Distract and Delay

Josie Leavitt - September 20, 2010

Sometimes it’s hard to be a little kid in a bookstore. There are so many yummy things to touch, play with and read that kids can easily get into trouble. Books are colorful, often noisy and beg to be touched, and let’s not forgot the toys, plush or otherwise. No wonder kids are checking everything out. We’ve developed a system to help kids and their families have great shopping experiences. We call it the Distract and Delay.
It’s not a child’s fault for being a child. But as booksellers we have to find ways to keep our books from getting damaged and to keep families happy while everyone browses.  Distracting a young child is actually pretty simple when you’re not the parent. Kids will often say no to parents just because they can, but booksellers promising a basket of fun things to play with can be hard to resist. Having stuffed animals that kids can play with, and get dirty, is a great way to keep little ones engaged. We keep a little basket of dragons in the front of the store. Often when I’m helping a parent with books I’ll find a young child setting up one of our stuffed dragons in a play scene, acting out a story. It’s as endearing as it is helpful. I try to have empathy for the kids when they get upset. I also try to limit easy access to books that make noise. Why tempt fate by leaving something that is loud and irritating within the reach of curious hands?
Delaying gratification can be a lot harder. Little kids coming in to buy other kids presents don’t understand why they can’t get anything. And really, do you blame them? We like to ask them a question: do you have a birthday or holiday coming up? If they say yes, we’ll take out our book registry and fill in a page for them with their name and the things they liked. We’ll date it and then tell the child that it’s in the binder. It’s important for children to be acknowledged, and writing down a wanted item is a great way to do that. They know their desire for a book or toy has been safely written down and that can usually be enough to stave off a tantrum. The interesting thing about this is, more times than not the child never asks to see that list again. The parents remember and look at the list.
When an older child is told no and is pouting about it, l might suggest that they pay for the item themselves. If they react in shocked horror, as if to say, “I don’t want it that badly,” then it’s pretty clear they can walk away from the book without feeling bereft and once that’s realized, they tend to stop whining.
The goal of all this is to make shopping as pleasant as possible for all our customers, young and old alike. And really, there’s no prettier sight than a tantrum that’s redirected.

6 thoughts on “Distract and Delay

  1. Betty the Bookie

    This is such a timely post. Just Saturday I was going around the store collecting the baby carriage filled with plastic food from the play house as well as pieces from the “Make your own Monster” set. Had to flag down the adult customer on her way out the door to find out where she had placed the container bowl for the monster pieces. I just couldn’t find it. Turned out it was 3 aisles over on the floor! We do have a big pretzel bowl with a scoop (try to keep those germs at bay). Those pretzels sure do work for the “grumpies” must of the time. Our on-line newsletter blast is called “Beyond the Pretzel Bowl.”

  2. Ellen Scott

    Our GoodNight Moon Room under the stairs (has anyone ever done a poll of how many children’s departments of general stores are in the basement?) is a huge help in corralling children while parents shop!! Painted with the GNM furniture before I started here 9 years ago, we keep it well stocked with plush and books that can be played with, walked on, etc. At my children’s only store, The Bookhouse(closed in 1996) we had a free-standing two-story playhouse. It was wonderful, too!

  3. Ellen Mager

    I still have to say that for me the old fashioned rotary phone is a savior. I had it in one of my stores because I’d lose electricity so often from storms and I could plug it directly into the wall socket. I cut off the wires and it is the STAR of the toy basket from infants up! What is really great is when the parents smile and tell their child stories about these phones in the family’s homes – so cool and the kids think it is a hoot!


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