By Katherine Cook
Every parent knows that taking your kids to the grocery store can be quite the hassle. Grocery shopping with young kids can really test the limits of your patience.
It doesn’t have to be that way though. Here are some ideas that have worked for me when I go shopping with my children that make the trip less rough.
- Give them a heads up. While you are getting ready to go to the store and/or in the car on your way over talk to them about your expectations. Letting them know in advance the purpose of the trip to the store and making them aware ahead of time that you will not be making any extra purchases may help prevent tantrums. “We’re only buying milk and bread this time — no extras.” I also find it helpful to repeat our intent once again as we enter the store.
It is important to be firm and consistent with this. Setting limits (and sticking to them) is key. If you have the talk on the way over then allow them to get that ball or candy bar they won’t take your talks seriously the next time. This could cause a problem on your next shopping trip when you do tell them “no.”
- Make sure everyone is fed. Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach is hard for anyone. You spend more because when you are hungry everything looks good, and you have to have it. With kids it is no different. That box of brownies that isn’t on the list isn’t only calling out to you but is screaming out to your kids as well. The difference is that as adults we have learned more self-control. So while we may be able to walk away, our kids may not be able to quite as easily. This could result in the child throwing a fit when you walk away.
Being hungry also affects your mood, and in a negative way. So you will all be grumpy and when that fit begins you may lose your cool more quickly. If that is the case, the whole situation may spiral out of control before you know it. So fill up before you shop.
- Make sure everyone is rested. A sleepy child can make for a grumpy child, which makes them harder to reason with. Avoid taking them shopping close to nap time or bed time.
- Give yourself time. Shopping with young children usually isn’t a quick affair, often taking an hour or longer. So to avoid added stress, I find that going shopping at a time that we will not have to rush around is very important. Children are highly sensitive to their parents’ emotions. I know that when I am in a hurry and stressing out that is when my kids have the most trouble at the store. Added stress makes it more difficult to handle any possible outbursts well. If you are like me, you may snap at them and that will only have a snowball effect of negative emotions for all of you. Give yourself plenty of leeway to get the job done in a relaxed manner.
- Bring something familiar. This leans more towards the really young children. Stores can be loud and crowded places that can be overwhelming to little ones. Bringing their blanket, or a toy they find comforting, or one of their favorite books may help to keep them from becoming overstimulated and avoid meltdowns. My youngest son is now 16 months old and he always has a stuffed animal and a snack and sippy (drink) with him at the store.
- Get the kids involved. Assign them tasks while you are shopping. Allow them to push a kids shopping cart or hold a basket. Maybe give them their own list to mark off as you get things or allow them to mark things off of your list. Ask them to grab the loaf of bread and put it in the cart. Little things like that will keep them busy and also makes them feel proud and a little powerful. Little kids like to help their parents, and they want to be just like them. Allowing them to do some of the tasks makes them feel just a touch more special and in control of the situation, which they love. It can also be a great learning experience. Have them pick out four red apples and six green apples, or something similar. It will help your child learn their colors and work on their counting skills.
- Play games. Playing games when shopping is a great way to keep your child from thinking about how long it is taking or about that extra bag of potato chips. With so many different items in a grocery store, “I Spy” is a great game to play. Grocery store bingo is fun too, or guess the weight (Fill the produce bag with however many items you want, like 12 carrots and ask your child to guess how much it weighs. Then place it in the scale to see who is closest.) I found some fun stuff for my 8 year old too at this link that we enjoy. You can let the kids get creative and come up with some of their own too.
- Take shorter, planned out trips. If you can, try and break your shopping up. Maybe do half on Monday and half on Thursday, or whatever days your schedule allows. Shorter trips are less overwhelming for everyone. Having a thorough list also makes things go more smoothly. Write everything down even if you are positive you won’t forget it so you don’t have to go back to the store again.
- Praise good behavior. After you are all loaded up and headed home think of something your child did well at the store and tell them how proud you are of them for it. It could be something as simple as listening to you the first time you asked them not to touch something, or picking up something they dropped. Whatever it is acknowledge that they did it and show them that you are thankful. Kids love praise and acceptance and they will remember this more than the scolding they get for the things they did wrong.
If you feel like rewarding your child for their good behavior, it is better to do so with activities and not objects. (In my experience, rewarding with objects could lead to asking for more at the store again and result in meltdowns when you tell them no.) My kids like it when I reward them with more time at the park, or read an extra story at bed time, or let them choose the station we listen to on the radio.
Children find it more difficult than we do to control their impulses and desires. Simply put, they see, they want, they beg. Hopefully these tips work as well for you at better controlling, or even preventing, the kids’ gimme-gimmes as they do for my family.