My wife and son and I were shopping yesterday evening when we wandered upon the toy department of a local department store. Our son, at twenty and a half months, has reached the age where he’s quite interested in the items here and he particularly wanted a large rubber ball that cost about three dollars. He kept pointing out it and shouting “Blue ball!” and giving the sign for please.
I tried three techniques with him in concert that ended up getting him out of the toy section with his happiness intact:
First, I reminded him of a similar toy he has at home. He has a volleyball that he loves to roll around on the floor, sit on, and so forth. It’s also blue and it’s roughly the same size as the ball he spied at the store. I talked to him about the ball at home and reminded him of the fun we’ve had playing with it.
Next, I distracted him a bit with a game that we often play. After getting him to think about the volleyball at home, we played a very simple game of “capture the spider” where I pretend my hand is a spider and he captures it. This will often distract him for a minute and it was long enough to get us out of the area.
Finally, I told him he was a good boy as we left the toy section. I told him he was very good for not getting mad about the ball and that I was proud of him, then we played “capture the spider” a bit more.
In a way, this is not much different than the tricks I use on myself to talk myself out of frivolous expenses:
I think of other items I have already that do similar things and ask myself if this new item is needed, just like when I reminded my son of the blue volleyball at home.
I use the ten second rule and give myself a bit of a distraction from the initial wave of desire to make a purchase. This is much like playing “capture the spider” with my son.
I use some positive reinforcement when I leave, thinking that I made a really good choice not buying the item. Just like when I told my son he was good for not getting upset and demanding the item.
These same things work on an adult and a toddler because they’re truly effective techniques. Comparison, delay, and self-congratulation are all ways to avoid making bad choices and reinforcing good ones. My wife (who’s really into parenting issues) says that it’s also very good that I often treat my son like he’s a miniature adult, explaining things to him in the same voice and tone that I’d use with anyone.
Of course, you could also conclude that I have the shopping mentality of a toddler. I think the first conclusion is more spot-on, though.