Shopping with Children

street-market-fruits-grocery-largeDr. Corinne Masur
It’s almost fall and you know what that means: time for summer sales and back to school shopping. But how do you shop with children in tow? It can be tough to entertain kids while running errands, particularly when it involves multiple stops and hunting for deals. Here are some helpful hints:

  1. First and foremost, try not to take your children shopping with you on lengthy trips (this is the very best way to avoid those embarrassing melt downs in the middle of Target).  Children usually don’t enjoy shopping – whether it’s for groceries or clothes.  They’re often both overstimulated and bored by the experience.  All of the colorful items and the florescent lighting in big box stores can be irritating to sensitive babies and toddlers – and even to some adults! Try to shop when a partner, grandparent, or babysitter can take over at home. And if this isn’t possible, try to limit your shopping trip to under an hour.
  2. Definitely avoid toy stores unless you want to guarantee a miserable experience. Young children simply can’t understand that why they’re not allowed to play with and take home those wonderful toys. Older children might be able to play with a toy while shopping and then put it back, but even if you have a mature kid, that can really depend on their mood.
  3. When you’re in a store with your kids, try not to buy a toy on the spur of the moment—this often leads them to beg for a toy every time you return. It’s very hard for young children to understand why you’d do something so nice and so gratifying once and then not do it again. In the long-term, it’s easier for everyone if you don’t set the precedent.
  4. If you visit a store that happens to have toys, tell your child ahead of time that you won’t be buying any today but they’re welcome to look.  Some children will be happy just exploring the toy aisle, but others will beg you to buy something no matter what you’ve said in advance.  Here’s a tip from a reader: tell your child that you’ll take pictures of what they like so you can remember it for their birthday or holidays. Kids usually like this idea and will enjoy looking at the pictures later.
  5. If you do shop with your children, tell them ahead of time what you expect from them while you’re in the store.  Tell them specifically what behavior you want from them.  For example, you can tell your toddler, “we’re going to Target/the grocery store/Home Depot now.  I want you to sit in the cart while I shop.”
  6. For older children, let them know that you expect them to stay with you in the store– whether in the cart, next to the cart, or in the dressing room while you try clothes on.  You can also tell them that you expect them to use a quiet voice while you’re in the store. Children don’t know what “good” behavior is unless you communicate your expectations directly.
  7. Give your child a snack to eat or let them bring a small toy with them into the store to play with while you shop.
  8. Avoid shopping with your kids too close to nap time.  Being tired will definitely decrease your child’s ability to be patient.
  9. Talk to your baby/child while you shop, and tell them what you’re getting and why you’re making the choices you’re making.
  10. If you’re shopping with your baby at the grocery store, try wearing your baby so s/he is close to you and right where you can talk about what you’re doing. For toddlers and older children, try to get them in the habit of either sitting in the cart or pushing a little cart of their own.  Make it a rule that they must stay with you. Some parents allow their kids to pick one thing off the shelf that they want. If you decide to do this, let your child know that this is the only thing they can choose all by themselves. If they ask for other items or try to grab them off the shelf, talk to your child about why you will or will not be buying them.  Discuss the pros and cons of the items with your child, but don’t be afraid to be firm and be consistent.
  11. When it comes to clothes shopping, try to shop for your children when they’re not with you (or use the internet!).  Young children don’t want to have to try clothes on and, unless they’re unusually fashion conscious, they don’t need to be with you to pick out their clothes.  When you’re home together, you can ask for their basic preferences (color, style, etc.) and then take it from there on your own!

Good luck! Let us know if you have any other tips in the comments section…

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