Dear Kid Whisperer,
I need some help with my 8-year-old. I dread taking her into stores because she constantly asks for her mother and I to buy her things. If we say “no,” she whines and begs. While sometimes we give in and buy her things once she has begged for a while, and we do have the occasional tantrum. The whining is what is driving us crazy. How do we avoid the whining and tantrums altogether?
— Patrick, Columbus
You cannot avoid behaviors. And whether you know it yet or not, you don’t want to.
Kids have to try out behaviors to see if they work. That’s their job. Kids are constantly figuring out what they are in charge of and what they can control. You have shown your daughter that she is at least sometimes in control of whether or not you buy her things at stores, and she is also in charge of whether or not her parents get angry while at stores. Human beings have a biological need to control their environment, so this is normal. Your daughter is using the behaviors that work for her to control what she can control. Instead of avoiding these behaviors, which is impossible and hurtful, you are simply not going to give her what she wants (an emotional parent and a Monster High doll) when she exhibits those behaviors (whining, throwing tantrums).
First, you need to clear up some confusion and set a clear limit about when you buy things for your daughter. This is how I would do it.
Kid Whisperer: Honey, I need to apologize to you. Your mother and I have been unclear about when and where we will buy gifts for you. I think this has caused some confusion. Here’s the deal. Every Sunday I am going to give money. You are 8 years old, so I will give you $8 each week. You can buy anything you want with that money, as long as it’s something that doesn’t hurt you. That way you are in charge of what you buy instead of me and your mom. You can save it or spend it. It’s all up to you! Here’s the thing though: I will only be buying you presents for your birthday and for (enter religious holiday here if applicable: Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, etc.). We may surprise you with a gift from time to time, but we will never buy you present while at a store. Ever.
From then on, you buy her nothing besides food, clothing (that you want to buy) and holiday gifts as previously outlined. If she asks for if she can have something for her birthday or for a religious holiday, we simply say “We’ll see.” If she asks for anything while at a store, it goes like this:
Kid: Ooh, can I get Beanie Boos!?!
Kid Whisperer: Did you bring your money?
Kid: No, I already spent it.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. I don’t know what to tell you.
That’s it. Of course, if she wants to buy something and has the money, great!
What she is allowed to buy (anything that doesn’t hurt her) depends on your value system.
How often you surprise your daughter with a gift or whether you do so at all is up to you. By following this simple plan, however, you are drastically increasing the odds that she might actually appreciate the gift.