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Can you cure your kids' 'gimmes'?

Ideally, shopping with your children teaches them they can't always get what they want when they want it. Here's how to make that lesson less painful -- for them and for you.

By Melinda Fulmer
MSN Money

How many times have you sworn off shopping with your kids because of the constant pleading, whining and negotiating for toys, snacks and other stuff?

If you're like me, probably more times than you can count. But experts say there are ways to rein in junior's materialism and derail the high-pitched wailing without making you look like the Grinch. The key is communication, experts say, both before and during your shopping trip.

"(Kids) can learn to delay gratification and have self-control," says Karen Deerwester, a parenting coach in South Florida. They just need to know, she says, "that my needs will still be met, even if I don't get everything I want today."

But, Deerwester says, you have to move beyond the old "No, because I said so."

  • See the video to the right on how to talk to kids about money.

Listen to your little consumer

Why can't you just say "forget it" and leave it at that?

  • Because ending the discussion there, experts say, sends the message to kids that they will get only what we want to dish out, not what they think they want or need. "It says you'll take what I give you and be satisfied," Deerwester says.

  • It doesn't tell them that you hear them and that their needs will be met one way or another, even if it's not with a new purchase.

  • And it doesn't get to the root of the reason why they think they need it -- such as the fact that they may want a little more of your undivided attention, psychologists say.

Great -- more guilt!

So, must parents justify their reasons every time they deny that sugary snack or toy with a million tiny, floor-cluttering parts? Not every time, parenting experts say. But it does help to talk to your little shoppers about their desires.

"Your child is learning something" in these discussions, says Diane Levin, a professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston and a founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

6 strategies in the store

Ask questions.

To defuse a tense in-store situation, Levin says, ask your kiddo a few questions, such as:

  • Why do you want it?

  • Is it really different from that toy you already have?

  • How and when would you use it?

"I think it's better to raise them as smart consumers," Deerwester says. "You tell them, 'Everyone wants you to buy their stuff. You have to make a choice and decide who has the best stuff.'"

Delay the gratification.

If your child still has his or her heart set on something, Levin says, ask if it should be added to the list of things Santa might bring or to a birthday wish list, or purchased during some other designated treat time, such as when grandparents visit. Tell your child only one thing per trip may be added to that list.

This tactic helps kids learn to delay gratification, Levin says, and figure out what they really want when they get home.

I tried this technique in the toy aisle of my local Target. I have to say it didn't go as seamlessly as I imagined.


Even though I told my 4-year-old son we were there only to pick out a present for his little brother -- and we wouldn't be buying toys for him -- he kept grabbing things off the shelf and putting them in the cart, where he was catching a ride.

I let him look at some things for a minute, pointing out what looked fun or not so fun, or similar to something he already had. Then I put back his cart stockpile of toys.

When he balked and started whining, I asked him which of the things we'd seen today was his favorite -- which one he'd like to go on the list for Santa.

"Nothing," he said, looking glum. Clearly there would be no payoff for him today.

But to his credit, there was no meltdown, and so I followed up with a quick trip to the library to get him a new (free) book to read.

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Give your children lessons in frugality with these educational presents.

Make 'em pay.

If the children are older, Levin recommends asking them whether they want to spend their birthday, allowance or chore money on that video game or toy they are clamoring for.

By spending their own money, experts say, they learn the value of a buck and the things you sacrifice by spending.

"I thought that pizza in the school cafeteria was really cool, when I thought I could get my mom to pay for it," recalls Christy Bailey, a St. Louis mother responding to a post on MSN Money's message boards. "But when I had to earn the money to pay for it, I decided I'd rather make a sandwich at home for free."

Continued: Set great expectations

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