Consumption Shopping with children – mission possible?

Need to fetch something quickly for dinner with your kids in tow? Three tips for making shopping a learning experience.

Even a brief trip to the local store can turn into an ordeal if you have the kids with you. The wide variety of brightly colored items on the shelves often awakens their interest and their appetites. And once you reach the cash register, the store’s marketing strategy comes into play: they know that young children cannot resist those items deliberately placed at their eye level. So how can you make shopping with your kids less stressful?

1. Preparation is half the battle

Explain to your kids how shopping works. They don’t need to understand everything, but small children are naturally curious and want to discover things using all their senses. A certain linguistic ability, knowledge of food and basic vocabulary are required, so that they can identify the specific product you’re looking for. There are then three important things you need to discuss with your child before you set out:

What are we going to buy today? Why? What are we not going to buy today?

Write a shopping list at home and go through it with your child. By doing so, they’ll learn that you should only buy what’s on the list.

2. Joining in is everything: a family on a mission

Let your child help you find what you’re looking for. And if you scan products with a self-scanner, kids are usually very keen to help. After all, scanners make lots of fun noises. At the cash register, you’re faced with all the deliberately positioned impulse items like candy, and it would be foolish to think that tantrums are always avoidable. But tantrums aren’t the end of the world and they don’t mean you did anything wrong. If things do get difficult, try to distract your child. Another good piece of advice is not to go shopping when your child is hungry. If they are, list all the delicious snacks they can look forward to when they get home. It’s important to be understanding and to explain, rather than simply saying “No.”

3. Shopping costs: no work, no money

Now for the next lesson: payment. Cash, card or with an app? Some of today’s payment methods make money invisible to children. So it’s no wonder then that small children believe that you can simply take anything you want from the store. Explain to your child that you need to have money to use a debit or credit card, and that mom and dad have to go to work to earn this money. In other words, you have to exchange your time for money or food and that’s why we can’t have everything. To buy more things – such as things that aren’t on the shopping list – somebody in the family has to work more. But then there’d be less time to spend time with the kids. Once your child turns five, it’s a good idea to go through the receipts with them and show them how much money you just spent.

The highlights in a nutshell

  • Money is increasingly invisible. Children require age-appropriate explanations so they understand today’s payment methods. You can teach your child about payment methods once they are between three and four years old.
  • You should also reflect on your own shopping behavior and try to avoid spontaneous purchases: children observe their surroundings and their role models very acutely.
  • Communicate and comment on your shopping as you go along, e.g., the fact that you’re buying a family pack of something because it’s cheaper. This way, children understand shopping better.
  • Be understanding and explain what you’re doing rather than simply saying “No.”

UBS’s educational principles

This article was written in collaboration with child and youth educator Marianne Heller, who has been head of a program on financial education and debt prevention for children and young people for many years.

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