As the season of excessive shopping begins, it can feel like we are constantly in negotiations with our children. I often avoid places with toys on days when I feel as though my children and/or I just don’t have enough patience left in our tanks. The holidays can make it hard to avoid shopping trips. Often they are long, and busy, and boring. One of the most common challenges, that can often lead to conflicts and meltdowns, is when a child just has to have something (or multiple things).

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What do you do when your child wants something?

Here are a few options

1. Ask if they have money. This puts the power back in your child’s hands. Around 5 years old we started an allowance for our eldest. 5$’s every Friday. He has the option of doing odd jobs for money too but he doesn’t seem to grasp the concept yet. We use these rules around allowance as they suit our values and our goals.2. Ask if they want to put it on their birthday/holiday wish list. This is actually the strategy my parents used and they still boast to everyone about how my brother and I never asked for too many things in the store. Children feel like there is hope. This is especially effective with children who are aware of holidays and gifts. Two year olds have a harder time with that delayed gratification. The next strategy can help during this time of cognitive development.

3. Take a picture of it to remember to put it on the wish list. By taking a picture the child feels heard. Often the concept of writing something on a list is very foreign to a young child. The impossibility of this task can make them feel overwhelmed and panicked. Taking a picture helps them have a concrete representation of their request. This is so helpful during the time when language is still developing and communication can be challenging, with big concepts like delayed gratification.

4. Choose one small thing. This is a personal choice. Some families are not fond of many toys and clutter so offering to purchase something small may not be the best strategy for your home, but if you don’t mind buying your child a little something every once in a while, I think it is a great strategy to survive the store. Make sure that the purchasing of the item is not contingent on behaviour. If you choose to buy an item, buy that one item, allow a trade, if they want, but do not begin threatening them with not purchasing the item. This causes a power struggle. Children can become overwhelmed with the idea that the item might be taken away, and that makes it much harder for everyone to stay calm.

5. Take it for a ride. I often hit up the toy section at the grocery store before starting my shop. I grab two or three small toys, a couple of books and then I drop them in the aisles as my children become bored with them (sorry grocery store employees). I recommend trying to get rid of them before you reach the checkout. That seems to be the place they get the most defensive about putting them back. You also get to find out what items are worth the money and which toys only last 5 minutes.

6. Give a gift. For a family who really wants to focus on giving to others, one option is to try to switch the focus of the conversation (would likely only work with older children). “I know you really want that game. It looks like a lot of fun. Can you think of anyone else who might like that game? Maybe we could put it on their list too?” It’s just another way to keep talking about the item of desire but shift the focus away from personal wants. I often see things that I like, but for a friend, not me. Even if I don’t buy it, it’s fun to think about buying it for my friend some day.

This article really focuses on how to respond to a want for a material item but there are many factors that go into surviving a shopping trip. Is everyone fed? Dressed comfortably? Not tired? The store is over stimulating and not meant for children so we need to keep this in mind, and possibly lower our expectations a bit. The store can be a difficult place for children to self-regulate in. Try to always empathize with what it must feel like to be them. Also, try reflecting on your own energy. Are you frantic, rushed and impatient? I usually am in the store, I don’t like the store since having children. I often notice later that it was me who was actually the most overwhelmed and I just projected it onto my children, saying “they’re all done. They need to get out of here,” when really it was me who was done. On times when we are all well rested and fed, we have had some very enjoyable shopping experiences. The truth is, stores, for the most part, are not child-friendly places, a large gap in accessibility, in my opinion. This is why we are just trying to survive. Do not expect perfection from yourself or your child. It is extremely difficult to have a carefree shopping experience in an inaccessible environment. We do what we can and find teachable moments and small precious memories along the way.

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