Make a list. Check it twice.

When you were a kid, do you remember all those toy commercials that invaded your house during Saturday morning cartoons? I sure do. And those ads for Lite Brite or Shrinky Dinks always prompted me to ask: “Mom, can I have that?”

Fast forward thirty years and little has changed. The only real change is the kinds of toys on the screen and that you can DVR the ads away. I do let my kids watch TV, commercials included, and I get pretty much the same question: “Mom, can you get me that?” And now that the holidays are here, the question comes more often as catalogs and on-line advertising corner my toddlers.

If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. And these ads work like a charm. The child watching sees a group of kids playing with a bright colored toy and laughing. So she immediately wants to be a part of it. When I was a girl, my mother’s response would be “We’ll see.” But after a while, such a response was totally unsatisfactory. It was vague and mysterious and I never knew if I was going to get the toy or not. I was powerless. And I didn’t like it.

As an avid reader of what makes toddlers tick, I have learned that one of the main drivers is power. Power to have a say in what is happening to them. Power to make choices for themselves. From my calculation, power motivates about 85% of their actions. And I get it: all day long kids are being told where to go and what to do, which gives them little control over their everyday lives. So I try to mold my responses to respect this need for control. Very often I take the advice of experts like Tovah Klein and empower my toddler by giving her choices of two or three things.

But I was stumped when it came to relentless asking for stuff. I’m not one of those mothers who’s constantly buying things for my children. (For one, I live in an apartment in New York City and don’t have enough space.) Is my child a material girl? Does she just want to hoard toys in bulk? I had to find out.

I said the first thing that came to my mind, which was “put it on a list.”

I elaborated: “Then, when the time comes for you to get a present, you can check the list and decide which toy to get.” The list worked!

And not only did it work, but just the concept seemed to appease her. We never actually go to the list; in fact, we don’t even have a list. It is a rhetorical list, which works just fine for her.

To keep an actual list (maybe with older kids), do what my cousin Jenny does. Every time one of her kids asks for something, she types it into a running list she keeps on her phone. During the holidays, each child will ask to review the list and choose from it.

It also works when shopping at the toy store. Take a toddler to a toy store and expect to hear endless requests to buy innumerable items. Can I have this? Can I have that? Can we get this? My daughter asks for everything she sees too but she then asks if she can put those things on her list.

The list accomplishes two things. It gives your child options and control over what toy they will receive. And it lets you quell the tidal wave of junk entering your house.

Keep a list. Check it twice. It works for Santa.


Image via katerha on Flickr