5 Father-Son Shopping Tips

Turn a necessary outing into something fun -- or at least educational -- or at least not miserable. See more parenting pictures.
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According to historians, the Greek philosopher Aristotle imparted wisdom to his students as they strolled the gardens of his school. It's quite possible that he also took them to the public forum and marketplace, the agora, not only to participate in debates, but to do a little shopping, too.

We know, most guys today don't rank shopping as high as things like camping or even cleaning out the gutters for father-son bonding. But, wise man that he was, Aristotle may have intuited what modern studies have shown: Having a caring, involved father figure benefits kids, especially boys, from birth onwards. It promotes feelings of security and self-confidence. It increases kids' chances of developing happy, healthy relationships and succeeding in school, and it decreases their likelihood of engaging in violent behavior or crime.

Some findings have suggested that being a father figure has benefits, too. In one study, men who engaged in unhealthy habits like smoking tended to give up them up after becoming dads.

It doesn't take a Greek philosopher to figure out that fathers and sons have to buy stuff occasionally. Why not seize the opportunity? In the following pages, we offer five tips for father-son bonding while buying. But note that we use "father" and "son" only for linguistic convenience. The ideas that follow apply to any father figure, including but not limited to a stepfather, foster father, grandfather, big brother, uncle or Mom's significant other.

Allow Plenty of Time
Young kids are perpetual curiousity machines -- leave lots of time to stop and talk about the things you see.
Young kids are perpetual curiousity machines -- leave lots of time to stop and talk about the things you see.
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Shopping with a kid takes more prep time than shopping alone. Toddlers have to be buckled into car seats. Young sons may need more time to tie their shoes; older ones have to get their hair just right. Allowing time for these routines ensures that everyone will be happy and relaxed at the start of the trip, thus making it more likely that they'll end the outing feeling the same way.

It also leaves more time for making thoughtful, informed buying decisions. Whether you're shopping for school clothes or toothpaste, you may want take a moment to discuss price and brand names, or to consider whether the item is likely to go on sale and whether you can do without it until then.

Our next point also deals with buying decisions. Money is power, as they say. Read on for a discussion of how to wield it wisely.

Don't Try to Be an ATM

Someone once described a father as a man who carries pictures where his money used to be. Indeed, Dad might suspect that the photo wallet is marketing ploy designed by toy makers, displaying his little darlings' faces every time he goes for the credit card.

But declaring the wallet completely closed for business isn't practical or fun. On the contrary, judiciously indulging a son's material wants can teach realistic expectations about money and nudge him along positive paths of behavior. For example, do you give a son the last $20 he needs to buy a video game he's been saving for? It's one thing if he's been scrimping for six months and just missed a sale price. It's another if he hasn't bothered to save enough because he's used to having other people cover him.

The same principle applies to needs as well as wants. Yes, a boy needs to make friends and identify with his peers. Does he need $100 name-brand, celebrity-endorsed shoes to do it?

"Know thy son" is a useful guide for loosening the purse strings. It's also key for cutting the apron strings, as it were. And that leads to our next point.

Know How and When to Keep Your Distance
Style clashes are inevitable, but if both parties are politely honest about their opinions, you'll be able to find a compromise.
Style clashes are inevitable, but if both parties are politely honest about their opinions, you'll be able to find a compromise.
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If you've ever flown a kite, you know that the more string you play out, the higher the kite can soar. But the higher the kite soars, the less you control the flight.

The same holds true as fathers raise their sons. Watching your kid make his own decisions and assert his identity is a terrific part of parenting and leads to lots of proud moments. But giving your son this freedom means accepting that he might take turns you're not expecting. A shopping trip might not lead to the sporting goods department or musical instrument shop that you'd pick, but to a kitchen department, art supply store or science shop.

At the same time, a son still counts on his dad to steer him clear of tangles and crashes. Your kid might ask for your sage advice when comparing cast iron cookware or chemistry sets. Guiding him through relatively low-impact decisions like these will build his trust in your judgment -- and his own critical thinking skills. The aim isn't to have a kid who reaches the same decisions as you, but who reaches sound decisions on his own.

Next, we consider the issue of values, and not just the ones on the store shelves.

Teach Values -- Don't Preach Them

You are what you buy. How you shop and what you purchase says a lot about your concerns and values. Do you wait for sales to save money? Do you buy the latest technology in order to keep up with the world? Are you loyal to certain brands because of the charities their parent companies support? Do you prefer recyclable packaging? Are you committed to buying local?

Fathers may miss the chance to explain the values that underlie their shopping decisions by assuming their son already knows them. You may shop at a certain hardware store because you want to support a family-owned business that your dad used to take you to when you were a boy. Your son may think it's because the place is only a block from home and the salespeople treat you like big shot. (Like there's something wrong with that!)

Value education runs both ways, though. Suppose your son dresses for the mall in sandals and knee-length cut offs in 40-degree weather. You might calmly inquire, "Son, why are you wearing sandals and shorts when it's 40 degrees outside?" You might hear, "Because my jeans are in the wash and wearing sneakers with shorts is lame." But he might say, "Because you gave me these sandals for my birthday, Dad."

Moments like that don't have to be fleeting. Our last point suggests a way to keep them coming.

Save Something for Later
Engage young kids in your perhaps-slightly-dull shopping (and thereby make them more open to repeating the experience) by making a game of finding words or numbers to read.
Engage young kids in your perhaps-slightly-dull shopping (and thereby make them more open to repeating the experience) by making a game of finding words or numbers to read.

Some guys treat shopping like their last meal before starting a starvation diet. They hit all their favorite stores and necessary stops in one shopping binge as if they hope to never venture forth again. Or they treat it like an extreme sport: buy 12 items at seven stores, stuff them into the hatchback, slalom through rush-hour traffic and be back home in time for Mythbusters. Granted, some people thrive under this kind of pressure. Others, especially youngsters, end up exhausted, overwhelmed and grouchy. Misery may love company, but it's a lousy basis for bonding.

Even if you live for the rush, try to leave something for next time. Doing so reminds you both that there will be a next time -- this is not a special, limited-time offer. It also gives you the opportunity to show that you've been paying attention: "It looks like you really liked that swap shop. We'll see what they have next week." Or maybe even: "Hey, Dad, the Army surplus store is having a 20-percent off sale next Tuesday. What do you say I pick you up and we make a day of it?"

You can't put a price on something like that.


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