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Growth Mindset: Shopping With a Child Who Wants Something They Can't Have

November 10, 2018

Knowing her grandparents will soon be asking for gift ideas for our daughter, my husband and I decided to take our five year old window shopping today. As usual and as I've written about before, we began with the caveat that although we wouldn't buy anything, we'd take pictures of what she likes so that we're sure to remember. This approach has pretty much been golden for us since she was two, and learning to delay gratification has contributed well to her growth mindset.

Today, however, she was really short on sleep. Even for me, an adult, a lack of sleep thwarts even the very best laid plans. Still, we pursued our endeavor to leave the house.

Upon entering the store, our child uncharacteristically said, "I've decided we're not just going to look at toys. We're going to buy some for me today to take home." I gently and clearly reminded her of our mission. And I hoped for the best.

We made it past the greeting card aisle and into the craft aisle. On display with the crafts, they were selling a sewing machine for kids. She picked it up and announced, "This is what we're buying for me today. Let's go check out now."

Oh, dear. We were only in the second aisle. And we really, really weren't going to buy anything.

I wish I had a dime for every time I'd seen a parent in a similar predicament. I'd be able to buy a thousand sewing machines. Regardless, this was really unlike her.

I acknowledged how much she wanted it and reminded her that we'd put it on her list. I took a picture of it, and for good measure, so did my husband.

She announced that she would carry it through the store with us until it was time to check out, and then we'd buy it. I let her know that she'd be welcome to carry it through the store, but that we'd put it back on the shelf before leaving. Setting expectations upfront usually does wonders for keeping things mutually agreeable. However, the "mutually" wasn't happening here today. So, I presented it as a loving limit and took the time to discuss and validate how she felt.

Sure enough, she chose to carry it through the store, anyway. She had no interest in looking at any other toys. We stopped to look at some decorations and at a few items for my husband, but that was it. She wanted to go no farther, though, so we returned to the craft aisle, the sewing machine still firmly in her grip.

We had nowhere else to be, so we did a bit of emotion coaching to help her. However, it was still a no-go for her. She said she'd wait there "forever" until we bought it. Taking it from her forcefully would do nothing for her emotional intelligence, our connection, or her growth mindset. So we waited, letting her feelings be what they were, and trusting that this was temporary.

After awhile, I asked her to think of a way she'd be willing to leave it at the store. Because she wasn't in an emotional place to think logically right then, I offered her the options of either putting it back right away or walking toward the exit while she held onto it, until we reached the checkout area. At that point, her option would be to hand it to my husband to put back before we reached the door. She chose the latter. And for whatever reason, she quickly put the sewing machine back on the shelf where it belonged. However, she grabbed a unicorn craft that was nearby and held onto it just as steadfastly.

Clearly it wasn't about the toy for her; it was about the process of working within limits.

However, near the checkout area, she changed her mind and wouldn't relinquish it. At that point, I shared a story with her about a time when I was little and didn't get a toy I wanted. Her demeanor changed. She softened. For the first time in awhile, she looked me in the eyes and connected. She felt understood.

Shortly thereafter, she offered, "I don't want to put it back on the shelf. I want to put it somewhere...else."

I replied, "It's too hard to take it back to the craft aisle. You want to put it somewhere different."

"Yes. I want to hide it and see if Daddy can find it."

Fortunately, because she's five, her hiding places often include instructions such as, "Please don't look behind the chair."

She looked resolved, proud of having solved the problem herself. All she needed was the time and emotional support to do it.  So, off we set on a short mission to find the perfect hiding place for it. After testing a few options, she settled on setting it between the feet of a mannequin. She promptly informed her Daddy not to look there. (Daddy, of course, returned it to its proper place once we were out of sight, and she confirmed later that it was exactly what she'd wanted him to do.)

And off we went to the car; her, sad but accepting, growing in her ability to solve problems. Even among the shiny objects; even when sleep deprived, she found a way to do it that was mutually agreeable. We can both sleep well tonight.

Disclaimer:  All advice and guidance offered on this site is not medical guidance and should not be interpreted as such, and the owner of this site is not responsible for individual outcomes.

I am not a physician, psychologist, or counselor, nor am I licensed to offer therapy or medical advice of any kind. I am a certified conscious parenting coach and my courses, blog posts, and all other guidance are based on my training and experience. If you are having an emergency or are in crisis please call 911, or the National Suicide Prevention Line (800-273-8255), or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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Sarah R. Moore

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