The Power of "I Want" Statements for Children


How many of us have discovered we have some areas in our life we would like to work on?  How many of us realize that some habits are tough to break?

Now do we extend this same compassion and understanding to our children?  Do we expect our children to act differently?  Are we willing to consider the possibility they mirror back what we teach them by our actions?

We raise our children.  We teach them patterns.  We are their gods. When they act out of step with our expectations we become frustrated. Is it possible we are frustrated not with them, but the patterns we have taught them?

“Parents can tell but never teach, unless they practice what they preach.”– Arnold Glasow

This is not meant to be a guilt trip or a heavy burden to consider.  Guilt will just keep old patterns stuck.  The point is to illuminate a blind spot for many of us.  We say things without realizing the impact it has on our children.  We become unconscious.  We suffer. Our children suffer.  We all fall into these traps.  How many of us have solutions to grow and learn and change these patterns?

“I think that the best thing we can do for our children is to allow them to do things for themselves, allow them to be strong, allow them to experience life on their own terms…. let them be better people, let them believe more in themselves.” – C JoyBell C

Let’s consider the classic temper tantrum.  Do we try to placate our child with “shhh”?  Do we try to ask them a machine gun of questions “are you hungry, are you sad, what’s wrong”?  That last question “what’s wrong” can cause the greatest misunderstanding.  It implies they are wrong for having emotions.

Have you ever been grumpy for no apparent reason and just want to be left alone?  Have you ever considered this may be the case for your child?  What would happen if we just ignored their tantrum?

What would happen if we just let them dissolve those feelings on their own?  What would happen if we made a tantrum OK – GASP……  “Make that unacceptable and embarrassing behavior ok; that’s irresponsible parenting!”  Really?  What if we even took it further and empathize with our children?  “I understand wouldn’t it be great if we could swim all day.  Did you know sometimes I am angry when I have to stop something I like?”

“A child who throws a tantrum is feeling helpless and in need for autonomy and a sense of dignity.  He must be able to generate his own life on his own terms.” Naomi Albort – Raising Our Children Raising Ourselves.

Here are some tips which all require a neutral state devoid of that parent go to emotion ANGER (in the form of disappointment, rage, yelling, hitting, sulking, ignoring, disapproval, guilt, shunning…..)

1.  STOP!  The next time your child is upset ask yourself some questions. Why does this bother me?  Does it matter right now they are upset?  Can I just ignore this behavior and see what happens?  What if they throw something?  Can I just allow that to be ok?  The tantrum may escalate as they seek to get your attention.  Do you normally react in anger?

They may keep pushing you back into this pattern you have taught them.   So whatever you do, don’t get ANGRY!

2.  Am I willing to imitate their behavior in a playful way?  Am I willing to say I want more candy too!  This is not fair and jump up and down in a silly way?  This may end the tantrum and result in giggling.

This is really what your child wants;  to know that you understand. Understand them instead of scolding them and making them wrong.

3.  Teach them how to express their anger in healthy ways! With young children buy them a pillow or a soft object they are allowed to hit and punch.  Before they get mad have a chat with them. If they are old enough to talk show them it’s ok to be angry.  Explain this pillow or toy is ok to hit, punch and throw.  Then the next time they have a tantrum give them the object.

Teach them it’s ok to jump up and down and yell “I am mad”.  Show them how to do it.  Say “Let me show you how it’s really done” and over-exaggerate being mad by jumping up and down and yelling “I am mad I am mad.”  If they are babies, just ignore them as long as they are in a safe place.  Gently place them in a safe place.

If you are in a store, just let them flail on the floor as other parents pass by and judge you! Really it’s ok.  You will never see them again and ask yourself do I care more about my EGO and MY IMAGE or about what is best for my child? If it’s in a parking lot or somewhere unsafe say it’s ok to be mad but I am moving us to a safe place.  Then sit in the car with them and ignore the behavior.  If you have other kids, they will get used to this process and will actually just ignore it as well.  It’s amazing how quickly children can shift patterns and gears when we create a structured, predictable and safe place for them.

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” – James Baldwin

4.  Teach them how to ask for what they want.  Ever notice how children come to you with complaints of what others do?  Wonder where they get this list from?  hmmm.  Do you make lists when you confront your spouse?  See any similar patterns here?  It may look like this:

Child 1:  He hit me and took my book.

Parent:  Give that book back.  We don’t hit. You need to stop hitting and that is not ok.

Child 2.  Burst out in tears.  Now child 2 is melting down.

Has this solved anything?  Has it taught child 1 or 2 how to communicate with one another and work things out?  Does this work?


Child:  He hit me and stole my book.

Parent:  How do you think it makes your brother feel when you hit him and take things from him. Would you like to be hit and have something taken from you?  Can you ask him if you can use the book next time?

Child 2: He always takes my things and he does not listen to me.

Parent:  Well what would be a good solution?  What do you want? What I hear you saying is that you want your brother to ask you for things is that right?

Child 2:  Yes.

Parent:  Can you ask your brother before you use his things?

Child 1:  He uses my things too.

Parent:  I hear you saying you also want him to ask permission?

“So we all agree to ask each other before we take things is that right?” Now you have an agreed solution they were a part of.  This does take more time AT FIRST.  However, over time it will help create healthy patterns.

Parent:  Since you hit him and took the book I am going to let him have it for 5 more minutes.  The next time please ask for help.

If the child has a tantrum, let them have one.  Empathize with them.  “I hate it when things are taken away from me too!  Here hit the pillow or count to ten or jump up and down.”  There are many healthy ways you can teach your children to let out their rage.

This works with teens as well.  I recently had a 12 year old come stay with me to learn some new patterns for communicating.  She would blow up and verbally assault her objects of anger.  She wanted to share every detail of how she was wronged.  She could talk endlessly about what they did to her and how they had hurt her.  She was silent when I asked her “what do you want”?  She would ask “what do you mean”?  hahha.  This was a clear clue that her family was also stuck in patterns with her, that they must also be making her wrong and giving her lists of things she needed to work on but no one was expressing what they wanted!

We worked together and here is one example:
“My mom is so mean and she never spends time with me”.

Changed this to:

“Mom I really appreciate how hard you work.  I understand that you have to work and that you work in order for us to have things. However, I love you and want to spend more time with you.”

The first response elicited anger.  The second tears and closeness.

When we learn how to ask for what we want.  When we learn how to tell our children what we want.  When we learn how to show our children how to get what we want in healthy ways. We create a context that shifts away from blame and anger into one that speaks to the heart and fosters love and understanding.

Three recommended books:

Raising Our Children; Raising Ourselves – Naomi Aldort

Playful Parenting – Lawrence Cohen

Answering The 8 Cries of The Spirited Child; Strong Children Need Confident Parents – David and Claudia Arp

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