Print this page Taming Your Child’s “Must-Have” Monster

Any parent who has handled a temper tantrum in a toy store knows the feeling of wanting to fade into the wallpaper until their child’s episode of the “gimmes” is a distant memory. The insistent desire for a particular toy—usually one that heavily advertised or the “must have” item of the moment—often launches the seemingly inevitable episodes of “But I WAAAAAANT it!” in today’s childhoods. Is there an antidote?

It should not be surprising that kids get focused on popular products. It’s a natural thing for kids to want things they see other children playing with, especially starting around age four or five when they are becoming very aware of other children and want to be liked by them. If a little friend has a toy that looks cool or fun, it makes sense to a child that she should have the toy, too.

There’s another reason bad cases of the gimmes should not surprise parents. Children are subject to thousands of advertising messages every year—an average of 40,000 are viewed per child on television alone, according to Professor Dale Kunkel of the University of California at Santa Barbara—and they are subject to many additional marketing pitches through product placements, the Internet, billboards, print ads, and much more. The result? American kids aged 4 to 12 now spend over $30 billion a year, says Professor Juliet Schor of Boston College, and they influence over $500 billion of spending overall.

It’s no wonder that some toys become must-haves for the consumer child. But there are things that parents can do to tame the gimme monster when it comes to toys. We all know from watching our kids play happily for hours with cardboard boxes and pots and pans that toys are not central to play. At the same time, toys can make play lots of fun, and they can be a big contributor to developing an active imagination, building reading, math, and science skills, and much more.

If parents are faced with the gimmes, one strategy can be to redirect the child’s interest from the popular, heavily promoted toys, which are often based on licensed properties and use lots of electronics, to simple but intriguing toys that leave more room for the child to direct the play.

Here are a few simple steps that parents might use to encourage interest in off-the-beaten-path toys:

  • Turn off the TV. If your child wants only the latest, coolest products because she sees them over and over again on television, the simple solution is to limit television time—especially during the hours and shows that those toys are likely to be advertised. Yes, it will take some effort, but so does dealing with the gimmes in a crowded discount store, and turning off the TV is much less public and embarrassing. Expect your kids to go outdoors and play instead, or read a book, or do a craft project.
  • Help your child understand the value of non-commercial items. Share the story of special items in your home that have meaning thanks to the person who gave it to you or the way it is made or how long you have owned it. While they may not react immediately, build a family culture that shows your kids that it’s not all about having the latest new thing, but about having things that are meaningful and that will last. Encourage them to think about toys they might want to keep for a long time even if the toy goes out of style.
  • Check out toy stores that are not part of large chains or discounters. Many creative and fun toys do not get sold at large discount department stores or toy store chains. Instead, they are found in locally owned neighborhood toy stores that pride themselves on carrying products you cannot get in other places—toys that are unique, promote healthy, creative play, and generally are not promoted on TV.

Provided By Susan J. Oliver, Tropomedia
This information is provided on behalf of the toy experts at your
neighborhood toy store.