Dread going to the store with your kids for reasons other than having to be an octopus, with eyes grown on the back of your head, skin thick as an onion, paired with the stubborn persistence of a broken record to nag and repeat instructions in order to contain your brood?
Do your kids routinely badger you to buy them everything that they lay their hands on in the store? And do you actually feel guilty enough or just so worn out that you give into handing out at least one unmerited reward on most shopping trips? Why not? After all, it’s only a dollar, you reason. It’s a small price for some peace and quiet.
But does it ever stop there? And what about the more insidious reality that your kids are actually running the show, able to wrap you around their little fingers, manipulating you with their illogic to get what they want? Today, it is a one-dollar candy bar; tomorrow, it’s a twenty-dollar widget; still sometime later, it’s the bedtime, length of skirt, color of hair, piercings and markings on body, curfew, driving privileges… the list goes on. So the question of “how do you stop buying everything your kids see in the store” becomes rather like a floodgate where the tidal wave of other undesirable whims and fancies can be staunched if you handle the first challenge correctly.
The Primacy Effect: Setting Up Good Examples the First Time
The primacy effect is the fancy label for a truism based on common sense: the things that you learn first create the strongest impression and color your attitude towards them in the future. In other words, train your kids properly the first time around and save yourself the headache trying to unteach bad habits and undo bad precedents.
Remember those days when you can push your sleeping infant through aisle after aisle of shopping without her ever so much as making a sound? If you’re reading this right about the time your baby starts to stay awake for the most part of your shopping trip, or when he begins to babble and get curious about his surroundings, this is the optimal window to shape his attitude towards shopping with mommy.
Children at this age are mostly tactile in the way they approach new objects. Touching, grabbing, putting things in mouths are natural ways for them to explore and to interpret their surroundings. Understand that need and do not misinterpret it as a “want”. Children don’t intrinsically understand that objects in store are available for purchase and can be taken home for the asking. Even if they see you putting grocery items in the cart, they might not automatically connect that teddy bear can also go home with cereal, ground beef, and apples. Nor would they assume that once they ask or whine for something, these wishes would have to be granted, unconditionally. These concepts have to be taught. Instead of “teaching” or worse, “negotiating” with them about having or not having teddy bear, have a conversation with them instead. Try this:
Mommy: “Does Jamie like teddy?”
Jamie: “Yes! I like teddy!”
Mommy: “What do you like about teddy?”
Jamie: “It’s soft!”
Mommy: “What else?”
Jamie: “It’s furry!”
Mommy: “Wow, that must feel nice. OK, great. Put it back and say ‘bye, bye!'”
Don’t be so quick to offer anything just because your child picks something up. Don’t debate. Don’t reason. Don’t chide. Don’t even explain. Just talk to him like you would a friend, getting to know him. If your child complies and puts down the toy, your job is done and you can move on. Repeat the same tactic with sequent items he picks up. Of course, one day he’ll meet something he can’t resist, offer this instead:
Mommy: “Would Jamie like to carry teddy around the store until mommy is done shopping?”
Jamie: “Yes, yes!”
Mommy: “But teddy lives right here,”
pointing to the exact spot where teddy is picked up,
“and when mommy is done, we’ll come back and put teddy to sleep with his friends, OK?”
When the shopping is almost complete, give a warning before looping back to teddy’s home…
Mommy: “OK, mommy is almost done. Right after we pick up the milk, we’ll go and put teddy back with his friends, OK?”
Back at the spot…
Mommy: “OK, put teddy back with his friends. Great! Make him look nice. Say ‘bye, bye, teddy! See you next time!'”
Jamie: “Bye, bye, teddy!”
Hopefully, this is how it ends for you. The trick is to hold them accountable for their words. Make them understand that when you let them carry teddy around the store, they also give their words to putting the toy back where it lives. Should they make a fuss at that point, calmly repeat the agreement and stand firm on not changing your mind, even if (and especially when) they have a meltdown right then and there. Remember, their first experience will shape and inform their attitudes in future episodes. If you hold strong once, chances are, you’ll never have to grow a thick skin for other times. There will be none.
From personal experience, I’ve never once had to negotiate my way out of the store because of my kids’ badgering about wanting something they can’t have. Good-naturedly, they put every stuffed animal back where it was picked up. Amicably, we stroll out of the store, never looking back. Persistent, consistent, and non-reactionary stand is what it takes to win the “argument.”
What if you think it’s too late to stop buying everything your kids see in the store because bad precedents have already been made? What if they are too old to unlearn their “entitled” attitude? We’ll talk about that in part 2 and more tricks to make this training stick!