Last Thanksgiving, our family visited extended family in Michigan.
We all gorged ourselves into a stupor, sealing the deal with a decadent cheesecake my husband Ty made that just so happened to have 1,300 calories per slice.
Then on the Friday after Thanksgiving, it was time to load up the car and start the long drive back to Texas. We were stopping in Chicago for the night, so it wasn’t a long drive, but we wanted to get in before dinnertime and browse a couple stores just for fun.
On our way out of town, we made a quick stop at a local grocery store to stock up on juice boxes, diapers, and a king size pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups. The basic road trip essentials.
Halfway between the juice aisle and the candy aisle, the grocery store did something very sneaky.
They had a display set up that jutted out into the walkway, with boxes and boxes of an adorable doll and pony set.
And then our 6-year-old Abby saw it.
Usually, one of two things will save us from full-on temper tantrums in a situation like this:
- If we have the foresight to prep Abby for the temptation before walking into a store, this magic trick has been foolproof.
- Once she has her sights on a toy, we listen to her gushing and then offer to add it to her wish list, which I keep in Evernote.
But this time was different.
This time, we were going toe-to-toe with a Black Friday deal.
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An Epic Battle
“Mommy,” Abby said. “Isn’t this cute?” She pointed to the doll and pony.
“It is,” I said, barely registering what I was looking at before turning my sights back to the candy aisle ahead of me.
“Can I have it?”
I knew enough to slow down. Turn around. “Toys aren’t on our list to buy today. And that’s a big toy. That would be like a Christmas or birthday present. Do you want me to add it to your wish list?”
“It’s on sale,” she said.
“It is on sale,” I said. “But 50 bucks is still a lot of money.”
“It’s not 50 bucks. It’s only 48.” Who decided it was a good idea to teach math to first graders, anyway?
“That’s close enough to 50 bucks. We’re already going to the American Girl store tonight to find a new outfit on sale for your doll. Why would we buy you a whole separate doll, just because you happened to walk by it?”
My patience was waning. We had candy to buy, we needed to get on the road, and 18-month-old Bailey on my hip was starting to feel like a sack of sweet potatoes.
She lifted her face to look in my eyes. “But the sale is just for today.”
I sighed. “No, we’re not getting that toy today.” My tone was clipped, short. I caught myself. “But I’d be happy to add it to your wish list.”
Her chin dropped to her chest. She crossed her arms.
“C’mon, let’s go,” I said, motioning with my free arm.
She just stood there.
She turned away from me.
“We don’t have time for this. Let’s go. Now.”
“If this is how you’re going to act, I certainly don’t want to take you to the American Girl store and buy you a small present just because.”
Still nothing. Bailey slipped off my hip, and I hitched her back up.
“I’m going to turn and keep going. I would suggest you follow me.”
I started walking again, and I turned my head slightly to listen. When I heard Abby dragging her feet behind me, I picked up speed.
Then the begging started. Pouting. Tears.
She didn’t calm down until we were in the car and on the road for 45 minutes.
A Stroke of Parenting Genius
When Abby was ready, we had a good talk about budgets. About how pouting is not a good way to get what you want. About how new things won’t make you happy.
Ty spoke up. “How about this. We’ll give you the money we budgeted to spend for you on this trip.” He glanced over at me to see if I was digging where he was going.
I smiled and nodded.
“And,” he continued. “It’s your job to find something at the store that fits that budget. You can’t spend a single penny over what we give you.”
Abby was totally on board.
When we got to our hotel in Chicago, we gave her $30 cash.
As I handed it over, I said, “You know, when I was a little girl your age, I never got $30 to spend all on my own.”
“Do you think you can handle this responsibility?” Ty asked.
She lifted her chin to hold her head a little higher and nodded.
Then we bundled up and headed out to the Magnificent Mile.
Free Cheat Sheet: 5 Things to Do During a Tantrum – and 5 Things Not to Do
How to Deal With Tantrums: The Real Test
I was nervous on the walk. Dreading another tantrum.
The cold seeped under my jacket, and my arms felt like jelly after carrying Bailey on my hip for a few blocks. (Remind me never to forget my trusty Ergo carrier† at home again.)
But before too long, we were inside the American Girl store. I set Bailey down, and she toddled off toward a doll stroller.
Ty chased after her, and I turned to Abby.
“What are you looking for?” I asked.
“I’m not sure.” I followed her eyes to the Isabelle display. The doll of the year. The one they sell only for one year.
Oh dear, I thought.
Then without a word, she walked up to the sign and started reading prices.
“How much do I have again?”
“30 dollars,” I said.
“This dance outfit is on sale for $28. That’s less than $30,” she said.
“It is. Is that what you’d like to get?”
She was quiet for a few seconds. Then: “I want to keep looking.”
I followed Abby around the store as she read prices.
She found a set of doll pajamas for $24. “If I get this, how much would I have left over?”
“You tell me,” I said.
She held out her hands and bent down her fingers, one at a time. “Six?”
I smiled. And decided not to introduce the maddening concept of sales tax quite yet. “Yep.”
“If I get these pajamas, maybe I can use the rest to get something small?”
“Maybe,” I said. But I was skeptical we’d find anything for $6 or less in that store.
Still, we traipsed around, checking price tag after price tag.
Finally, we found a doll purse on sale for $6.
“Whatcha think?” I asked. “Ready to go pay for these?”
Abby tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at the purse.
“I think I’d rather save the six dollars,” she said.
“Oh!” I said. “Well, that’s a great idea.”
After we checked out, I turned to Abby. “What do you think? Was that fun to work with a budget?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
“What was fun about it?”
“Because I got to save some money.”
Who is this kid?
An Idea Before Its Time
We found Ty and Bailey. She was still playing with the same doll stroller, 30 minutes later. Poor Ty.
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“Great,” I said. “She did all the math herself. And she decided to get something a little cheaper and save the rest.”
He held out his hand to Abby for a high-five. “Nice work, girl.”
She high-fived back and grinned big.
“You know what would be fun, Abby?” I asked.
“Well, when you’re a little older, we could give you the whole house budget for a week. Everything you’d need to pay the bills and buy groceries and go out for ice cream. And you can be in charge of making sure we spend it all the right way so we have enough to do everything we need to do.”
She didn’t answer.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I don’t want to.”
Took the wind right out of my sails. “But how else will you learn to take care of money and bills before you’re an adult?”
In my exasperation, I looked up at Ty, and he was shaking his head and chuckling.
“Baby steps,” he mouthed.
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Be sure to check out this go-to parenting trick for escaping stores without tantrums or whining: A Simple Trick to Run Errands With No Whining From Your Kids.
How do you deal with tantrums at the store? Share your tip in a comment below!