Hey, parents ... It's Holiday Shopping Pop Quiz time. Get out your No. 2 pencils. Ready?
You're cruising the aisles of your favorite department store. Your child spots something he wants. He throws himself on the floor, kicking and screaming and demanding immediate possession of the item, even though it's not even on the Top 100 of his Christmas list.
What do you do?
a) Give in to the little monster.
b) Ignore him.
c) Take the tyke aside and offer a concrete, rational explanation for your purchasing decisions.
d) Back off, turn to your fellow holiday shoppers, and say in a sincerely appalled tone of voice "Whose unfortunate child is this, anyway?"
The correct answer, of course, is "d." Respond in any other fashion, and everyone within earshot of your child's tantrum will exchange knowing glances while sizing you up as the worst parent in Rim country.
There may be greater parental humiliations. But right now, in the dog days of the Christmas gift-hunting season, none spring to mind as quickly or occur as regularly as a kid with a rampaging case of Yuletide greed.
While psychologists have yet to unveil a cure for this dreaded malady, it is in fact possible to control. All you need is a little common sense. Such as the first thing most child-rearing experts suggest is to never take a youngster shopping unless he is well rested. This is insane advice. The more rested kids are, the more energy they have. And the more energy they have, the longer their slobbering fits will last. A better idea is to keep Junior awake for three or four days prior to your excursion. That'll take the edge off him.
If you choose to drive to the Valley to shop at large, busy malls and department stores, plan to make the trip during off-peak hours. The ideal period, studies show, is between two and four in the morning, when the store is closed and there's no one to glare at you but the janitors and shelf-stockers.
Before leaving the house, have your child write out a wish list, ranking his desired merchandise in order of preference. This might prevent him from begging for more than one item at a time. Maybe. Stranger things have happened. Adam Sandler gets $20 million per movie, for example.
Shopping for clothes brings out the very worst in children, so don't bother. After all, youngsters love to run around naked. And as they get older, you can count on your more sensitive neighbors to start leaving bundles of perfectly good kid clothes on your doorstepsaving you time, money and your all-important sanity.
Very often, the consumer urges of children are dictated by simple peer pressure. Once another kid on your block gets his sticky fingers on a popular toy and begins to extol its many virtues, you-know-who will soon be pleading for the same item. Avoid this pitfall by printing up fliers announcing that your child is recruiting members for his own satanic cult, and distribute them throughout the neighborhood. You'll be amazed to see how quickly this eliminates peer pressure. Not to mention peers.
Just to be on the safe side, present your child with a signed blank check as you enter the store and pray that you complete your shopping before he loses the check, eats the check or, worse, discovers that your bank account contains insufficient funds to cover his purchases.
Should the worst possibility in the above scenario take place, and your child responds by throwing himself on the store's linoleum, kicking and screaming, you still have one remaining course of action: Throw yourself on the floor, kicking and screaming. It is far more preferable that the surrounding shoppers assume you're an escaped mental patient rather than an awful parent.
Once you have successfully trained your child to get through an entire shopping expedition without making a single plea for merchandise, remember: Good behavior should always be rewarded. Buy the little nipper whatever he wants.
Congratulations to you both ... and happy holiday shopping!