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When Kids Can't Have What They Want

By Drs. Rick and Jan Hanson

page 2 of 2


The most effective approach to alternatives is generally as follows:

  • Acknowledge that you know what their (problematic) want is. This lets a child know that his or her communication has been received (a good general principle!) and that your alternative doesn't come out of the blue.

  • Communicate or do the "control" before offering the alternative (i.e. remove the knife before offering the spoons.

  • Actively engage the child with the alternative, perhaps by playing with it yourself.

Alternatives will not work every time. Nor it is not always appropriate or possible to give an alternative. Sometimes we are just too tired or otherwise occupied. Depending on the age and developmental level of your child, you may want to really get across some point -- especially if the problem is a safety issue -- before shifting the child's attention to something new. And as kids get older, they can, will, and need to take more responsibility for generating their own alternatives.

So even when you try hard to offer alternatives, there will be plenty of little opportunities for Sam to learn that life has its limits and he won't always get what he wants. But especially in early childhood, the emphasis should be on gratifying child wants (sometimes in an alternative form) and giving children a deep sense of confidence in themselves and the world.

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