Why I think we should stop telling children “I want doesn’t get.”
I want doesn’t get is a standard statement used when children say “I want” something. Recently we were in a charity shop, killing a bit of time before school pick up as we were early, and we were letting our three year old explore. She was very excited by all the cheap toys, but came across an enormous fluffy pink unicorn and excitedly told us “I want it! I lub it!”
The old lady behind the checkout promptly told her “I want doesn’t get.” and proceeded to lecture us about how awful it is when children tell you what they want, and how we shouldn’t give her the things she wants when she tells us.
We bought the unicorn.
And I’ll tell you why.
Being able to express what it is you want in any situation is healthy. We should all be able to communicate what it is we want, and yes there are polite ways of doing it, and we always tell the children to say their pleases and thank yous, but the idea that expressing what they want in the first place is bad behaviour is not healthy. The idea that you should be punished by not getting what you want simply because you communicated that desire is crazy, it’s twisted, and it’s confusing as hell. You said you want it, therefore you can’t have it.
If you want something then you should have the confidence to express that, and if you’re taught from a young age that expressing that is wrong, you’re going to grow up never being able to go after what you want. You’ll be constantly dissatisfied and hoping people interpret your desires and give you what you want anyway, you’ll become sneaky and manipulative, unable to directly communicate with people because you’ve been convinced that direct honesty results in punishment.
The toddler wanted us to spend £3 on a fluffy unicorn. She told us what she wanted, and she told us why; because she lubs it. It was a simple statement, it was honest, there was no sneaking or lying, it was direct and pure. She wasn’t being naughty, she was just happy and excited and telling us her desires. We say no to her regularly, she often finds things she wants, and, usually, she accepts our no without question. She puts toys back on shelves in every shop we go to, and we continue on our journey. But expressing the want in the first place is not a bad thing.
Before our children could talk, when they would cry and scream in frustration at not being able to communicate what it was they wanted, I would often end up in tears asking “what do you want?” because I simply could not deal with what was upsetting them because they couldn’t tell me. Now they can tell me I don’t want to suddenly turn that into a bad thing.
Clear and honest communication is important. I can tell you what I want. I want a long career as a writer. I want to write and make films. I want people to read my blogs and my books. I want people to watch my YouTube videos and listen to my podcasts. I want to make enough money to move to a house where my children can have their own bedrooms. I want to go back to New York. I want to watch my children grow up happy, I want to marry my partner, and I want us to always have love for each other.
I can communicate that because I’m an adult and nobody is setting an obstacle course of manners in front of me. But children? We’re teaching children that telling us directly what it is they want is bad, that wanting in and of itself is therefore bad, and that going after what they want with direct honesty is bad.
We cannot ever stop humans from wanting, whether it’s a career, a relationship, or a fluffy unicorn, humans by nature want, but we can teach children that honesty is bad; that nobody will respect them enough to either agree to or deny their want, and instead chastise them for expressing it in the first place. We can teach them to manipulate and sneak their way to getting what they want instead. Or we can teach them to tell us what they want, and that we will listen, and then to accept they might not get it.
The old lady in the charity shop had a lot of opinions about how badly we are raising our children. But she was wrong. Our children communicate with us honestly. We tell them to say please, and we tell them to say thank you, but we’ll never tell them to jump through hoops before telling us what they want. We tell them to speak to us directly. We respect them. And respect breeds respect.
Please and thank you are important, manners smooth over society and keep us all ticking along smoothly, but so is expressing what you want and going after it. My children want snacks, they want cuddles, they want to watch Tinkerbell on TV. They usually get those things because they’re able to tell us honestly. And who now has a giant, fluffy, pink unicorn on her bed? Not the old lady, I can tell you.