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From time to time, my 3-year-old son will whine about how he wants something. Something like, “I want to watch Cars!” or “I want some candy!” or something else he does not really need.
My standard response has become, “I want world peace.” At first he was taken aback by this response. Now he tends to go bug mom about his want instead.
I choose that response because it shows that the words “I want” are not some pair of magic words that can make anything happen. I thought it would help illustrate that we can get what we want, but we have to work for it. Even working at something we want a whole lifetime does not mean we will get what we want. People have been working on world peace in some incarnation or another since there was ever the realization that there is a world that we all have to find a way to exist on without killing each other off. Sure, some ideas of attaining that goal have often been, and continue to be killing off anyone who does not agree with their own goals, but the idea I was trying to instill is that we have to work at things instead of merely wishing for them.
A couple of times my response was, “I want a million dollars.” I am sure I used it only because I heard someone else use it as a response to their child’s wants. Perhaps even my own parents used it on me a few times. I stopped using it because I quickly realized that while I could use a million dollars, I could do better. At worst I would get selfish, lazy, and completely lack any motivation to think. I like thinking. At best, I would probably use it to make sure that my and my family’s lives were stable, then invest or donate the rest to the stability of other human lives. That would be great, but not as good as world peace. World peace is something for everyone, and I like that, even if it may not be possible anytime in the near future for our species. As long as I am picking one thing that I want, I may as well be idealistic.
It may not seem to make much sense to use this response with my 3-year-old. While he certainly grasps the concept of wanting things, he just gets confused about the world peace part. We were looking up in the sky at the moon one night and asked my wife and I were Earth was. Obviously he is still getting a handle on the fact that we live on one of many planets. We have not even started working on the concept of peace!
I am going to continue to use it though. He mostly dismisses it as that confusing thing that dad says, but it sinks in little by little. He does attempt to get clarification sometimes. Eventually it will make sense. At the very least, it stops him from whining for the time being and he finds something else to work on that he can attain without magic words or gives him a chance to rephrase his want into a request which he can negotiate.