Gift shops and storefronts can be a welcome part of the family vacation; Disney of course, has turned the simple act of shopping into an art form by making it practically unavoidable. With all the stimulation and impulse-buying opportunities, it can be hard for a child (and some grownups) to resist picking something up and coming down with a serious case of the "Gimmie Gimmies." With a little discipline and distraction, you'll be able to help your family navigate through potential tantrums, which will hopefully save your sanity and help your pocketbook.
1) Shop with intention: only browse when you're prepared to buy.
This will probably be more challenging for adults than for children, but if you keep to this plan it will help communicate clearly when it's OK to shop and ask for things. Children can have a hard time grasping the idea of window shopping or "just looking." It's difficult to immerse yourself in a store and be surrounded by wonderful toys and merchandise only to leave empty-handed. The best approach is to simply keep it moving. When exiting a ride that funnels through a gift shop, walk with a purpose and make your way out. When the kids ask to stop and look, or want something, let them know that this is "Play Time" not "Shopping Time" and we'll make time for that later.
2) Bookmark wanted items by taking pictures of them.
This idea works very much like telling a child to put it on their wish list for Santa. It's going to be impossible to pass by everything without temptation, and a lot of items that kids ask for are impulse wants. When you take a picture, it lets the child know that you are paying attention and will consider the purchase. Let them take the picture or do a silly pose with the item, it will hopefully distract and satisfy the child enough to put the item away. (We've all been there with Mickey ears and crazy hats. Snap a pic and move along). Just remember to take a picture of the store it was located in, or make a note so it will be easier to track down later.
3) Use something "Magical" as a method of payment.
Budgeting and dollar amounts are not the top priority of a child, but we still want to teach responsibility. Use a method that is easier to grasp and a lot more fun than plastic gift cards or cash. A handful of gems, or gold coins, can be exchanged for the items the kids want to buy. If they run out of gems or coins, they've run out of "money." Grownups set a dollar amount and keep track of the actual spending. I personally set each gem to a $10 limit, and just round up or down. So, something priced $1-$10 was worth 1 gem. You'll be amazed at how much more particular they become with what they want (remember to only communicate in magical bartering terms and not dollar amounts, "That will cost you 2 gems, do you still want it?"). Have fun with what you use for your magical spending. We had a choice of gems for Jasmine, seashells for Ariel, snowflake buttons for Elsa. and rose petals for Belle. Cater to each kid's interest and visit your local craft store for endless ideas.
4) Bring souvenirs from home.
This can be a great money-saver. There's no need to fill a suitcase full of stuffed toys and T-shirts, but you can bring a few little goodies along from home. Visit your local Disney Store, big box store, or even Dollar Store and pick up some fun things to give the kids throughout the trip. One strategy is to give the kids something in the morning before heading to the parks, that new toy will keep them occupied for the day and curb the want for something else. Another strategy is to have a toy waiting at the end of the day. By reminding them that they have a special gift back at the hotel, it can encourage them to behave and know they'll get a prize at the end of the day.
5) Have children shop for someone else.
It's always important to remind children to think of others. They can be really thoughtful and generous when it comes to buying for someone else. This is a perfect time to revisit those pictures that were taken of wish list items and buy for one another instead of themselves. Make a game out of it. When they start to get distracted or want something, you can bring the focus back. "We're here to get something for Sissy or Grandma, remember?" Let the kids exchange and share those special gifts for one another.
Shopping can be a great escape for adults, so don't be afraid to take some time, split up and window shop til you drop. And Remember, tantrums and meltdowns always happen at some point in the vacation. Shake it off and let the magic continue.