Taming this beast isn't an easy task either. It requires absolute consistency, tough love, determination and time. In fact, it usually takes far more time to fix it than it took to create this problem.
I guess it would be best to address why giving in and buying the toy or candy isn't ideal for their growth and development, even if it is not affecting your pocketbook. One would like to think the child will grow out of this behavior, but surprisingly most of them just become more manipulative and the desires just get more expensive. The biggest problem however is the lack of control over their desires that develops and festers. Pardon me if you are someone who must buy yourself something every time you go to the store, but it's not a financially healthy behavior for you or your children. The inability to wait for something creates a constant need for immediate gratification, which usually leads to plenty of credit card debt in later life. It also creates a lack of appreciation for what they do have because they gain it so easily and typically are living with an overabundance of toys and goodies. It can actually cause a greater discontentment than those that have very little. This can create a lifetime habit of buying things for that immediate feeling of happiness, only to need something else almost immediately afterward because the feeling is so short-lived. The bottom line is, for obvious and not obvious reasons, this behavior needs to be dealt with.
The good news is, it's never too late. The bad news it isn't going to be easy. However, just as David had his slingshot (small, simple and mighty) against the giant Goliath, I am arming you with a plan and a weapon. I will not let you slay this beast unarmed. I am giving you THE LIST! I warned you it was small, simple, and mighty. It is actually two different weapons, one for your little sprout and one for you. However, they will both be working for the same greater good.
The Shopping List
I rarely go anywhere for any shopping without a list. Once in a while, the list is in my head. Otherwise, it's in my phone or on paper. In fact, my daughter often helps me make the list because that child has a memory of everything we need or have run out of. The obvious advantage of a list is not forgetting what you need. The less obvious advantages are that they help you budget, they help you control unnecessary spending, encourages waiting for wants, and they empower you to say, "NO".
The simple rule of the shopping list is this: If it's not on the list you can't get it unless it's a true necessity that was accidentally forgotten (we are talking toilet paper and toothpaste people, not shoes).
Note: If you break the rule, the list will give you no power over the monster. You must act as if you are legally bound to that list and cannot get something today that is not on the list. I just throw up my hands and act helpless saying, "I'm sorry I can't, we didn't put it on the list. We will just have to wait."
The Gift Wish List
My kids inevitably will see something that immediately tugs at their little heart strings and are convinced at the moment that they really want that colorful, shiny object. That's marketing for you, you can't escape it and kids don't have the control over their emotions to realize they are being played like a fiddle by some marketing executive that can make some of the dumbest toys seem spectacular. We have a trained simple response that is, "Put it on your list." This is a gift wish list. It can be a Christmas List, Birthday List or a general gift list.
Our kids usually have generous birthdays and Christmases but they rarely get a toy that doesn't fall on these days. Occasionally, if they want something in the interim, we will discuss ways they can earn it, but most of the time they are quite content to add it to the wish list.
I suggest not writing it down for your child or carrying the list around with you. If your child is quite young, have them draw a picture and then once they have done that, you can label it for later (so you will know what on earth you are supposed to buy). If you carry the list with you or take care of adding it to their list, you will take away a beautiful benefit of the list: the filter.
The Filter is the process that occurs when the child escapes the store with all it's wonderful marketing and returns back to the real world. Without it in their immediate presence, it's less desirable. Plus, having to actually write something down and remember it decreases it even more. What is typically left is a much more scaled down list of the items they really truly desire and will appreciate. Even my darling daughter who remembers we are out of milk, peanut butter and dish soap will forget at least most of what captured her heart at the store.
To get you started I have even included two different Printable Gift Wish Lists in the Tool Shed. One will allow your young children room to draw their items and the other gives writing space. Try to make it fun and exciting because when you are making changes like these, being positive is crucial to success.