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My 4 years old daughter attaches a lot of importance to toys, clothes, presents ... How do you help your kids take some distance with that ?

Sample behaviour I'm uncomfortable with :

  • asking grandma "what present did you bring today ?" (she comes most weeks with a small toy or stuffed animal)
  • taking a toy from her younger brother by force
  • crying very loud when she can't get an object from the house or choosing the colour of her clothes in the morning (she is apart from that very sensible and we can discuss most other topics)
  • insisting on sleeping with 15 stuffed animals & dolls in the bed and a dozen books at hand
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The sample behaviors you describe seem to concern different issues, not all of which I would perceive as materialistic behavior. I would suggest that you explore your feelings of discomfort to find out what is going on with you, what your values are and how you respond to the possibility that your daughter may not share them. It can be hard, I know.

In the first example, when your daughter asks her grandmother what present she brought her, I would ask you whether you are comfortable with grandma bringing her a present every week. If your daughter has come to expect that, then she is simply anticipating a certainty. Have you heard about the five language of love? They are according to Gary Chapman, physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and gifts. Everyone has a primary language that they use to show their love and how they best understand love. It may be that that is grandma's and your daughter's primary language. Since quality time is my primary, I never quite understand people's occupation with gifts. Consider how you value expressing and receiving love. And it might be helpful to invite grandma to have a fun experience with your daughter rather than always bringing a gift.

Your second example may be related to sibling rivalry or a power struggle with her younger brother. There are a variety of ways of handling this: an immediate logical consequence depending on the context, ensuring each of them has a toy, keeping them physically apart as much as possible. My own children do this and it is time-consuming and frustrating dealing with it. However it is usually indicative of a deeper need in my older child for attention, that I can sometimes divert through a quick connection with me.

The third instance sound like she is longing for choice and autonomy. One strategy you could try would be to empathize with her and give her some understanding for the fact that she can't always get what she wants, and then offering her something where she can feel empowered to make a choice.

And as for the fourth, that may just be how she winds down at night.

I hope you are able to get some ease around this within you and with your daughter.

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    Great answer. Really good one. All of this is really normal behaviour for someone of that age, and yes, if grandma always bring presents the natural reaction will be to enquire what present will be next, especially if that's the primary way grandma shows her love. – David Boshton Feb 18 '15 at 10:45
  • Thanks, David. To Michael Daviot, I would also add: help your daughter gain fluency in the other languages. It will mean more connection for all. – Lizbeth Feb 18 '15 at 11:01
  • Thanks a lot for this answer ! But I don't understand your last comment Lizbeth. Do you mean I should start helping her learn English (we are French) ? Or help her understand other people better ? – Michel Daviot Feb 19 '15 at 13:38
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    I should have described a bit more. I was referring to the languages of love. If gifts is her primary language, then you can encourage fluency with the other languages by taking her out to do a fun experience with her (quality time), or give her little notes (words of affirmation) etc. Hope that makes sense. Best, Lizbeth. – Lizbeth Feb 19 '15 at 13:44
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This sounds very familiar. Our 8 year old always had a very hard time dealing with particular kinds of situations - territoriality, sharing, letting go of things (but I may use it for arts and crafts!), etc.

Our approach revolves around several principles:

Acknowledge and validate her feelings: yes it can be upsetting when siblings touch your stuff, yes it can feel great to get gifts, yes it can feel wonderful to have all of your stuffed animals in bed with you. This lets her know that she is accepted, that she has a partner, that she does not need to fight for her feelings.

When appropriate, get her to compromise in any way, some way, however small, e.g. stuffed animals are okay but no poky dolls in bed, maximum of 10 soft animals in bed, etc. Some compromises can seem ridiculous... 10 animals in bed, huh??? Just remember the goal is to slowly and positively teach her how to work through these feelings.

Be firm when needed, but in a positive, cooperative, understanding way - yes you told your brother not to touch your stuff, and yes it feels very bad when he touches it without asking - but we just cannot have people hitting other people, okay? I understand that this is your favorite doll and you really want to sleep with it. I really want you to spend as much time with it as you can... I am really sorry but I just cannot let you have any poky toys in bed because it is dangerous... etc. Work with her. Stay calm, speak in a positive, respectful tone regardless of how strange and maladaptive her behavior may seem. Give hugs. Remember that she is experiencing genuinely strong feelings.

Try to secure cooperation of the siblings. Ask them to work with you to help her.

Use humor whenever possible, e.g. make things absurd - offer to bring all the toys into the bed, do it, laugh together, then work towards a more reasonable situation.

Look for creative solutions to replace conflicts. For example, our morning clothes selection got easier when we pre-packaged clothes in gallon ziploc bags the night before.

Use music/songs to diffuse situations, use distractions. Kids may place extreme value on the object of their attention. Adults may try to reduce that extreme value. Instead, try to shift the kids' attention.

Aim for small victories, and savor them when you get them.

Remember - this is not a "personality flaw"... The crocodile part of the brain is stronger in some kids than others...

Good luck!

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