As the seasonal toy-advertising blitz reaches its peak, parents are under substantial pressure to overspend on presents. Research revealed that the average person will spend £300 on Christmas presents and that one in seven of us will go into debt to cover the cost of the festive season. So are we all slaves to our children's desires? Certainly, it looks as though we have lost the power to say "no", even if buying a particular toy will push us into debt. Rachel Massey, Director of Marketing at Huthwaite International, offers some crucial tips on how to avoid ‘pester power’ during the festive period.
Part of the problem is that it is already a little late to start negotiating. Children have been sold the idea of Christmas as a time of presents, and are then somehow expected to understand that giving is limited. This year they may be pestering you for the latest toys and gadgets, but if you can manage their expectations and learn to negotiate with them – you can ensure you’ll be able to under-promise and over deliver on the gift giving.
For those who feel that saying "no" is an act of cruelty, or else cannot face the inevitable tantrums, help is at hand. Huthwaite has devised a set of principles, developed in the business field that can be applied to parenting.
- Don't start negotiating too early in the year. Parents will start saying: "If you do that, maybe Santa will bring you..." whatever it is. The trouble is that children don’t always understand the word "maybe".
- Avoid agreeing on issues one by one. If you have made gradual concessions, you will have nothing left to bargain with.
- Power is a perception. You have to think: "How much power does this child have?" They may make your life misery for an hour or two, but they won't run away or disown you if they don't get the right present.
- Don't just concede, talk about trading (this applies to older children). Youngsters need to learn that life is about trade-offs and compromise. You might say: "We'll get you the PlayStation, but you have to buy the games."
- Parents on a tight budget can sound inflexible. It's better to establish a best case (the least you can spend and still give your child a good Christmas) and a worst (the most you can spend), and within that range, a target figure. This allows room for manoeuvre, and you stay on top of spending.
- Think about levers. One definition of a lever is something that costs you less than the value the other party places on it. Organise treats that don't cost much but are of high value to the child, such as a visit to a loved friend or a day out.
- Logic is not persuasive. Humans are not logical, and small ones even less so. Avoid giving long chains of reasons. If you must decline a request, state a single strong reason.
In the endless bright lights of our own American-style malls, these tips might just offer parents the strength to resist a tug at the elbow - or a full-blown tantrum.