me right down to a frazzle. Sometimes I’m so exasperated that I resolve never to take my kids anywhere or expose them to anything. The begging for anything they see, whether at a friend’s house or at a store, is relentless. I tell them to stop, and one in particular seems unable to control his tongue. But then I remember that they concoct new desires with no outside help, and they harass me for things no matter where we are. Besides, if I try to avoid exposing them to all external influences, could that actually make them less able to withstand the power of suggestion?

How do you teach a child contentment? How do you help them learn to think for themselves? And how can I grow stronger? I struggle with being consistent and firm when I tell them no. I hate saying no so often, so I find myself looking for something, anything, I can say yes to. But that means I cave too often and I think I’m reinforcing their nagging. I need a plan, something we all understand – what is expected, what will happen if you violate the terms, and what will happen if you abide by it. Clear expectations can only help, right? But if I put together some sort of system, including a consequence for pestering me (maybe I take custody of a favorite toy for a few days?), and a non-materialistic non-food reward (I’m not sure about this one!), am I really helping them learn contentment, or am I just modifying their behavior? I want them to stop nagging me, of course, but I also want them to learn to control their tongues, to spot marketing and peer pressure, to think for themselves, and to be thankful for what they have. I want them to identify the deeply human trait of being insatiable and take that appetite to God to fill. But I don’t know how.

What do you think? How have you worked on this with your kids? Do you have any advice for me, or cautionary tales I should hear? How do you recognize and praise your children when they do well?

It’s Monday, and time for another Parent ‘Hood link-up! (If you are reading via email or in a reader, click here to add your post to the link list, read other posts linked, and add a comment.) Please read these guidelines before linking your post:

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