Curious Parents

Saying No to Kids Makes Them More Resourceful

You try not to spoil your kid, but after hours of tantrums and tears, sometimes you give in. We're not here to judge — just here to shed some light on a couple of research-backed benefits to saying "no" to your kiddos. They'll thank you later.

Let's Build a Fort

Think back to being a child. When left to your own devices, any household item could be transformed into a doll house, a spaceship, or even building materials for your fort. But what if instead of turning a shoe box into a doll house, your parents just bought you a dollhouse? It seemed amazing at the time, but in retrospect—not quite as fun.

Psychologists have been researching the difference in creativity between children who had to be resourceful and those who were given what they wanted for at least half a century. In a 1999 study, researchers had a group of elementary school children help "Bobo the Bear" reach his toy lion by using a random object, including building blocks, a toy car, a pencil, a magnet, and a wooden box. The best solution, of course, is to use the large wooden box as a step to help Bobo reach his friend. As you might expect, the children aged 6 and 7 solved the problem faster than the 5-year-olds ... most of the time.

There was one situation where the 5-year-olds outperformed the older kids by a long shot: when the wooden box was used as a container for the other items, instead of laid out on the table next to them. Why? As the New York Times explains, "Upon seeing the box acting like a container, the older children struggled to expand it to anything beyond a container. For the younger children, the box remained just as flexible a resource as it was before."

Likewise, in a 2015 study, some participants were asked to write about a time in childhood when they didn't have much, while the other participants wrote about a time when they had a lot. After writing the essays, they were asked to solve a problem that required them to use bubble wrap in multiple ways. The subjects in the scarcity group came up with many more ideas than the abundance group.

Outside the Box

While we're not suggesting that you should deny your kids everything, it's worth noting that the occasional veto can make a positive impact on their creativity. When you aren't given everything, you're forced to use resources in new ways. Experiencing scarcity can actually help kid learn how to think outside the box. So the next time your little one looks up at you with puppy dog eyes, think of their creativity. And if you give in, that's OK — there's always next time.

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Written by Anna Todd June 13, 2017

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