The following article is excerpted from my book: Teaching Kids to Be Good People (If you’re interested, the print version is 50% off for the holidays Code 3MZQS83F. The ebook version, also 50% off. No coupon needed.)
For the first few years of life kids aren’t always capable of telling us exactly what they want. Which is why helpful, loving parents and grandparents pepper the little ones with questions that often begin with: “Do you want _______?” Since it’s too early for real conversations, grownups fill in the blanks:
Do you want to play with this?
Do you want a story?
Do you want to go to the park?
Do you want Mint Chip or Jamoca Almond Fudge?
Our every childish wish becomes our parents’ command. That’s why we quickly we learn to say “I want _______.” Being a little kid is a sweet gig until the day when a parent says, “NO” to one of our demands, and our little brain explodes:
“What did you say?! What do you mean it’s too close to dinner? What do you mean it costs too much and you won’t buy it for me? This is outrageous!!”
We don’t have all those words, so we reiterate the obvious for stupid Mommy/Daddy:
“BUT I WANT IT!!!!!”
Tantrums don’t always work, but they work often enough for little humans to keep hope and self-centeredness alive.
At age three we tend to become more aware of the power dynamics within our family and start testing boundaries. That’s the time a parent’s “Do you want ______?” may take on a sinister ring:
Do you want me to take that away from you?
Do you want a time out?
Do you want me to lose your snack?
Do you want me to give you something to cry about?
That last rhetorical question was surprisingly popular amongst certain parents during the second half of the last century. Hopefully it’s gone the way of the landline, but I’ve got no empirical data either way.
Obviously all those years of “Do you want _______?” congealed in the spongy language and reward centers of our brain where we realize how important our happiness is to Mom and Dad. Because we are all about making it easy for them to please us, our demands become very specific as do our reasons for why they ought to be met . . . NOW:
“I want __________. And yes, I am old enough!”
“I want __________. ’Cause I’m the only one who doesn’t have one!”
“I want a new __________. ’Cause my old one sucks!”
“I want you to give me what I want, and I want you to leave me alone.” (Double demand . . . impressive language development!)
And so, for those of us who grew up in comfortable circumstances (that would be you with the latte in hand), it stands to reason we may need an attitude transplant to progress from “I want to get” to “I want to give.” But we can do it! We have the technology to connect with organizations doing awesome work. We have credit cards that make spending less painful.
Any time is a good time to look around and see where you could spread a little sunshine and some green. December is an especially good time. Some of my personal favorite do-great .orgs are Oxfam America, Good Weave, Doctors Without Borders, and Kiva. And there are at least a million others effectively working on solutions to local, national, and international challenges. Giving to any of them makes you (and any entitled kid you want to inspire) part of the solution. Start your search with the Charity Navigator and find out whose efforts you and your family want to support.
Warning—Giving can become habit forming, but in a healthy way. Besides, do you and your kids really need more stuff or might you be in the market for some good karma points?