Kids and Shopping: The Toy Dilemma

Kids and Shopping: The Toy Dilemma

If your kids are constantly asking you to buy them things when you take them to the store, you’re in good company. You may even fear that it’s your fault and that you’ve unawarely spoiled them somehow. But that’s not always necessarily the case. While some kids are spoiled, it doesn’t mean yours are.

Why Are My Kids Acting So Greedy?

When I noticed it became difficult to go into a store with my kids without them asking me to buy them something, I knew I had to nip it in the bud. I wasn’t sure why they were acting so greedy.  We don’t spoil them, so I had no idea where it was coming from. I say no and then they try to negotiate. When all I want to do is buy some paper towels, I  somehow get wrangled into a battle of wills over a plastic toy that’s surely not worth $5. Part of the resolution is to leave them home as much as I can when I shop, but that’s not always an option. Plus, how are they going to learn unless I teach them in the moment? I knew I had to deal with it head-on.

You're Not Failing

You’re not failing in parenting if your kids are constantly asking or even demanding you buy them things. You just may need to put some extra work in, that’s all. Marketing is a huge part of the problem. Just think of all of the advertisements kids are exposed to on television and the bright colors and beautiful packaging they see the moment they walk into the store. Even as adults we have a hard time passing up those shiny objects. And since kids don’t quite understand the value of a dollar yet, they don’t understand why they can’t get what they want, NOW.

Not only that, our kids are always watching us shop and putting things in our carts, whether it’s groceries, gifts or clothes. They see how easily money is obtained via a simple swipe of a card at the ATM. They observe parents paying for things without any cash on hand at all. In their mind, if we can pay for things so easily, then why can’t we buy them a simple toy? Everything is so easily accessible, right? In a child’s mind, yes.

We have to teach our kids not to beg nor negotiate when we say “no.” Sometimes it’s a slow process, but it’s necessary. So how do you do it? Here are some tips I’ve been using with my own that have been successful so far:

1. CONSISTENCY

Although not always easy to accomplish, consistency is key. In fact, consistency is key in parenting across the board.  In a weary moment of weakness, it’s easy to cave when the kids are nagging. When you’re too tired from saying no for the fifteenth time and don’t have the energy to deal with a melt-down, you give in. But that’s not the solution (even though it seems like an awesome solution at the time.) In the end, it’s easier to deal with the tantrum at the time because once you’re inconsistent, you’re left to re-teach and start over. They learn that if they bug you enough, they’ll eventually get their way, so they’ll continue to repeat the behavior each time they want something. The good news is that this type of behavior can be unlearned. It’s up to you. Don’t cave. If you say no once, mean it. If they throw a tantrum, deal with it, stay strong and don’t change your answer. 

2. ASKED AND ANSWERED

I love this technique. If your child is continuously begging for something after you had already said no, ask them if they had already asked you that question. Once they say yes, then ask them if you have already answered the question the first time. They’ll probably say “yes, but…” and then simply state that you aren’t going to change your mind. If they still continue to ask again, say, “Asked and Answered.” Don’t let them negotiate.  No other words are necessary.  Once the technique is established, these are the only words that should need to be spoken in those situations.

3. WRITE IT DOWN

This worked like a charm on my 4-year-old when he was begging me to buy him a new toy from the toy store. My response was, “Not today but I’ll write it down and we’ll add it to your wish list.” Simply let them know you’re taking note of it and will consider it at another time.  This way they know you’re taking them seriously but realize you’re not giving into the instant gratification they’re seeking. They most likely will forget about it, but do write it down in case they don’t. It can be part of their next birthday gift.

4. LIMIT TOY REWARDS

I’m guilty of rewarding my kids with toys. I think we all are. While it’s ok to reward them with a toy occasionally, they will come to expect it each time for good behavior if rewarding them with toys happens too often. It’s a bad habit to start. It’s best to limit toy rewards as much as possible and replace them with activities instead, like a movie night or activity of their choice.

5. AN ALLOWANCE

If your child is old enough, you can consider giving an allowance. Our 8-year-old has been on an allowance and uses his own discretion to make purchases and is learning how to budget. Kids also feel empowered when they make their own money. This teaches them that money has value and in order to get it you have to earn it. You’re also instilling a good work ethic and best of all, patience. My previous post here lists some great ideas on how kids can make their own money this season.

It’s also never too early to teach them how to comparison-shop. If, for example, the only toys they want to buy with their money are from the Dollar Store and the toys are always falling apart, explain that it’s better to save their money for something made out of better quality that’ll last.

6. TALK ABOUT ADVERTISING

My oldest was watching a commercial and said he wanted that particular toy. It happened to be a brand we had bought for him before that wasn’t quite like it appeared on television. In other words, it was a total waste of money. I took advantage of the opportunity to talk about the role of advertising, commercials and marketing and how items don’t always turn out the way they’re shown. Younger kids won’t understand but older ones will catch on. It’ll help them to become aware that sometimes packaging and commercials make toys look better than they actually are. When they start to spend their own money, they’ll start to give their purchases more thought.

At last, it’s best before going into the store to give your child a heads-up that you won’t be buying any toys. Explain to them the reason for your trip so they know what to expect. I do this for my kids. If they do ask and beg incessantly, try the techniques above. If nothing is working, be prepared to leave the store even if you haven’t gotten your shopping done, explaining to them that since they didn’t listen you have to go home. It’s incredibly inconvenient for you but it’s worth it because it’ll teach them that you mean what you say and that’s exactly what they need to learn in the moment.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Feel free to comment with any tips that have worked for you as well 🙂

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3 Comments
  • breetalks says:

    I remember when we were going to the store with my 3 year old and she said she didn’t want to go! I said why? She said, “Because all you ever say is, “maybe for your birthday, maybe for your birthday.” Hahaha! Going through the process of actually letting her see me write it down on a wish list for her would be a good addition.

  • mfred0518@yahoo.com says:

    Awwwww….She caught on though 🙂 And you didn’t bend! Great job👍

  • Nicci says:

    The “writing it down” idea is great! Your child will feel heard and understood, even without getting a toy. Seeing it on paper also shows your child that you were truly listening, and having a wish list prepared for birthdays and holidays helps the parent!

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