Family Matters: School's in for the summer

Conflict resolution expert Shimrit Nothman gives advice on how to avoid tantrums while out shopping for school supplies.

School bags (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
School bags
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Kids are magicians by nature. As babies, they master the art of making pacifiers vanish into the abyss. A few years later, they help make a short trip to the local shopping center cost as much as a vacation in the French Riviera.
This might be the reason why so many parents have sleepless nights during the summer break, deliberating whether or not they should include their children in the school supplies shopping. Including the children could lead to a small financial disaster, while going it alone could lead the wrath of their kids later, when they find out their parents bought them a Cinderella notebook and not Hello Kitty. 
A trip with the kids to the shops can be a sure formula for creating conflicts. Whether it's because kids still hold the belief that money grows inside their parents’ wallets, or because the combination of pencil cases in vibrant colors and Dora peeking from every shelf has a strange effect on their brains, children tend to embrace tantrums when present in such shops.
So if you are one of those brave parents who is planning on taking their kids shopping for their school supplies, and you want this experience to be as argument free as possible, you might want to read on.Sooner is better than later
Going into school-supply shops the week before school resumes is a very interesting anthropological experience. The chaos is evident from every possible angle: Children running around grabbing random items, parents with worried looks on their faces, trying to keep one eye on their escapee kids and another on the liquid glue. You stand there thinking: “How can I get in and out of here as quickly as possible?”
We are all emotional shoppers but there is no need to intentionally put ourselves in harm’s way. That is why you should consider shopping for the school supplies today or even yesterday, when things are relatively calm.
Shopping with the kids is in itself a stressful experience, which can lead to numerous different conflicts. Either your son is in tears, since you’re not getting him the most expensive school bag in the shop, which comes with wheels and a remote control or your daughter moves five times your speed around the shop, throwing random items in your cart before you get a chance to comment on it.
Shopping when the shops are relatively empty will help you shop more reasonably, feeling less pressured by the general commotion. It will allow you to pay more attention to your children’s wishes and whims and leave you with some emotional strength to deal with those.
Plan together
School supplies shops are like a wondrous jungle for your children- there are exciting new things to find around every corner.  Unless you’re planning on spending your whole day in the shops debating with your children over a yellow eraser, it might be worth your while arriving there with a shopping-list. But not just any list - help your kids each draw a list of items they were asked to bring to school and add to that a few items they would like to get. Send them off to do a little research on the Internet (or do it with them if you prefer), so they will know what different options exist for each of these items. Print a page with all the supplies and their different options next to those.
Explain that they each have a budget, and that they are responsible for keeping inside that budget.
Knowing what their options are will allow them to get their shopping done more quickly and will reduce the amount of potential arguments over breaking their budget.
Empower your kids
Get some calculators, your children’s lists and some pens. Send the kids around the shop to find the products they like. Get them to write the items’ cost on their list. Help them calculate their first choices and see if they still manage to stick to their given budget. If they can, you can send them off with their basket to get those items. If they’re not in their budget, help them choose which items they will have to replace with cheaper ones.
Your children are smart enough to understand that this is a great opportunity for them to let everyone know what a horrible parent you are for not getting them the glow-in-the-dark stickers for their new pencils. You would then either have to succumb to their every wish or entertain the passing crowd with an internal family feud.
So when leaving for the shops, make sure you children have a list and some clear goals to follow. This will keep your children busy, and help you avoid some unwanted conflicts at the shop. Good luck!This column is brought to you as general information only and should not be a replacement for professional advice.
Shimrit Nothman has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution and believes that like charity, conflict resolution begins at home. She recently published her first children's book teaching conflict resolution in the family.
If you have any questions for Shimrit, please use the comments section below or email her at [email protected].