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When saying NO to your kids becomes an endurance event

On a recent Saturday morning, just a few short weeks after Christmas, I had this conversation with my 5-year-old:

Me: I’m running out to get some dog food and bird seed.
Him: Can I come with you?
Me: Yes, you can come. However, you are not getting anything. No toys. We’re not even going to stop and look at toys. If you ask for a toy or if you pout because I won’t buy you something, no screens for a week. Got it?
Him: Nevermind, I’ll stay home with daddy.

You know what I was predicting, right? Somewhere along the errand, he’d see a toy that he wants. Or a book, gum, something. He asks for it…and we all know how it ends. Pouting, tantrums, crying or any combination of the above. From him or me, depending on the day.
Look, I know that I am responsible for parenting my kid and saying no. And any of my friends will tell you, I am trying my best to be a strict-yet-free-range-parent that mimics the 1970s that I grew up in. But can I catch a break here? Because saying NO to your kid has become an endurance event.

When I was little, a trip to the grocery store was not this hard on my mother. Heck, retailers hadn’t even yet discovered that they should put the sugary cereals at my eye level. So if she could make it through that aisle, find a checkout aisle with no candy in it, she was golden until we hit the gumball machines. A little white lie claiming that she had no coins got her through that obstacle and she was on her way.

Today? Totally different story. There are toys for kids in every single aisle and department of the grocery store. There are. Go check and keep score for yourself. I love Hallmark stores, but remember when they just sold cards and the occasional candle and gift? Now, chock full of toys. Lowe’s now even has an entire book section for kids with toys in random aisles. In the early 90s, Barnes and Noble sold…wait for it…books! Now, an entire toy section that is larger than some toy stores. And that’s not even counting all the “cute” displays and endcaps of toys throughout stores. You can’t avoid them anymore, that’s the problem.

Recently I was at my dad’s and he bought my boys these die-cast metal tractors to play with. They’re cute. “Where did you get them?” I asked. “Oh, I had to take my mower in to the mower repair shop and they had them at the counter.” Yep, can’t even go to the lawn mower repair shop without seeing toys. He went to the Toyota dealership for some maintenance, came home with a plush snowman. A car dealership!
I’ve seen them in some post offices. Pet supply stores. Gardening Centers. Vegetable and produce stands. Gas stations. Restaurants. Even a local bank was selling a stuffed animal as a fundraiser. Try it-see if you can do one normal errand and not see something for sale that is aimed at kids. I don’t mind taking my kid on an outing and saying NO. I’m quite good at it. But do we have to have this same interaction on every single errand I run? It’s absolutely exhausting.

I brought this up with a friend recently and she agreed. “I know!” she exclaimed. “I recently went to buy winter salt at the livestock feed store. At the FEED STORE! And now they sell all this Breyer stuff (expensive horse/barn type toys for kids) there, so it’s another errand that I have to be strategic about and mentally prepare for.”

I suppose it must work and make money or the retailers wouldn’t do it. But of course it works! Kids are diligent little creatures. If you stop at four stores on a Saturday morning, by the 2nd one you’re wishing you had a flask with you and by the 3rd or 4th, of course we cave. At some point, it becomes worth the $2.99 just so that our child will stop talking about it and asking. It’s a no-win situation, either folks wring their hands and shake their heads because we’re buying our kids too much, or they are giving us “hmph” and condescending glances because our child is causing a scene because I did say no.

Kids are exploring and testing boundaries. It’s their job. This is how they learn. So I wish we could start a movement to just say “No!” to toys in stores that really have no business selling them. (Car dealerships, I’m looking at you.) I can practice saying no the other hours of the day, when I’m not trying to get needed food and supplies for my household. Do toys really need to be everywhere? And this isn’t even touch the tip of the iceberg, as far as random people in public handing my kids lollipops every time I turn around.

Shopping was never meant to be an endurance event in parenting. So who is with me?

Lisa Lightner

Lisa Lightner lives in southeastern Pennsylvania with her husband, two boys and two dogs. When not screaming at her kids in public, she can be found on her special needs parenting blog, ADayInOurShoes.com where she offers advice, support and fun tips for special needs parents.

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  1. Yes. I use the self checkout line for this reason–it’s almost always a wider aisle with less crap on either side. In some stores, it has nothing past the initial display as you near the register. By the time we’ve survived the store gauntlet, I am too exhausted to deal with hanging toys in close proximity to grasping hands while the cart is stopped. It’s easier to ring up and bag my own stuff than it is to say “no” or take away candy/toys. It also helps me be in a better mood to not end the trip with “no..

  2. Yep. Some activism about marketing to children is going on here now, but it’s only trying to stop the heavy marketing of and popular cartoons on unhealthy foods for children right now. I wouldn’t mind it going a bit further. Not really about kids throwing a tantrum either, but because of other stuff, since:

    Then again, even if things were different way back 30 years ago when I was 3, at that age I still had at least one tantrum in the store per trip anyway. My mom would just let us have them (the tantrums), right there in the aisle, while she did the rest of the shopping, or if it got really absurd, pick us up under an arm, ask if she could come pick up the groceries from the store later, and carry us home. She said she had to get used to a lot of dirty looks.

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