Shape Shoppers While They’re Small Enough : Children: Youngsters can be taught that it’s the thought that counts, along with the value of money and how to keep a gift a secret.
First they crawl, then they walk. And then they learn how to shop.
“Children learn what they live. Modeling for shopping begins from the age of 2 to 3 years old. Taking the child to the store and giving them a positive experience can determine their shopping habits throughout their life,” says Christina Cassle, 45, co-director of Community Psychological Services, a nonprofit counseling agency in Encino.
With the holidays approaching and the children back in school and on the birthday-party circuit, many parents are facing the problem of shopping for gifts. They need a parenting skill no one ever taught them in La Maze class--nurturing the shopping gene in your offspring.
Teaching children the art of buying the right gift--one that is appropriate and in your price range--means discussing such issues as the value of money, how to pick out gifts, the meaning of gift-giving and how to keep the gift a secret.
Children can learn about money early, says Susan Wasserman, a professor of education at CSUN and a former public school teacher. “You can have them hold the money, learn the monetary value and names of the money and what it will buy. Take them to the grocery store as a start, and pick up a box of cereal, read the ingredients, talk about whether or not this is a good food for us. Then discuss the price. This amount of money will buy this cereal, or this costs too much.
“Give them concrete examples, and you can then transfer these skills to further shopping,” Wasserman says.
Discussing the gift before you actually go shopping can help make its selection easier. Working with the children on making them aware of what a person would really like and appreciate and having the child make something themselves helps to add a sense of value to presents.
Kindergarten teacher Laura Ferris says, “Gift giving has always been something created or a deed freely given, something given of yourself. It is the doing for someone, the effort from yourself that is most important. Children should always have some part in making the gift itself, or the wrapping paper, or the card. This helps bring the picture into the whole and lets them feel a true sense of giving.
“Before you go to the store, you need to have in mind what would be an appropriate gift. You can ask, ‘Would this be something the person would really enjoy?’ Set a monetary value, and explain to the child if something costs too much. When they are older they can add in money of their own if they want to give a more expensive gift to a special person,” says Ferris, 42, who has taught kindergarten for nine years and is now at Highland Hall in Northridge. She is the mother of two children, 10 and 12.
Dealing with anticipation is important for young children, Ferris says. “They really get joy from thinking about the person and what they would really like. Anticipation has always been part of the gift. It is also helpful to go at a non-peak time, so it isn’t stressful, and makes everyone feel uneasy and pressured.”
As children get older, they want more say in choosing gifts. They have definite opinions about what people will like and also want to be an active participant in helping pay for the gift, say parents and professionals.
Beginning in kindergarten, Consumer Education is taught in the public schools. “Teachers help young children learn through role playing, problem solving, values and economics. Parents receive prepared sheets in kindergarten and the third grade that help them teach their children shopping skills,” said Shirley Mercer, a language arts/literature specialist for the L.A. Unified School District.
As children get older, their education continues in the school. Classes include home economics, applied economics as part of the Junior Achievement program, and high school math. Parts of the health curriculum teach them comparison shopping, values and how to buy. “We feel if we teach the kids how to think, they will be OK in the real world,” says Bob Hamada, a mathematics specialist for the district.
Between skills learned in school and parental guidance over the years, most young adolescents want to go it alone in picking out gifts.
Pat Berger, 40, of West Hills, a full-time mother of four from 4 to 14, says, “Once they are about 10, the children want to take some responsibility, they want more of a say. . . . They know their friends and know what they like, and they want to help pay for it. They like to make things for relatives, but not for friends.
“In our house, we try to teach them respect for where the money comes from, and that it takes a lot of time and effort to earn it. We are open about where the money comes from and how much there is, so our children really help out with their own money when buying gifts for family and friends,” Berger says.
“My children are really good about pooling their money and sharing the giving of a gift. Last Father’s Day, we were really busy and hadn’t had much time for shopping. We had picked up a few little things, and Ethan, my 7-year-old, had put in a dollar of his money, and I put in the rest. Money and time were tight, so when we got right down to it, Ethan said he would share his gift and it could be from everyone. They made a card for their Dad and I was really proud of the way they all were able to work together to make it special,” she says.
Once a gift is wrapped and ready to go, there is the special problem of teaching children how to keep it a secret.
“It is very important that giving has an undercurrent of trust,” Cassle says. “We learn to trust, versus mistrust, from the age of newborn to 2 years old. If we don’t gain trust in the first stage, there is a difficulty in learning to give, the rest of their lives. Teaching children about keeping secrets is a whole education process.
“We need to be very distinctive. It is OK to keep a secret that is going to be fun or brings happiness. It isn’t OK to keep secrets that make you uncomfortable. You want your child to feel free to be able to tell you what they really need to, or how they feel,” she says.
“You can teach small children to keep a secret by putting their fingers to their lips and saying ‘Ssh, it is a secret, don’t tell. We say some things very quietly, but if we forget and tell, it’s all right.’ Children need to be reinforced so they aren’t devastated if they let the secret out.”
So you’ve made it this far, and your child hasn’t even spilled the beans, but the gift recipient says, “I don’t like it,” or “I already have one.”
Ferris has some suggestions for teaching little ones to cope with rejection. “I always first work with the children on teaching them a right way of responding when they receive gifts. For instance, ‘If Grandma gives something we already have, you still need to say ‘thank you.’ This helps the child understand how it feels. I also tell them that sometimes a child needs time to play with things. If it is something you have enjoyed, chances are the child will enjoy it later.”
Adds Ramona Williams, a West Hills mother of six and grandmother of 13, “When my kids were little, I sat them down and told them it didn’t matter how much a gift cost, what counted was the thought. So they would each take their small amount of money and buy a gift with it.
“As they got older, they kept on buying the same kinds of gifts, so I sat all six of them down and said it was a good time to pool their money together to buy something that would last. The whole point in giving a gift is, you are doing something special for someone.”