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Life Skills for Kids: Window Shopping

Teach kids to window shop

Do your kids know how to window shop? I mean real window shopping, where they can wander through a store full of things they want, admire things in the store, and leave without asking for anything? Since first world countries surround people – including children – with ads telling them they need, need, need, I consider window shopping to be an important life skill! There is a certain art to being able to admire something that you would love to own without then leaving the store feeling badly because it’s not in your budget. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your kids develop this talent.

Teach kids to admire toys without deciding they need them

Start by saying goodbye

This is a tip I learned from one of my uncles – sometimes dads really do know best! He explained that when his kids were small, if there was something in a store that they wanted that he couldn’t (or didn’t want to) buy them, he would admire the object with them, and then tell them to say goodbye as they left the aisle. It’s a trick I have used successfully with all of my toddlers. Sometimes they goodbyes have been bit tearful, but this ritual gives them closure while acknowledging that, in their world, that item was very important.

Openly admire things you like, but will not buy

Kids learn by watching. If they think that you buy everything you want, they will expect the same for themselves. If they see that you also want things that you do not or cannot purchase, they will have an easier time accepting it when they are in the same situation.

Give them opportunities to save up and earn things they really want

This approach puts the responsibility for acquiring the object on the child’s shoulders – and, in my experience, that often helps them to realize that it isn’t something that they truly need.

Have them serve others and donate to charity

Service can be as simple as reaching out to people they know with cards, thank you notes, and surprises. They can donate toys and clothes they do not need to charitable organizations, as well as money. Giving to others makes it easier to avoid focusing too much attention on your own needs, while often bringing into focuses just how superfluous those “needs” are.

Get creative

When my kids admire toys and clothing, we often talk about ways we could make something similar. We talk about making things a lot more than we actually make them, but I think that is fine. My kids get at least as much out of planning projects as they enjoy using the ones we make, anyhow!

window shopping is a great life skill for kids to develop

How do you work to avoid materialism while living in a materialistic culture?

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

25 thoughts on “Life Skills for Kids: Window Shopping”

  1. Thank you, Mary Anne! Your blog and thoughts are truly enrichring…. way beyond merely posting cute stuff! I think of you and your family more often than I get around to being online. tARA

  2. I was just walking out of Target today behind my family thinking that I really need to send us on a family mission trip to help them gain perspective. We had gone to spend “tooth fairy” money and earned spending cash. We used the good bye trick when they where little but now they are constantly chimming “I want this for my birthday/Christmas” followed by “How long until my birthday?” that it almost feels ridiculous. How ever a new cute thing my oldest (8) is asking for is a Gift Card, so then she can spend it how she wants… HA!

  3. We add what they desire to their birthday or Christmas list and if that is a long ways off, we find that the list has shifted significantly from when they first wanted something. It’s not a real list either that you write down. It’s just a list that you remember.

  4. Natalie PlanetSmartyPants

    Great post! We don’t really have a lot of problems with that – perhaps because our daughter already has way too many things. Yes, of course, she admires some things in the stores – but we have three answers for this depending on what it is – “we don’t buy this kind of clothes/toys/etc.”, “you are welcome to save for that” or “put it on your wish list”.

    1. I think your response to the things she does admire is a big part of the reason that you don’t have a problem with this – very effective!

  5. Great post! We struggle with the “I wants” with J. My approach is to remind him that we live in a small space and we can’t buy everything, and if he wants it, maybe he can ask about it for his birthday or Christmas (separated pretty evenly). He usually is ok with it, and the item is quickly forgotten about by him. Right now, he wants to buy everything for Miss Baby J. It’s so sweet and enduring. We just remind him that she has a lot of toys/clothes from when he was little that he can give/introduce to her. Then we go home, open a box of packed up toys, and it’s like Christmas!

  6. Haha, we love window shopping! We especially do it with food. When we go to cafes, we play the “what would you choose if you were going to buy something” game, and we point out all the cakes and admire this one and that one. I’ve taught my kids that cakes are “party food” and so far, at 4 and almost 2, they don’t realise there’s an option to eat them outside of a party. :)

  7. Elisa | blissful E

    What a great post!! I struggle at times with this as an adult, I think partially because I wasn’t allowed to spend my allowance money at all ever when I was growing up. So I didn’t start learning how to make wise purchasing decisions until I was at university. I do best with a very strict budget – good thing I live in an expensive city! :) I also keep a wish list and try not to purchase on impulse. Waiting before buying (as your kids do when they save for something) helps me winnow out what I really will use from all the many things I just end up giving away…

    1. I do think that having opportunities to spend money as a child (and maybe sometimes experience buyer’s remorse) pays off in adulthood. Strict budgeting and waiting to buy are two great ways to control impulse spending! I also find that going over our household budget once a week and accounting for everything that was spent is helpful.

  8. Love this. Like you, I’m trying to steer my kids as far away from materialism as possible. I like your idea about openly admiring but not buying. I think it’s important they know it’s not just them who need to control impulse spending. We say goodbye to places we leave to curb meltdowns but it’s also a good idea to do so with items they buy. Honestly though one of the best things we do for them to avoid materialism is to avoid going to those places to begin with. We don’t make shopping a “fun” experience; it’s just something to be done. I don’t want them growing up with retail therapy as a means of making themselves feel better.

  9. These are such great tips, MaryAnne. I have to admit I never go into toy stories with my kids. I don’t like to have to say no. I will let them look at catalogs that come to the house to inspire gift ideas. It seems easier since instant gratification is not an option.

    1. I LOVED looking through toy catalogs as a kid, and my kids do as well. My kids had gotten good about going in toy stores – they know that we never buy anything, apart from when their gramma takes them all on a birthday shopping once a week (they love that!)

  10. Katie @ Pick Any Two

    These are great tips. Our biggest struggle is that we have a spoiling grandma in the family. Don’t get me wrong, often it’s a very nice thing!!! But it also teaches my son that if he really wants something, he just needs to ask Nana. Not exactly the message we’re going for.

  11. jeannine: waddleeahchaa

    Wow Marianne this post is very timely. Each time I visit Cambodia I am hit in the face with how much junk we acquire in America. This is not a slam against America, but our kids certainly don’t need every new fad that comes along!

    We definitely window shop and rarely buy! My children also make their own version of toys and spend many hours creating their own fun. When there is something they really desire they must save for it. We do not purchase it for them. And yes, charity and compassion for others is big in our home! And as their parents, we try to lead by example.

    Wonderful post!

  12. My son struggles with this, even though we don’t watch TV and he doesn’t even see all the ads directed at kids! We encourage him to save up for bigger items instead of spending money as soon as he gets it, and I do often try to come up with ways we can make something similar (and like you, we often plan it more than do it!). But it didn’t occur to me to model the behavior myself, so I will try to do that more.

  13. Great advice as usual. We inform them what is “needed” to be purchased before going out shopping together, so that they adjust their expectations. We opened accounts for both of them and working on teaching them spend for the need, save for future and donate to the needy. Our car conversations include deep subjects such as wants vs needs, income vs spend etc.
    Finally, knowing that they are still children, I let them take their time browsing, touching and trying, with the condition of leaving them behind at the stores.

    1. It sounds like you are raising very financially grounded kids! I have found setting expectations before setting foot in a store very helpful with my kids, as well.

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