Grocery Shopping With Children

You have to take care of the kids and  you also have to shop for groceries.  And having to combine the two is unavoidable.  So what are some things to remember when you have to shop with small children?

First, the experience starts before you even leave the house.

  • Know when your kids are going to tire and when they take a nap.  Is this a trip that you can make in the time available or can it wait?  There’s no sense in setting yourself and your child to publicly fail because Junior’s going to hitting the nap-time wall in the canned vegetables section.  If you simply need some milk to carry you through until dinner, then you can stop at a convenience store and do the major shopping later.
  • Know what you’re going to get and work from a list.  Children simply require a lot of attention and you’re liable to become cranky having to bounce back and forth between Junior’s questions and trying to figure out the label data.  Again, those issues can be handled at another time so just get what you need on the list. 
  • What can you take along in your pocket or bag to help distract or entertain Junior?  When she’s starting to get antsy and spastic simply because she’s three, you’ve got a better shot at managing the situation through distraction than correction and warning.  I kept a cheap toy cell phone in my pocket and would pull it out for Eldest and Middle when they started to fuss.  When that didn’t work, I produced a ring of toy keys and sometimes managed to alternate them with the child throughout the store.  Remember, distraction is a great tool.

Then things continue before you enter the store.

  • Spend time talking with them en route and if they’re old enough, remind them of some simple ground rules in the car.  Most small kids really do want to please you and will need to be reminded of the rules.
  • Remind them of the rules one last time before you enter the store.
  • Try to remember to have some fun and keep your voice light.  I generally found that if I kept an upbeat manner, I was setting the tone for the excursion; if I was irritable, I was more prone to have issues in the store.  Frankly, there were some days that I killed the shopping trip because I was in a foul mood and knew that things would spiral out of control.

Keep things moving inside of the store.

  • Talk to your child as you go throughout the store.  Actually, talk to your child a lot no matter where you are, but especially as you shop.  What colors do you see?  Can you help me find a can with the funny little Green Giant on it?  It does create more of a pinball effect as you’re bouncing between shopping and childcare, but an engaged kid is far less likely to develop issues on the outing than one who’s just hanging out in, on or near the cart.
  • I generally kept my distraction items away until Junior began to really fret and only produced them to distract and keep things under control.
  • Sometimes, distraction simply isn’t going to work and you’ll have to act accordingly.  Remind your child of the rules periodically and if you have to remove a problem child for a period of time, do so.  People would much rather see a child removed than have to listen to a pissing contest between a misbehaving child and an irritable parent.  My rule of thumb was to remove the child for a timeout in the car instead of doing so in the store and inflicting the angst on everybody else.  As for the cart, I found that a brief word to an employee on the way out meant that the cart would still be there in a short while. 
  • That said, hit the frozen foods last so that items don’t melt in the cart while you’re disciplining Junior.

It doesn’t end even after you leave the store.

  • Praise Junior if he’s done a decent job of behaving.  Note that a decent job of behaving isn’t perfection, because he’s a kid and he’s going to be loud and occasionally rambunctious.  But decent behavior to me meant that he responded to correction and didn’t create situations that required more extensive actions, like removing him from the store for a timeout.
  • Keep talking and ask questions.  What did you like best in there?  What did you see?  Many kids – if they’re not too tired – enjoy getting out to see someplace that’s bright and full of different things.  Use the opportunity to teach and play with them.

There is no perfect way to manage kids and I’ve had to haul kids out of the store like a sack of potatoes, but some preparation and understanding can keep it from becoming a routine nightmare.


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