Toy-store-with-kid strategy: Email Santa with gift ideas

Darryl's adorable daughter Let's put aside for a second Darryl's smart and creative wish list hack because AWWWWWW, LOOK AT HIS DAUGHTER! If I actually knew Darryl and it weren't creepy, I'd buy that dress for her right on the spot. Which would defeat the purpose of this hack and totally undermine Darryl's parental authority.

Back to the matter at hand. If you find yourself in a store with your kids (say, you're buying a gift for a friend's birthday or for a certain upcoming holiday) and they find something beg-worthy, here's a twist on the "take a picture of it for the wish list" hack we published a while back:

I'm sure every parent dreads shopping in any store with a toy department because they know it will end up with tears and probably an embarrassing tantrum. Everyone knows you can't talk sense into a 5-year old in a toy store, so the 5 minute trip to the store ends up taking an hour. When my kids start begging for a toy, and I feel the negotiations are about to begin, I just pull out my iPhone and tell them to pose with the toy and I'll take a picture and "email it to Santa." I show them the picture, they put the toy back (instinctively, which is funny), and we're on our way. Parent: 1, Kids: 0! This has worked for years every time on all 3 of my kids (ages 3 to 6 to right now).

This is even more useful during the holidays. Not only do you end up with dozens of cute, smiling photos of your kids throughout the year, but you can actually email the photos to grandparents or aunts and uncles who don't know what gifts to buy. It also helps me remember what they wanted, and when Santa comes through with some of the gifts, it renews this hack another year until the next Christmas.

An enhancement on this hack is to use your phone's video recorder. I get them to say their name, the name of the toy, and what they did or will do to deserve it. So cute!

Related: Use Google Documents to share family gift lists


  1. says

    I’ll vouch for this one. It even works on my 3 year old. They pose for picture and PUT THE THING AWAY and move on. I go through my iphoto every few months and use the photos to update their amazon wishlists for the grandmothers.

  2. lynne says

    I do this one too. Also works for catalogs that start coming at home, and Amazon wishlists. And I use the address, with a bcc to the grandparents on the sly.

    Also the other side of Santa works with this – if tantrums start happening, or other undesirable behavior (however you define it for your household) you can always draft an email to Santa letting him know how disappointed you are. Nips that in the bud. Once I also called “Santa” – actually my dad, who has a very deep voice and immediately went into character and played along. I love technology.

  3. Nicole says

    I just say no to 99.5% of all in store requests and if it’s a cool toy I follow with, we can put that on your Christmas list (or Birthday list depending on the time of year). If it’s junk I just tell him it’s not a good toy and not worth having b/c it will break quickly or not be very fun for long. It always works and there’s no whining. I refused to be the parent with the whiny kid in the store so I’ve consistently said no and never waffled. If I do say yes (<1%)it's an immediate yes so he doesn't think he can whine or negotiate his way into a yes.

  4. says

    Surely you celebrate something that warrants gifting – Birthday, Hanukkah, Diwali, Winter Solstice, etc. – and you can say that you’ll email Grandma or whoever with the picture.

  5. says

    We say no (and mean it) to most everything and unless overtired/cranky my kids just know better than to argue. But let’s face it, it’s just much more fun to have a reason to convey the message of “maybe” without undermining your authority as the “no” decision maker.

    We’ve been doing the picture taking thing for a while now, as well as simply telling the child to talk to Santa about it. My three year old actually stored up in little noggin the entire list of things I told her to tell Santa about. Poor mall Santa didn’t get a word in edgewise because she was spouting off a big old list of requests. It’s all fun and she knows she won’t get everything (or possibly anything) she asked for.

    The biggest bonus, for me at least, is that Santa never has to remember the things that were requested. Simply scroll through the pictures on my phone (or wait for his email!) and there’s the list ready for him.

  6. Claire says

    I do this, using Google Shopper on my Android phone :D I add it to the wishlist, show it to her (she reads it — she’s 6 now), and we move on our merry way.

  7. santas-elf says

    here is an even simpler one but we started this when our kids were toddlers so not sure it will work without the “early training” effect: I would tell my toddler she could “borrow” one toy while we were shopping and then put it back. if she wanted to hold a new toy she had to put the old toy back. I swear to you this worked! she had something to hold (highly tactile when they are two or three) and I had no tantrums nor leaving store with a new toy or stuffed animal..which does not teach her anything about resisting consumerism
    this also works year round..which the above ahem as nice as it is ..will not.

  8. Zed says

    I think this hack DOES work year round, with a slight adjustment — the picture is taken for a general “wish list”, not just for Santa.

    In our family, we don’t emphasize Santa much, and we don’t claim that he has a naughty/nice list. Most presents come from mom and dad, and Santa brings one thing. When we’re out and about, I tell them that I’ll write their request down on their “Christmas list” or “Birthday list” year round. That works pretty well. And you’re absolutely right: they do put the item right back on the shelf! They’re satisfied that their request has been noted.

    But taking a picture is totally cute and would make it easier for me to remember the item better (my short descriptions sometimes are lacking come present-buying time). Thanks for the hack!!

  9. relrev says

    Super cute! I’ve been able to keep the in-store whining to a minimum by emphasizing that the kids can tell me they ‘like’ something all they want, I just don’t let them tell me they ‘want’ something. Changes the whole dynamic, because then we’re talking about opinions and sharing interests, rather than making lists of demands. My other trick is to emphasize that I understand they like that item, and maybe we can keep an eye out for it a yard sale (which we frequent). It moves them into focusing on an action plan in the future, rather than in halting the action to get what they want now.