The Red Sports Car Syndrome...
...or, the Importance of Saying No
I was crawling north on Highway 395 recently, right past the Grand Sierra where the Interminable Construction Project is happening. I learned to drive in Los Angeles, so I tend to keep one eye on my mirrors. And as I inched my way along in the "fast" lane, I noticed a cherry-red sports car zigging and zagging dangerously between cars. Instinctively, I slowed down and sure enough, the car zipped just past my right front fender and darted into the space directly in front of me.
Of course, the driver--a young woman in her 20s--was now stuck in the same slow-moving lane that I was, so I had plenty of time to read the gold lettering on her license plate frame. It said--and I quote--"Saw it, wanted it, threw a fit, got it."
Yes, I know it was meant to be ironic. But it reminded me of the father who sat in my office a while back, telling me about his adolescent daughter. She had decided she wanted a new smart phone like the ones her friends had; her dad's response was to tell her that she already had a perfectly good cell phone and the answer was no. The young lady took her phone out of her purse, dropped it on the ground, and stomped on it with her heel. "Now it's broken," she said. "I need a new one." And her father's question to me was, "Should I buy it for her?"
The answer to that question only seems obvious to you because she's not your daughter. In my experience, parents seem to feel a sacred obligation to fulfill their children's every desire and to make sure kids are always happy. If you take a lawn chair and camp out in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart some Saturday, you'll know what I mean. Children do what children have always done--they find things they absolutely can't live without. But I distinctly remember my parents and the parents of my friends saying "no" without hesitation. But I have watched countless children raise the decibel level, jut out their chins, furrow their brows, and begin a full-fledged tantrum, while the parent looks increasingly embarrassed and horrified.
Now, in my world, a parent would look at this child, smile, say something like, "You're really disappointed that you can't have that toy. Would you like to go to the car so you can calm down?" If the tantrum didn't end post-haste, said child would be gently but firmly carried to the family car where she could have her feelings in private. The next time the family visited the store, there would be some kind, firm teaching about what would--and would not--be purchased that day. I'm stunned--really--at how often parents cave in. The noisier the child becomes, the quicker the parent is to grab the item, glare at the child--and put it in the shopping cart. The message is, "Here--you can have it. Just stop screaming." And what does a child learn? Hassle, beg, cry, and shriek, and you will go first class. It might start with a pack of gum at Wal-Mart, but it ends with a cherry-red sports car, an empty retirement account, and a child who feels entitled to every blessed thing she wants.
Nobody is born knowing how to parent. But just in case you haven't heard the news, it's perfectly okay to say "no" to your child. It helps if you have a good reason, but sometimes just "no" will suffice. Most of our children are in far better shape than their parents: they dress better, they have nicer toys, they get to do most or all of what they want. If you don't want to do or buy what your child is begging for, just say no, kindly and firmly. Mean it. Yes, your child will cry--and crying isn't fatal.
Here's an even better plan. Instead of things, try giving your child time and connection. Nobody needs a cherry-red sports car, no matter how much they might want one. But everyone needs self-discipline, gratitude, and patience. Go ahead...say no, and tell me how it goes.
| Posted by cheryl | Monday, August 29, 2011|