Dear Dr. Ray: My daughter is eight years old. She’s always asking me to purchase or obtain something for her. I simply don’t have the money and even if I did, I don’t think I could satisfy her. – Running on empty
May I begin to answer your question with some questions of my own? We psychologists like to do that. One, does your daughter want some material pleasure — a lifetime swimming pass, computerized dollhouse, designer lunch bags — at least five times a day? Two, does she want you to use your money to fulfill her wants? Three, do her requests become more dramatic when you even slightly consider them? Mom, I just have to have it, or I’ll never be happy again. Oh please, huh, pretty please? I promise I’ll never ask for anything else ever.
If you answered yes to all three questions, then your daughter is exhibiting a phenomenon we shall call the gimme syndrome. The gimme syndrome worries and frustrates parents. For one thing, we don’t want little Charity to be so selfish. She has plenty, yet she wants more. For another, we tire of hearing her ask for just about everything she see, hears, smells or knows that her friend, Rich, possesses.
Rest easy, the gimme syndrome is fairly common. Kids are born wanting things — food, dry diapers, being rocked. Their infant world is fully self-centered one. Only as they get older do they experience that all is not for possession or instant pleasure.
Fortunately for us resource limited parents, the gimme syndrome is quite curable. Sometimes it even cures itself, without our doing much other than giving materially only when we think it wise. Other times we may unwittingly foster the gimme syndrome. How? By teaching Charity that is she asks for enough things enough times, we will eventually deliver, if for nothing else but to bring peace. In effect, we pay off like a slot machine. Charity cranks away until we cash in.
To cure a lingering gimme syndrome, judge every request by its own merits and not by how much your daughter nags, pouts, pleads, or sulks. None of these are reasons to fulfill a want you feel is unnecessary or unwise. Also, don’t worry if Charity seems to ask for so much. Her requests will fade naturally as her pressure tactics fail to work. During my peak gimme times, my dad’s favorite comeback was: “You’re welcome to want that. You’re not going to get it. But you can want it all you want.”
If you are weary of treating gimme symptoms, try this medicine: Charity, we have a new rule. From now on, anytime you ask me to buy you something more than once, the answer will be no.
If you haven’t already, you can set up a chore and allowance schedule. Charity can use her money instead of your for purchases. In addition to removing you from the role of supplier, an allowance will teach Charity to prioritize her wishes. She’ll see first hand that money wells have bottoms. There are a couple of bright sides to living through a gimme syndrome.
One, your daughter may work harder for an allowance because she has a long wish list to use it on. Two, you won’t have to wonder about what to get her for Christmas or her birthday. Your choices are nearly limitless.