Are you tired of dealing with your child’s whining, begging and tantrumming because you said “No!” to the candy placed strategically at toddler eye level in the store check-out aisles? Do you wish shopping for groceries was a calm, pleasant experience for you and your child? As a parent, I am tired of living with those toddler tax traps and we shouldn’t have to take it anymore! Our unpleasant shopping experience is the store’s fault; not our children’s fault!
Terminate The Toddler Tax Traps!
Candy is bad for children. Stores and parents know it. However, candy, pop and small toys are purposefully placed at a small child’s eye level in the grocery and toy store checkout aisles for one reason only – the nag factor. Young children can’t help but notice the offending items and then pester, nag, tantrum, whine and scream for their parents and caregivers to purchase them because they have little self-control for restraint. They see the treats and want them. Now! It somehow has become a parent’s job to protect the integrity of the store’s candy display when they openly flaunt them to unsuspecting little ones.
Small children just take the candy and open them to eat as they have no cognitive concept of ownership (until age 3 to 4) and the exchange of money for goods (age 5). This leaves the parents the task to take it away from them. The parents are trapped at the checkout because they have no other way to pay for basic groceries. They have no choice to leave, because they require groceries, and either resist their child’s pestering with a lot of effort, or give in and purchase the candy to avoid a scene. This is retail extortion similar to a tax placed on parents by stores. Parents and caregivers are trapped in a public, embarrassing and vulnerable situation which is bad for adults and children. They either pay money to cover the items eaten, or take away the candy from their unhappy children. This is the toddler tax trap: candy and toy laden checkouts strategically placed for the sole purpose of child nagging and parental impulse purchase of items they don’t want.
Parents Have No Choice
North American stores need to cater to their biggest customers – Moms, Dads and Caregivers. We have enough buying power to demand stores remove all candy, toys and impulse products in those checkout traps that are designed to tempt children and increase children’s whining, and frustration, and in turn, extort extra money from us parents who are already worn out from working, shopping and life, and we just don’t want to deal with one more toddler tantrum in a day. Food is the most basic of items bought, and yet, for parents everywhere, the procurement of this basic need is fraught with stress. Yes, there are some candy-free self-checkouts, but why add to the burden of parents struggling to juggle a baby, toddler and two cartfuls of groceries that now they have to check out themselves to avoid the toddler tax traps?
The Europeans Did It
Due to a continent-wide Mother’s boycott over 20 years ago, even before social media, grocery stores across Europe ditched the candy, treats and toys at every checkout aisle. They are candy-free and toyless. Some stores even have a play structure at the front of the checkouts so that children can be safely occupied while parents watch their grocery items be rung up.
This is Not a Parenting Issue, but a Child Development Issue and a Store’s Customer Service Issue
This issue is NOT about bad parenting. If a young child screams for a candy bar, it is a development issue, not a discipline issue. Updated research on young children’s brain development proves that young children under age 5 have very little self-control. They can understand the meaning of the word, “No” but don’t have the self-control yet to exercise it. Self-control comes with the development of the brain’s executive function, verbal ability and the child’s age. It means to “restrain” which is a harder concept to understand and abide then to “just do it.” Thus, parents are put in a position where they must force control when temptations are put in their children’s sightlines. This is science; not bad parenting. Children do not need discipline; they need grocery store owners to understand child development and make parent’s lives less stressful when shopping at their stores.
Stores Provide No Help for Parents
Health organizations promote two techniques which are best practices for handling the child’s lack of self-control. One is “child-proofing” which is getting the offending item out of sight of the child before they even have a chance to see it. Health organizations tell parents to childproof their young children’s environment because kids explore with all their senses including their mouth. When parents say “no” to them, toddlers express their frustration and anger in tantrums because they have limited self-control and can’t use words adequately yet to express their frustration of the limit imposed on them, as an adult would. This is a normal developmental stage of child development and one that 99% of children grow out of, as their verbal skills improve and their brains develop self-restraint.
The other technique is “distraction” which is leading the child’s attention away from the offending item and on to another item that is more desirable. Both techniques are next to impossible to use in a grocery store checkout aisles due to the nature of the cramped space, captive audience, and no desirable alternative. The problem is intensified when parents are dealing with more than one child. The play centres in European stores are an example of this. The toddlers are happy, and entertained, and the parents are happy and not distracted. These stores know the needs of their youngest little customers and are very child-friendly. Thus, they are parent-friendly too.
Benefits for Parents, Children and Society
Getting rid of candy infested checkouts is good for parents, caregivers, children and society. There are many times in a day that parents have to say “no” to their children. Getting basic needs met such as groceries should not have to be a another battleground. If stores would like parent’s business, they need to cater to parent’s needs in this very important area. This issue is about stores making a parent’s job harder than it needs to be. Parents have to choose which battles they will have to make a stand about and this is one area that doesn’t need to be a battle.
The percentage of toddlers and preschoolers becoming overweight is increasing over the years. Weight issues at such a young age create more health problems when older. Weight-related illnesses impact our tax-funded health system. If stores care about children’s health, they will remove all that tempting junk food at their eye level.
Many North American stores have at least one aisle that is extra wide to accommodate people who use wheel chairs. The proportion of parents shopping with small children is a much bigger demographic so it is possible to dedicate even a few aisles’ for parents who wish a candy temptation-free shopping experience. Store layout is not by accident. There is a reason the milk is at the back of the store (so shoppers are forced to pass by all the sales products) and there are definite reasons why candy is infiltrating the checkout aisle.
I have five children and this issue has plagued me ever since my first child threw a grocery store tantrum as a toddler when I said “No” to the toddler treat tax. While raising my children, and teaching child development and communication skills classes, I have talked to thousands of parents feeling the same way, (get rid of the candy at the checkout aisles) but haven’t had the time or energy to mobilize efforts for change. Now I have the time. My five children, who are now young adults and teens, no longer scream for the candy bars at the check-out aisles! They are civilized humans who wait patiently for service and we can exit any store without having to purchase anything. Yet, I constantly witness parents dealing with store tantrums and I feel anger at the stores and empathy for the parents who are still dealing with their poor children trapped in those situations.
Inspiration came when my younger son was 18 months-old, and he wanted the chocolate bar at our local grocery store. I had three other children with me, ages 4, 6 and 7 years old at the time. I couldn’t shop at night, because my husband worked out of town. We were waiting in the candy-laden checkout aisle, for $200 of groceries to be checked out, and I had taken the chocolate bar out of my 18 month-old son’s hand for the fourth time in those 10 minutes. He began to throw a tantrum. That day, I was very tired from being up in the night from the other children. I just couldn’t deal with another (there had been a few) battle again that day. I gave up and I let him unwrap the candy bar and eat the chocolate. When the cashier charged me for the bar, I refused to pay. The store manager was called over and he openly admitted that candy is placed at toddler eye level to increase the “nag factor” for parents who are captive consumers. He stated that the next time I let my son eat the candy bar, and I refused to pay, I would be charged with shoplifting. Indignant, I went home and wrote a letter to the store’s head office, showing them the photos of the European grocery stores that had play centres instead of candy near their aisles. No response was forthcoming. From that day forward, I vowed to never shop at that store chain again until they provided at least one candy-free checkout. That was in 1999, before the internet and power of social media. That original store is featured in the photos above. Their checkouts are still infested with candy. Now we have the power of the internet. Spread the word!
What You Can Do
Parents and caregivers, demand a shopping experience that is pleasant, healthy and stress-free for both you and your children.
- Promote stores that care about families.
If you find a store chain, that offers families at least two candy/toy free checkouts, please contact us for public promotion.
- Boycott stores that do not care about families.
We need to boycott and lobby those stores that do not value or respect parent’s sanity and children’s health and developmental capabilities. November 20th is Universal Children’s Day, recognized by the United Nations. Boycott grocery stores on that day. (Wouldn’t it be interesting if we took our little children to the checkout aisles in offending stores and NOT restrain their natural tendencies to explore the candy, for one day only. Will the stores get the message?)
- Help us lobby the decision-makers of store layout – head office executives and help us educate the public.
Our committee needs financial help for writing, editing, sending correspondence, postage and shipping, and the cost of producing and mailing researched information on child development and capabilities to decision-makers. We would like to send every store executive a package consisting of a written request to Terminate The Toddler Tax Traps and child development information so they can inform themselves on up-to-the minute brain research and change their store layouts.
It takes a village to cherish a parent, to nurture a child. Stores included. Help us help you.
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