Setting Limits Around Buying Stuff

We had all been excited about watching the Olympic torch run past our house. My 6-year-old son had been particularly excited about it, as he had been working on the Olympics at his school and was interested in the topic. He was keen to get out onto the road and was concerned we might miss it. We were on the pavement with half an hour to spare, waiting for the Olympic torch to run by us. My son waited with some excitement and a little concern that he wouldn’t see what was happening. Crowds were growing, but we had a good spot with a wall to sit on so we could see what was happening. Finally the torchbearer ran by as we clapped and waved.

After the runner ran past, my son and 8-year-old daughter wanted to run along with the torch for a bit. I followed them and when I caught up with them, my son began asking me repeatedly for some Olympic merchandise that other children were waving and wearing – a fake gold medal and a green ribbon on a stick to wave. I had bought them a flag each to wave when we’d first gotten to the road and didn’t have the money or inclination to buy more. Also, I’ve noticed that this is a pattern for my son to always want to buy something more. I guessed that if I bought some more stuff it would end up on the floor in the evening, and I would feel some resentment.

So I set a limit kindly. I got down to his eye level and kindly said, “No, we’re not buying any more Olympic things now.” By now we were in a pedestrian mall. My sister was with us and could go ahead with my daughter, so I asked if we could catch up with them in a bit and I stayed with my son, who had jammed himself against the doorway of a sports shop filled with Olympic mascots.

He started to get angry and said he would bite me if I didn’t buy something for him.  I was a bit surprised by his vehemence but said I wouldn’t let him hurt me. He tried to kick out at me so I gently held his leg and said I wouldn’t let him hurt me. He kept asking for me to buy him something, and that I had to buy him something. I gently said I wasn’t going to buy any other Olympic things today. As we stayed there together and I repeated the limit kindly, his anger turned into tears and he said he wanted something he could keep forever.

I really heard him on this. I could empathise with his feelings of excitement, and then the disappointment as it was all over so quickly. It also sounded to me like the urge to buy something was covering up some deeper feelings of loss. I felt a lot of empathy with him at this point. I had struggled with the anger, but had been able to keep calm and loving as I was consciously practicing bringing a loving limit, trusting that it would be useful to him longer term than a piece of Olympic junk that would be forgotten or broken by the next day. He cried and I stayed with him, listening. In time, he was ready to go and join the others. As we joined the others he was in a cheerful mood.

That evening I went to a yoga class and said goodbye to him with a warm hug and a kiss and let him know that I’d be back later on. He followed me downstairs and wanted to give me another hug and blew me lots of kisses and waved as I left. I felt his warmth and affection and thought of what I had read in Patty’s writing, how even when your warm attention does not seem to be “going in,” it will leave an impression. In my son’s warm, affectionate goodbye I felt a connection that had been built between us by setting the limit, and holding it lovingly. I get a sense this was just the beginning of an emotional project that my son may need to do around old feelings of loss, and the connection he’s made with buying things to make himself feel good. What was amazing to watch was how the whole town seemed to be in the grip of a similar “control pattern,” as Aletha Solter terms it. The sports shops were crammed full of people that afternoon who’d just finished watching the torch go by and were trying to fill themselves up with things to buy!

Anna Cole, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor (living in the UK)

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One thought on “Setting Limits Around Buying Stuff

  1. This is a fascinating insight into ‘retail therapy’ and a really gentle inspiring tale of giving space to let the heart of the matter float to the surface xxx Thank you

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