Teaching Your Kids ‘No’

Perhaps one of the more annoying habits my oldest boy has developed is the assumption that we are going to buy something for him when we are out shopping.  Unfortunately I know exactly how this has developed.  My wife’s business recently got a grant to buy some toys, craft supplies and other equipment for her daycare.  So often now when she is out she spends part of that grant money and our boy can’t separate in his head that some things are for the daycare and some are for him (he is only four).

So when I’m out with him he assumes I’m going to buy him something and it has often ended in tears.  We have tried to explain many times over when we are shopping that some days we don’t have the money to buy him something, with limited success.  Then recently I took a different tactic: I told him before we left, when we got into the parking lot that we are only buying certain items.  We go look at the toys when we are in the store, but he does seem to get the idea that today we are not buying anything.  I managed to get out of the store without a single whining noise or tear.

Now we have a effective method of controlling his expectations and he seems to get ‘not today’ better than ‘no.’  This makes sense if you think of it from an adults point of view.  Saving for anything is actually just about the same thing.  It’s saying ‘not today’ to something rather than ‘no’.  So once I manged to wrap my head around that concept I can relate a bit better to my son’s issues.  ‘No’ sounds a bit too final and can slip into the concept of ‘never’ very quickly.  While ‘not today’ allows for hope and the continued dreaming about the item, which as some adults know can often be better than actually having that item.

So that’s is what’s working now for us.  How do you manage your kids expectations?  Does a flat out ‘No’ work, or do you have to use some different wording?

6 thoughts on “Teaching Your Kids ‘No’”

  1. I find “Have you saved up for it?” and “Is it on our shopping list?” works wonders with my kids.

    We don’t buy stuff for the kids except for special occasions (birthdays, Christmas). Other than that they have to save their own money and choose what they’d like to buy.

    It sounds harsh, but we don’t have kids begging for us to buy them stuff when we go to a store.

  2. I like George’s idea and also CD’s idea as well. I think kids need to earn their own money by doing services or selling something to other people besides their parents. I don’t think doing chores or cleaning your own room qualifies since as adults we have to do this for ourselves for free so it sets up an inaccurate picture of the real world. They can spend gift money though if they like or accept gifts from others because as adults we get these too. Any non-essential item should be earned. I think lending kids out to other people for labour is a great way to develop a sense of money and what things cost. Of course they should be paid a real wage, not a pity wage and do good work. If not, I guess they’ll have to find a new employer or else do without their desires.

  3. I think we’ve stumbled on the same approach as you. *Before* we go into the store,we let our son (almost 5) know we’re not buying anything for him. His birthday is coming up, so if he wants to look, we say he can put things on his birthday wish list. It works…most of the time.

  4. George,

    Actually it doesn’t sound so harsh. It depends on what the kids have/need/want.

    Chris L,

    That’s one idea. Perhaps when he is a bit older to earn it. Right now following instructions is not always his strong point.


    It would be nice to find something that worked ALL the time, but that never happens.

    Thanks everyone,

  5. We’ve not had big problem with the kids in toy area yet, luckily no tears or fights about buying things. Similar to Cheryl, when the kids ask to get something I’ve often redirecting them with “Maybe we’ll get it for your birthday” and my son has really latched on to that idea on his own.

    Now everything he sees and likes he says “I want this for my birthday” or “can I get this for my birthday”. He knows that’s in the future and he has to wait until that day to get it. He doesn’t even try to get it right then, he just shows us, maybe looks or plays with it a bit and puts it back. Of course by his birthday (or the next day) he’ll long have forgotten about the toy.

  6. The only store we are in regularly is the grocery store, but even so it seems to have entire aisles of toys, clothes and other tempting goodies. When we shop with the kids which isn’t often they are now old enough to know that if it’s not a real grocery item it isn’t likely going in the cart. With our younger one we usually negotiate in advance that if we get through the store without any requests for stuff, then she can go collect her free cookie from the bakery. We told her they were only for kids who behaved in the store (if that makes us bad parents so be it). We’ve also tried making her responsible for a few budget decisions. Last trip she wanted to get a fancy fruit tart she spotted. I explained that it was very expensive because it took a lot of work for someone to cut up and arrange all the fruit. I then explained that we could make the same thing for much less if she was willing to help me. She learned that with a little hard work she could have what she wanted.

    Last time our teenaged son was along I intentionally sent him off to find the salsa. He came back holding a jar of his preferred brand and announced it was the most expensive type they had. Bingo. I prefer that brand also and would rather buy it less frequently than get a product none of us likes as well, so that was the discussion we had. I then sent him to select spaghetti sauce and mushroom soup. He came back with no name soup and an unfamiliar sauce that was on sale. I asked why he chose those ones and he explained that since the soup was for a casserole it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t exactly like the more expensive one, and because we add meat and vegetables to the spaghetti sauce we could make any sauce taste fine. I love it when a plan comes together!

    With a teen it seems you have to set the stage for them to make a discovery on their own. They tend to tune you out quickly if you start trying to tell them what you think they need to know.

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