How to Handle Toddler Demands at the Store
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How to Handle Toddler Demands at the Store

How to put limits on your toddler in shopping situations, from parenting expert Jan Faull, MEd.

Q. Does every parent end up buying their child something every time they go to the store? My son is 5 years old and he makes out like a bandit every time. Recently we went shopping for a few things for dinner and we ended up with a Tonka Dump truck, Scooby Graham Crackers, and some candy. Am I spoiling him? How can I put a stop to this behavior?

A: Many parents find themselves in exactly the same position as you, buying their children items from a store simply to appease them and avoid a scene. If you truly want to break this begging and buying habit between you and your son, you'll need to develop a plan and adhere to it perfectly consistently.

Here is how to proceed. Next time you go to store, make a list of grocery, household, or clothing items that you will purchase. Ask your child if there is one item he needs or wants. If the item is within reason and your budget, add it to the list. Do your best through negotiation and compromise to determine one object that will be his to choose and purchase.

When at the store, stick to the list. If you notice or think of an additional purchase, put it on hold for that day. Don't do yourself what you don't want your son to do. If your son sees an additional item he'd like, say in monotone, "We will only be buying the items on the list."

Remember you're trying to break your son's demanding ways when at a store, so it's critical that you stick to the list yourself, modeling thoughtful consumerism. The way to break that habit is to allow the list to dictate what you purchase rather than an impulse.

Of course, you might have a perfectly good reason to purchase an additional item, but for now, when your son is by your side, you must model buying restraint. Ultimately you're trying to create in your son a person who shops with thought and planning, not desire alone.

You must be prepared for whining, anger, or a temper tantrum in the store. Your son expects to get his way; he expects to get what he wants when he wants it. When he's denied, he'll be indignant. If the scene turns ugly, leave the store, and go to your car or walk around the block until your son calms down. It might be necessary to go home. This approach is inconvenient, but to make a change in your son's behavior you must be willing to carry out your plan. In time he'll change -- but realize that it might take up to a month for him to learn a new approach to shopping.

By adhering to the list, he's learning to plan what he buys while you teach him to delay gratification of his needs and wants. You're also attempting to help him learn to accept the fact that he can't always be instantly gratified. He'll develop character when he learns that he will be fine even if he doesn't receive the truck, crackers, or cookies that catch his eye.