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A Teachable Moment: Shopping for #BacktoSchool

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A Teachable Moment© August 2012 By: Dr. Susan Bartell

Back-to-School Shopping

Do you break out in a cold sweat when you think about back-to-school supply shopping? If so, you’re not alone! Until you have had this particular experience with your child , it’s hard to imagine the amount of BTS_Shoppingdecision making and the length of time that it could take to select a box of markers, or choose a new lunch box.

Some parents just can’t take the negotiating and seemingly never-ending expenditure, so they shop without their child—despite knowing that they might have to return half their purchases because they are the wrong color, size or brand! Others try to preserve their sanity by relinquishing all control—letting the kids buy whatever their heart desires (thank goodness for credit cards!)

In truth, neither extreme is necessarily the best way to tackle back-to-school shopping. This is because it is important to teach kids how to negotiate, budget, and make choices. It is also critical for them to learn to manage their frustrated or angry feelings that might be associated with hearing the word ‘No’ from you. Therefore, rather than avoiding the trials associated with school-supply shopping, this is an excellent opportunity to work on all these skills with your child.

I wish you the best of luck getting your child back to school fully stocked, with as little stress and frustration as possible! Here’s the way to do it:

1. Before you hit the stores, examine the list with your child to determine whether there are any points of conflict (e.g. your child wants a certain brand of markers that cost $10 a box, you believe that the store brand for $2.99 is more than sufficient). It is better to have this discussion at home rather than in the store among the crowds of other stressed out back-to-school shoppers. This way, if you have to have an argument with your child you won’t feel embarrassed and forced to give in to something you’d rather not.

2. If it is important to you, then give your child a budget for bigger-ticket items like a new lunch box, back-pack or back-to-school outfit).

3. Recognize that the details of some items may seem unimportant to you, but could be very important to your child. (think of how much effort you might put in to choosing the exact blue to paint your room). You should therefore be willing to compromise in some areas. Remember, your child has to use these school supplies for the entire school year.

4. Don’t shop for school supplies when you and your child are tired, hungry, distracted or pressured for time. This is guaranteed to result in fighting and decision-making that you won’t feel good about later.

5. Keep receipts! If your child comes home from the first day of school feeling that a huge mistake has been made on a particular item (“Mom, the back-pack I got is for babies!), you will be able to fix the mistake with little stress and aggravation.

By following these tips, you might find that for the first time, school-supply shopping is a pleasant experience, rather than one that you dread each year.

Dr. Susan Bartell is America’s #1 Family Psychologist. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. You can learn more about her at

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