Monday, April 16, 2012

Using Wish Fulfillment with Toddlers

Awhile back I came across an article from API Speaks.  It's called Lying: The Developmental Truth, and it outlined how one mama dealt with her four-year-old's tendency to lie.  Lying is a developmental stage, one that can be expected from most neuro-typical kids.  This mama found that some of her child's lying had to do with wish fulfillment: the boy wanted something to be true, so he said that it was regardless of what mom could clearly see.

Interesting stuff.  It really caught my attention, and I percolated the idea for a while.

Gus and Jack aren't at the developmental stage where lying comes into play yet, but I've started using the concept of wish fulfillment to help them cope with disappointment.  Toddlers experience a lot of disappointment in their lives; they can't always make their bodies do what they want, and they can't always find the words to express what they want.

As they get bigger, kids' needs and wants diverge.  When my boys were infants what they wanted was the same as what they needed: food, warmth, love, connection.  Now that they're two, that piece of candy that they want is a far cry from what they actually need.  

So when one of them is crying because I won't give him any more crackers before dinner, our conversation goes something like this:

"Sorry, kiddo.  Dinner is almost ready, and we'll be eating soon."
"Hmmm... I bet you wish you could have more crackers, huh?"
"Yes.  More crackers, mama!"
"Do you wish you could eat all the crackers in the package?"
"Do you wish you could eat all the crackers in the whole world?"
"No, mama!  Only more crackers."
"It sounds like you're really hungry.  Let's go eat dinner now."
"Come with you, mama?"
"Yes, baby, you can come with me.  Let's go."

As silly as I get with the wish fulfillment aspect of this, though, what really makes it work is the connection.  These types of conversations aren't had from across the room, or while I'm doing something else.  I get down on the floor, and we talk.  I acknowledge my son's emotions, and we connect.  I'm letting him know I hear him, and I appreciate what he's saying.  But sometimes you've gotta stop eating crackers so you can have dinner.

I also use the same strategy for other things, like putting on shoes, or changing from pjs into clothes, or after's World is over.  I don't know why it works, I just know that-- for now at least-- it does.

And I'm really grateful to have this gentle tool in my parenting toolbox.

More butterflies, mama?


  1. So wonderful to read this - this is how I communicate with my children from babyhood, in terms of being in touch with their "wishes" etc, but how you described it is so how I converse with them in the toddler to kindy stage. I've had people tell me I talk a little too much to them!!! But at the end of it I have calm children, who so clearly let me know that it's good to be heard and it's good to know that Mama "get's me". My 11 year old boy expresses himself so beautifully - for the most part -, with strength and purpose - generally (!), and I am confident it is down to this approach you've described... Really enjoyed my "intro" to your blog :o) Thanks... Naomi

  2. Hi, Naomi! Thank you for stopping by.

    I've had people tell me I talk to my kids too much also. I disagree, simply because I talk WITH them, not AT them. I love going to the grocery store with one boy and asking him questions and having a real conversation while we shop :-)

    I hope my boys grow to express themselves as well as your son.

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