How to shop with children

It never fails. You’re trying to consider a purchase and suddenly your kid starts pestering you about a toy they saw in aisle 5. Your thought has been interrupted, you try to shush the kid so you can finish thinking. But the kid is persistent. Focus is broken, kid is whining and now you’re both irritated. It escalates and turns into a full-blown meltdown in the card section. Before you know it, you’re carrying your kid out of the store kicking and screaming and you’d like to crawl under a rock somewhere. I’ve been there. At some point in your parenthood, you will drag a kid out of a store kicking and screaming.

Another gem is the moment when you lose your kid in the store. You’ve got your toddler in the clothing section and they decide that clothes racks are the best hiding places ever. One minute they’re right behind you, the next they’ve disappeared. The panic sets in and you start calling their name and desperately looking. For whatever reason, this is the time they choose to be silent for once. Two frantic minutes go by and you finally find them, usually within 10 feet of your location, because they finally start giggling.

And even if you survive the aisles, you still have to go through the check-out aisle. Where the shelves of candy and toys are kept at kid level, just there to test your resolve. You know you’re going to get asked. Probably not just once. In fact, kids mastered the consistent persistent ask for centuries. At first, it’s easy,

“Can I have this?”

“No”

“How about this?”

“No”

“Ooh, how about this??”

“No”

But then they get you when you’re trying to count your money or think about how the cashier isn’t picking up on that discount you thought you were going to get. This is the moment they break you. And you either yell, and they start crying and throwing a fit or you say “fine” and then suddenly they adore you and think you’re the nicest, best parent ever and they’re quiet. So you say “yes” and you kick yourself because the last thing they needed was that candy bar, but now you at least have peace.

Shopping with kids doesn’t have to be a stress fest though. It is possible for it to be enjoyable for all of you, without costing you more and without using your phone or ipad to entertain them. In fact, shopping can be a very educational experience for kids and if you do some mental planning ahead, it can be really fun.

never go in a rush

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There really is no such thing as a quick visit to a store with a kid. It’s possible to go in for “just a few things”, but with kids, everything takes longer. Never try to squeeze in a quick trip to the store with a kid, if you have an important meeting or appointment afterwards. It’s a recipe for disaster. Kids lack concept of time and don’t understand priorities. It’s almost impossible to rush a kid.  If you have to go in for a quick trip there are a few things you can do. If the kid is small, keep them contained (in a cart, stroller, etc). Be very clear with them that you are only getting a few things and you don’t have time to look around before even entering the store. Hand them your list and show them the things you need to get. Have them cross the items off the list as you go. Point out the time to them when you enter. Tell them you are trying to make this trip in 5-10 minutes and it’s a race. Include them in the race by saying “do you think we can do it?”. Then when you leave, give them a high five and say “we did it!”.

map out clear expectations before entering the store

The best way to avoid having to buy that candy bar is explaining what you’re getting and what you are not before you enter the store. If you are very clear upfront, that you will not be getting them a toy or a candy bar, they are much less likely to ask and will accept “no” more readily. Kids see you buying things and assume it’s all things you are excited about and that it’s all for you and not for them. Show them your list or tell them what you’re there for and who it’s for. “We’re getting socks for you, a present for our neighbor, a movie for all of us on Friday, and food for us for the week”. Let them help you pick out something so they feel they’re part of it. Let them weigh in on what kind of cereal or granola bars you choose. If you’re worried they’re going to ask for the sugariest of sugar cereals, then give them three different healthy options to choose from. They see you making all the decisions about what you’re buying and they want in on that action too. So make them a part of it when you can.

make your list ahead of time

Most of my arguments in the store with my kids occurs when I’m trying to think things through. I can’t recall a recipe or remember why I’m in the store in the first place when my kids are asking me a thousand questions. It’s frustrating for both of us. Having it all written down saves time, money and sanity. Even if it’s just a quick scribble in the car before you get out to shop. Some kind of list is better than none, no matter how short the list is.

engage with them

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Take your time and talk with them as much as you can. Point out the lights, the signs, the letters and numbers. Talk about the colors in the store. If they’re older, point out the prices of things. Have them tell you which things are more or less expensive. Say “hi” to other shoppers. Teach them how to say “excuse me” when they pass someone. Teach them to hold the door for others. Have them hold your list or be “responsible” for the coats. When my kids were babies, I wore them in a baby carrier. Shopping meant snuggling time.  Keep younger kids in the cart if you can. I always broke all the rules and put my younger kids in the basket part. Then piled all the shopping on top of them (gently and making sure they were safe of course). They loved it. It made it easy for me to talk with them and they enjoyed inspecting all the things I put in the cart as they came. Don’t ask them if they want to go in the cart, just establish that that’s where they go when they go shopping. But give them a break once you reach the end of your trip so they can explore. Eventually they’ll grow out of being content in the cart. Teach them to hold on to the cart as you walk. They won’t remember to do it constantly, but gently remind them to when you walk from section to section.

Visit the Toy Aisle

Again, have clear expectations up front. Tell them you will not be buying them anything. But kids love to “window shop” just as much as we do. Make some time to visit the toy aisle, and don’t rush them. They want to see it all. Expect to spend about 10 minutes there if you can. When you want to go, give them a 2 minute warning. When you give the warning, say something like “We’re leaving in 2 minutes, so if there was something else you wanted to look at, do it now”. When they leave reasonably willingly, make sure you tell them thank you for their good behavior and point out that because they were so good at listening, you will try to give them time in the toy aisle next time.

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