PARENTS

Should There Be An End To The Obligatory Gift Shops At Family Attractions?

14/08/2014 16:55 | Updated 22 May 2015

Museum gift shop

"Look, mummy, you have to walk through the gift shop on your way out. No, I won't ask you to buy anything, I promise.

Hey, but mummy, have you seen these? Aren't they cool? Maybe, as I've been really, really good today and we're having a special day out, I could just have one?

Why not? But I really want one and you can't get them anywhere else.

That's not fair. All the other children here are getting something.

I hate today. I wish I'd never come. You're so unkind, mummy."

Every parent who has taken their child to the likes of a theme park, activity farm, historic palace or museum will have experienced a conversation that goes something along these lines.

With younger kids, the conversation might sound more like, "Mine. Want it. Mine. Waaaaah," followed by the child taking to the floor, thrashing their limbs about and holding onto the said item for dear life, whilst screaming with all their might.

Meanwhile, for older kids, the conversation might kick off with persuasion tactics such as, "But it would be really useful for school," eventually leading onto full-on threats and verbal abuse.

No wonder so many parents take a deep breath before exiting through the dreaded gift shop. Even parents who have never once given in often loathe the experience.

"I have always taken a very firm stance and said, 'No, no, no' as we walk through briskly," says Julia Taylor. "It was ok-ish when I still had the buggy as I could strap the children in, but once they could walk, it was hell and now that my twins are six, it continues to be hell."

Dr Amanda Gummer, child psychologist, and director of the Good Toy Guide, believes these obligatory gift shops make up some of the most cynical marketing around.

"It's a bit like when supermarkets used to put all the sweets and chocolates by the cash tills – right at the point where kids were most likely to have a meltdown," she says. "I was on a board that challenged that and most supermarkets eventually accepted that as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility policy, it was wrong to market things based on pester power and they removed them. I'm hoping that destinations for family days out will come to the same conclusion about gifts shops that you can't avoid."

There are some strict laws around advertising to children, points out Dr Gummer. "But directing families through a shop where everything is in reach and appealing is about as powerful as advertising to kids can get, so I really do think there should be a call to stop it."

Not all destinations are guilty. The Tower of London, the Science Museum and The British Library are among those who have made a conscious decision not to force families through the gift shop on the way out.

Others, including many of the theme parks, don't force you either. Don't get too excited though – some of the individual rides, such as Star Wars Miniland at Legoland, Sea Life Centre at Chessington World of Adventures and Ice Age The 4D Experience at Alton Towers, force you through a shop before you step outside.

Some destinations are particularly guilty. "In some places, the gift shop is not only compulsory to walk through, but everything is really expensive. You can easily double the cost of your day out in such shops," says Dr Gummer.

"If there is going to be a shop aimed at kids, you need to have things that cost as little as a pound, even if it's just a pen or tiny notepad. It's shortsighted not to, if you think about it, because parents just won't want to come back."

Dr Gummer's advice to parents is to make your rules about the gift shop clear before you even get your head out of the door at the beginning of the day. "You may wish to point out to your kids that this is an expensive treat and you've used up all your budget to take them there at all. So there won't be any treats in the shop, no matter what.

"Alternatively, remind them they have their pocket money and if they want to take that with them, that's fine, but there won't be anymore. Then it's up to them if they spend it on an ice cream or a pen or whatever. The worst thing of all is to wait until the end of the day when they are absolutely shattered and just announce, 'No way.' It all comes down to managing expectations."

Another tactic that can be effective, she says, is to let your children buy a gift for someone else in the shop. "If there's a birthday coming up or Christmas, get them to help find a nice present. That way, they get the fun of buying something – which is often all they want to do – without leaving them feeling spoilt. It can be a good compromise."

Whereas the usual advice to parents about pretty much everything is to be consistent, this isn't the case with gift shops, believes Dr Gummer.

"It might be that Aunty Jean bought tickets for you to go to Leeds Castle, Flamingo World or Willow's Farm and you know you'll have some spare money left for small treat at the end. Alternatively, it might be your child's birthday or it might be that you'd like them to have a memento from the day on this particular occasion.

"These changing goalposts are fine – the consistency needs to come in always explaining the rules of the day before you go. Otherwise you shouldn't be surprised if they go mad – and that's a shame because the tantrum in the gift shop can ruin the whole day in one fail swoop."

Whatever you decide, stick to it, and don't give in to protests, which will only lead to further pressure in future agrees Rachel Calam, professor of child and family psychology at the University of Manchester.

But unlike Dr Gummer, she's not keen to see an end to such shops. "Learning about limits on money, and not being able to have everything, is part of growing up," she explains.

"Gift shops are a valuable opportunity to learn many skills - identifying good products, budgeting, planning and the social and numerical skills of the transaction itself.

"There is also important emotional learning around coping with and accepting the feelings that go with wanting something and not being able to afford it – but also the pleasure of finding something affordable, and taking it home to play with."

What have been your experiences of gift shops on days out?

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