We do not give our children everything they want. We love our old car that was gifted to us; we live in a relatively moderate apartment; we buy used clothes (and graciously receive wonderful hand-me-downs) and prepare our food from scratch. We save up for big ticket items and never use credit cards. We don't travel all that often.
Still, lately, there have been a lot of complaints flying around the old lake apartment here. Blueberry wants new clothes for her Annie CPR doll (because she has one of those); Eggplant wants us to drop everything to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it; Rhubarb complains because her braided extensions will soon come out and we do not have the money set aside to pay for a spring set (nor the desire really -- her scalp needs a rest). All of these items are causing unnecessary grief. I have tried the method suggested by many a parenting manual that I fantasize with them a bit, inquiring as to what it would be like if their wishes were fulfilled. I have tried empathizing with their feelings. This does nothing but make them want THAT THING all the more.
Recently, I have employed a new tactic -- the mature truth. "Eggplant," I told my son, who was carrying on because we could not go to the store that moment to buy some Legos with his Christmas money, "That is just not a real problem. Not being able to buy a toy at the moment you want it might feel inconvenient and it might bum you out, but it is not a real problem."
I recognize that this method teeters on the brink of negating someone's feelings, something I never want to do (though I confess that I have indeed done just that in moments of frustration with my kids). I try and express that their feelings are indeed real to them, but that feelings don't necessarily constitute reality -- and the reality is that not getting one's wants met immediately is not a real problem.
They have asked for clarification numerous times, at which point we engage in a discussion about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Lest you think this process is as tidy as it sounds, it often takes a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth on their part before we actually get to any questions or discussions. Nonetheless, by the time the turmoil has dissipated, it is clear to me that they are making a conscious shift in their thinking.
This is the first effective tactic we have employed regarding this issue -- and not just because it has helped the children put their demands into perspective. It is most effective because it now gives me pause when I am feeling stressed about something. I find myself silently wondering, "Is this a real problem?" Most of the time, it is not. Like when HotNerd accidentally took the car keys to work on a day that required lots of travel. As recent as a year ago, I would have been supremely annoyed. But our frequent dissections of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as it butts up against our immediate desires has served to put things into perspective for all of us.
Growing up. It's not just for the little ones.