Handling A Child’s Material Wants and Impulses

My son is starting to reach the stage where he’s strongly attracted to the toy section when we’re shopping. This has already created a few interesting situations, because he’s getting bright enough that the older distraction techniques no longer work. It’s time to start treating him like a child and not like an infant.

We’ve all seen situations where the parent has an out-of-control child, screaming because they didn’t get the latest toy. I also know that I don’t want this for my child – a child so far wrapped up in consumerism and self-gratification that they’ve lost all control over themselves.

So what’s the solution? Lately, my wife and I have been looking carefully at this issue and we’ve found a big pile of tips for how to handle your child’s material wants and desires in a fashion that doesn’t result in a temper tantrum.

Minimize his exposure to advertisements, particularly those targeted to children. For the most part, this means strictly limiting his television viewing. In fact, he basically doesn’t watch television at all, other than some occasional sporting events (and he barely pays attention to those).

Don’t give into screaming temper tantrums at home. If our son throws a temper tantrum, he must learn that screaming won’t get him what he wants. As soon as I start giving him what he wants when he screams, he’ll equate screaming with successful acquisition of what he wants. Thus, sometimes I have to let him throw a temper tantrum at home. Thankfully, this is rare, and he’s learned it doesn’t work, but sometimes he sees other children doing it and tries it anyway, but we don’t give in to it.

Offer him other choices outside of the situation. If he starts seeming like he’s getting wound up about a toy in the store, I remind him of a few of his favorite toys at home and ask him which one we’re going to play with when we get home. Alternately, sometimes I’ll also throw in a trip to the park as a choice, particularly if one is already planned. This usually makes him think about it a bit, and I use that time to move far away from the toy that’s causing the anxiety.

Give him some small allowance and then allow him to use that to choose an item. We semi-regularly give him quarters, particularly when he does something good for the first time on his own. Then, when we go to the store, we’ll count up his change and see if he can get a new Matchbox car (his toy of choice right now). He has learned that four quarters plus a few pennies means a Matchbox car, so he can almost fish out the money and pay for it himself. This gives him a target in the toy section, something to look for. It’s also a great way to encourage counting skills and sorting skills.

Have a very, very low tolerance for public tantrums. If he actually reaches the point of screaming and yelling, we leave – immediately. He then has a “time out” in his car seat while I stand outside cooling my own heels. After that, if we need to, we may go back inside, but it’s strictly to finish shopping, pay for the items, and leave. Public places are not the appropriate location to throw a temper tantrum, and there needs to be negative consequences for such behavior.

So far, these tactics have worked extremely well in concert. He has only had one notable public tantrum in the last few months, and it was a long while ago – the “time out” in the car really did the trick. He also realizes now that the toys in the store are mostly to look at unless you have money to buy them, a key connection, I believe.

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