We have all been there: in the toy store on the verge of a melt down because your child wants every toy he can get his hands on, and in order to afford that you will need an extra salary (and an extra living room for storage!). You try to explain that finances don’t work that way, and say some other adult stuff that makes you sound like the teacher in Snoopy and gets your child even angrier.
It happens in our classes too when little ones have trouble putting props or instruments back. Honestly, I would feel the same way if I was handed a million dollars and then asked to give it back!
Here is a clever solution that I read about in How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 (a book I strongly recommend to all parents—available for sale in our studio): The Gift List.
The Gift List is a list that is ALWAYS with you. You can have it on a piece of paper, in your actual Amazon gift list, in your phone’s note-taking app, or—after a while—in your imagination; it is always there, ready to save you at all times.
I introduced The Gift List to my child by saying, “This is a very special list. Everything you would want to get will go into this list and we will share it with your grandparents and family members. We will take a look at it every time a special day is approaching, like your birthday or a special celebration. Every time you see something that you really, really like, don’t forget to let me know because I want to put that item in this list so we can get back to it when events like your birthday/Christmas/etc. come up. That way you will receive presents that you actually want and like." (also a hint here for grandparents)
The Gift List is a wonderful tool because it allows your child to have an imagination, to imagine everything he or she cannot have in real life. It is a psychological outlet and relief for both the parent and the child; it can hold literally everything in the world and it also helps you have a better relationship with your child because you can meet in the middle.
For this tool to work, you need to be serious about it. You will need to actually type on your phone, or take a picture of the item, or write something on a piece of paper. Children are masters at knowing when you are not taking them seriously, and nobody, regardless of age, likes when they are not being taken seriously—it hurts our self-esteem.
If you decide to build an actual list, share it with your friends and family, and use it to offer suggestions for what your child is into for the next holiday or birthday celebration.
If your child starts abusing the list, that is OK. The Gift List is their outlet, and it feels good to imagine, “What if you could have or do anything in the world?” As the parent, you can either decide how to filter the list later, or you can involve your child in the process. You can explain to your child that the more items there are on the list, the fewer chances there are of actually getting something he really wants, and people might choose an item that is not as important to him as other items might be. If you prefer to keep this list like the telaraña (spiderweb) in the elephant song we sing in class, that can hold 10 elephants and counting, then so be it. Whatever works for you. That is one of the beautiful things about using our imagination, there are no limits!
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