How to stop kids wanting to buy everything

What do you do when your child wants to have everything in the shop? It’s awkward when your child wants to buy everything – not just because you probably don’t have the money, but because you know they’re be a meltdown in public when you say no. Delayed gratification is linked to more positive outcomes for children – yet autistic children have been found to have lower levels of impulse control and reduced delay of gratification. Here’s 3 proven ways to stop your kids from wanting to buy everything – the art of delayed gratification in children.

Autistic children in the shops

On the one hand, autistic children can often be super easy to by presents for. They often have obsessive interests and what to know and have everything about specific topics or items. However, this can lead to grandiose (and expensive) ideas about what they NEED to have NOW. Only to have their obsessive interest change mid year to something else.

We also have lots of experience of poor emotional regulation in public. In fact, it doesn’t matter that we’re in public at the shops – our kids will have a meltdown/tantrum/yell and cry without any concern that they have an audience. Just saying “no” or being strict is rarely an effective strategy in parenting autistic children. They don’t have the regulation skills to deal with “no” so prepare for other ways of dealing with endless wants in public.

Here’s 3 proven ways to deal with kids wanting to buy everything.

Option 1: The Photo Memory

So they’ve spotted something that they must have. Maybe it’s a cool toy or the most expensive lego set in the shop. Offer to take a photo of it on your phone so you can remember it. This also works with building, craft, construction, or anything they’ve created that you want to pack away. Take a photo to remember, give a big cuddle, and walk away to see what else there is to do and see. We’ve also discovered the ‘take-a-photo’ method works well with collectibles and bugs hat the kids find on their walks. Our house doesn’t have to accept the feathers, rocks, bugs and flowers we find on our walks – we can keep photos instead.

Option 2: The Wish List

When our son first got a gaming console, he proceeded to request almost every game published. We were not going to buy every game. So it went on the wish list. His wish list spanned two pages and was a compilation of around 50 game titles. That’s a lot of WANTS!

The wish list is a page in our Balance Planner. Whenever our children see or read about something they want, we write it down on their wish list. When it gets to a birthday or special gift-giving event (like Christmas), we can refer to the Wish List. Some items go on the wish list, and then get crossed out in a few months when that obsessive phase has passed. Other items stay and that’s when we know it’s something worth investing in for the next birthday.

The Wish List teaches our children delayed gratification and is an amazingly simple tool to avoid meltdowns in the shops. Our kids accept that if it goes on the wish list, the answer is not “no, you can’t have it” but “not yet”. It also helps them think carefully about their wants and needs come birthdays – and makes our present buying easy. They play an active role in curating and updating their wish list and helps them stop wanting to buy everything they see.

One time, our son was given the choice of using his own pocket money to buy something he “absolutely needed right now”. When he realised it would use up most of his money, he decided that he didn’t need it right now and was happy to put it on the wish list for his next birthday. He’s since forgotten about it and hasn’t requested it again – just goes to show how kids can lose interest in their instant-wants quickly.

wish list example

Option 3: Agency on a budget

Most school holidays we’ll teach the value of money through ‘holiday spending’. Each child will get a small holiday allowance ($5 or $10). We take them to the supermarket and they can buy their choice of snack for the holidays. They have to consider the options carefully and learn how to budget. They get control and agency over what they buy, but also learn about the real cost of items. There may be little frustrations in having to make these decisions, however it’s reasonably low-risk for meltdowns. This is because food is generally cheaper than toys, so a $5-10 budget will be able to buy something they want.

This also teaches them about delayed gratification. Our son bought a packet of chips then came home at ate them all in one sitting. He then had no chips for the rest of the holidays. Our daughter got the same packet of chips with her holiday allowance. She only ate one or two chips and day and enjoyed salty snacks all holidays. While quite frustrating, our son learnt something about self-control and delayed gratification, with no public meltdowns.

Conclusion: how to stop kids wanting to buy everything

Delayed gratification is a hard lesson to learn for impulsive and meltdown prone children with autism. But we’ve discovered ways of avoiding meltdowns, saving money, and avoiding buying everything.

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