Do You Need It or Do You Want It?
And the Art of Saying “No”

So Many Demands

Are you compelled to give your kids everything they ask for? Is it because you want them to have what you didn’t, or you want to make them happy, or you want to keep them on par with their peers? Or maybe you run out of energy and find it easier to give in than to say “no.”

I have been guilty of all of the above, even though I felt that my children just didn’t need everything they asked for.

So I devised methods to fight the never-ending “gimme, gimme, gimme” battle. Some days I lost the battle, but I think I won the war. Read on!

The Day that “Yes” Meant “No”

One day as my children began their usual chant while watching television: “Mom, can I have that; Mom, can I have that; Mom, can I have that?” after e-v-e-r-y s-i-n-g-l-e commercial, I had an epiphany.

I decided I was going to say “yes” every time they asked for something until my response became as meaningless as their requests. So when a toy or junk food commercial came on TV and the kids asked me for it, I said “yes” – to everything!

They soon realized I was not serious at all. The running joke in our house was that when they watched television and constantly asked me for stuff, I would say “yes” but we all knew that I meant “no.” Genius!


I Meant Business

My aforementioned “say yes” strategy, however, didn’t work once we left the make-believe world of television and entered the forbidden zone of a real store crammed with colorful, enticing items.

While I usually tried to shop sans kids, this was not always possible. So, when I was forced to take the greedy little barbarians with me, I would give them a pre-shopping rundown. “There will be no asking for stuff today. We are going to the store to buy ingredients for dinner – that’s it.”

Believe it or not, this worked. But it only worked because I meant it!

At first, my kids tried to break me by hounding me relentlessly when we got to the candy display at the check-out. But I stood my ground.

On days when I was feeling generous, I would amend the pre-shopping lecture to say that they were allowed to pick out something they wanted. Perhaps it could be something from the clearance aisle or some other small item. Big items were to be saved for birthdays and Christmas.

When Did We Get So Materialistic?

Speaking of Christmas (or any gift-giving holiday that occurs in your household), this can be the most trying time on parents’ wallets and their psyches.

So, for Christmas, I made a 3-present-each rule. Why three? Because in my religion, there was a little baby named Jesus who on his birthday received 3 presents from 3 Wise Men. The magic number was 3.

So I told my kids, “You are allowed 3 presents each. Your wish list can be as tall as the White House Christmas tree, but Santa has been put on notice: 3 presents each for the children in this house.”

My kids didn’t like the rule at the time, but now that they are older they say it helped them appreciate what they received. For me, it took away my guilt for not buying them everything they wanted.

Dealing with “Extravagance”

Another tactic I used when my kids got older: I set a rule that I would pay a certain portion of the tab for a particular item they wanted desperately and they could pick up the rest with some of the money they saved from birthdays, chores, etc.

For example, my son always wanted the latest and greatest sneakers. I told him I’d contribute the portion of money that would get him a regular pair, but he’d have to come up with the balance if he wanted the fancy-schmancy ones.

It helped him understand the concept of a budget, the value of money, and to consider his priorities.


Parents have Needs Too

To quote famed child psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott, “A child’s pleasure should not come at the price of a parent’s suffering.”

Case in point: When my kids were little, neither wanted to sleep in their own room and they would wake me up every night asking to come into my bed. I gave in many times because I thought I would get some rest, but after getting kicked and pummeled all through the night by tossing and turning kids, I was becoming a sleep-deprived zombie.

It had to stop. I was suffering. My little darlings may have wanted to stay close all night long, but I needed a restorative night’s sleep.

After trying many other non-materialistic methods to get them to stay in their rooms, I told them if they slept in their beds from here on in they would get their favorite toy as a reward. To this day my kids talk with fondness about the Barbie camping set and Ninja Turtle mountain they received for simply going the heck to sleep in their own rooms.

Yes, it was expensive, but, people, I needed some serious uninterrupted shut-eye. There is a difference between giving children the external motivation they need to give up something they want versus giving in to their demands as the path of least resistance.

The Moral of the Story

So what’s the point of all these stories? It is that your children can learn from an early age that there is a difference between “needs” and “wants.”

You will not teach this important concept overnight. It is a continual process filled with traps, tricks and temptations (“Everyone else has one,” “Dad/Mom said I could have it,” “If I don’t get it, I’ll die.”)

But, as in most parenting endeavors, if you waiver only occasionally, you will prevail. And your children will realize that they can’t always get what they want.

In addition, they will learn discipline, restraint, financial responsibility, and how to make better decisions – which, of course, are their real needs.


By Claire Gawinowicz, Parenting Educator


Many thanks to  The Rotary Clubs of Jenkintown and Hatboro-Horsham and The Kiwanis Club of Jenkintown for their generous support of the News and Views from The Center for Parenting Education.



For more information about values, check out the following books. Purchasing from through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

How Much is Enough by Jean Illsley Clarke Too Much of a Good Thing By Dan Kindlon The Price of Privilege by Madeline LevineWithout Spanking or Spoiling by Crary   Using Your Values by Heath   The Family Virtues Guide by Popov

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