Shorecrest Preparatory School Blog

The Blessing of Longing

Posted by Kate Fierce on Oct 31, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Children (and adults) often confuse what they want with what they need. This is increasingly true these days, as we live in a culture that sells us all of our hearts’ desires. Change your outlook with a new outfit! Become a new person in a new automobile! Be the coolest kid on the block with the latest video gaming system! Get through a tough day with “retail therapy” or loads of comfort food! These powerful messages contribute to a lack of gratitude for what we have, a desire for more than we need, and an inability to recognize our blessings.

If it is tempting for adults to be consumed by desire for what they do not have, think how much more tempting it is for children, who have not yet mastered self-control or delayed gratification! In The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Dr. Wendy Mogel asserts that, “longing is a blessing, because children who get most of their desires satisfied right away don’t have a chance to appreciate what they’ve already got.”

blessing of skinned knee book cover MOgelYet, desire is not necessarily bad. It feeds our passions and drives us to excel. It causes us to push past our insecurities and limitations to innovate and create. It is our juice, our spark, and our zip. A healthy life includes a balance between our burning passions and our self-restraint. We don’t want to give children the idea that desire is something to be avoided, or is a character flaw.
Instead, we can focus on doing the right thing. Doing the right thing is more important than feeling the correct feelings. So while it is perfectly acceptable to desire things that aren’t necessary, we must discipline ourselves and direct our actions away from them.

The Jewish teachings that Dr. Mogel draws from are in perfect alignment with best practices in human psychology – when we change our behavior, we can thereby change our feelings. Your child does not have to like giving away infrequently used toys in order for the experience to be powerfully changing for him/her. Over time, the very action of giving will produce the desire to give. When we place limits on children’s whining and begging, and require them to perform good deeds, children will eventually become less greedy and more grateful. The feelings will follow the actions.
We can also seek to guide our children, rather than to reach consensus with them. Often, when children ask for (or demand!) certain items or privileges, we reason with them. We explain the cause and effect of satisfying their wants. We encourage them to take the “high road” by eschewing unnecessary luxuries. Yet, most children don’t respond to this in the way we would wish. Children want what they want with a passion that, when combined with their sense of omnipotence, blinds them to logic at times. If your goal is to cultivate moderation and gratitude in your child, you may want to take a different approach.
It’s important to teach children the difference between wants and needs. Needs include what children are fully entitled to: respectful treatment, healthful food, shelter, clothing, doctor’s visits, and a good education. Everything else is a privilege. Your child does not need to agree with this point of view. Only you do.
Learn the skill of saying, “no.” It is possible to respect your child’s craving for more “stuff”, without caving in and giving them their every wish. Sometimes parents give in because they are impressed that their child is formulating a well-reasoned argument. Other times, parents feel it’s necessary to deliver a counter-argument so that their child will deeply understand and agree with the parents’ position. The back and forth debate that these approaches can produce can drag on forever! When parents cave, children learn that wearing their parents down is an effective strategy for getting what they want.
When your child starts in with an argument for why they must have their latest desire or whim, try to calmly respond and ignore it. Listen briefly. Understand and appreciate the desire being expressed without judgment or condemnation. Don’t try to be overly understanding, don’t feel that you need to go overboard talking your child through the feelings of unrequited want. A firm “no” and a short explanation are usually best. You can try listening to your child’s arguments and responding like a broken record: “Nevertheless, I’ve said no.” You can also try ending the debate by saying, “I know you want X, Y, and Z but we are not going to discuss this any more. I love you too much to argue.”
The antidote to greed is gratitude. Gratitude takes some practice. Another way to counteract the longing for things is to teach children to identify the good things, the blessings, in their lives. At dinnertime, try going around the table so that each family member shares something that makes them feel grateful. Ask your child about the positives, and not the negatives, of his/her day. Remember that feelings follow actions. If parents put limits on their children’s begging and whining and instead require them to perform good deeds, children will eventually become less greedy and more grateful. We will never eliminate longing in children (or in any of us), so instead we can acknowledge it and move on to appreciating what has already been given.
Don’t be afraid to let your child wait for a desired object, activity, or privilege. We have all seen how when children’s needs are too easily satisfied, they quickly become bored with the new and move on to a new desire. This can prevent children from fully appreciating what they have. Give your child the opportunity to long for something, to dream, and to appreciate.
Here are some more suggestions for nurturing appreciation and downplaying desire:
  • Be careful that you don’t use the word “need” when you really mean “want.”
  • Notice how much you talk about your envy for other people’s things or your desire for new stuff in front of children.
  • Try not to let your children see you shopping online or browsing mail-order catalogs too frequently.
  • Try to avoid the mall as a frequent family outing. Instead visit with friends, go to the park, take a walk. Emphasize experience over things.
  • Teach your child to give to others. Take every opportunity to find ways your child can give. They can fold used clothing to donate, or make a get-well card for a sick friend or relative, or fix something that is broken instead of throwing it away! Let them see you giving too.

Kate Fierce is the Lower and Middle School Guidance Counselor at Shorecrest Preparatory School. Shorecrest believes in a school-parent partnership to provide the best possible outcome for students. To learn more, join us for a personal tour of our St. Petersburg, FL private school campus.  

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Topics: Parenting