Take time to plan ahead for shopping success with young children

Do you avoid taking your children out to run errands at all costs? Many parents complain about the hassles of having to go out with their young children. Here are five quick tips for a successful shopping trip!

Plan ahead to make shopping with children a success. Photo by AimeeLow at Morguefile.com.
Plan ahead to make shopping with children a success. Photo by AimeeLow at Morguefile.com.

Do you dread going out in public with your small children? Is a grocery shopping trip with the family in tow a predictable disaster? Michigan State University Extension suggests planning ahead for outings with small children to make the difference between a fun, enjoyable experience or a major headache! Follow these five strategies for success before you head out the door the next time!

  1. Choose your time wisely! Although it’s tempting to just run into the store for a few things after you pick your child up from day care, the time frame alone is enough to raise red flags. Taking tired children at the end of a long day who are hungry, and ready for dinner, into a store where they are expected to behave is a set up for problems. Instead, consider going when children are well rested, and well fed; after breakfast and a full-night's sleep. Use caution to avoid times that you know don’t work well for your children, such as before nap or just before dinner. Children, like adults, are not going to be on their best behavior when they are tired or hungry. Likewise, avoid grocery shopping at peak times when the lines are likely to be long, full of busy people, the day before holidays, Sunday evenings, etc.
  2. Include children in planning: Take time before the trip to the store to make a shopping list with your children. What foods do they like? What would they enjoy for dinner on Tuesday night? Have they noticed you are out of toothpaste or soap? When age-appropriate, have children make their own shopping list, either of things that they noticed you needed, or of items off of your main shopping list. Talk about things you will not be purchasing on this trip, “We are only going to the grocery side of the store today, we are not looking at or buying any toys.” If you are planning multiple outings, make sure children are aware of what the day will look like, “We are going to the bank, the grocery store and the dry-cleaners. Then we are coming home for lunch. We are not getting lunch out today.” Children typically behave better when they have a clear plan and are aware of what is happening. Refer back to your original plan as the day goes on and avoid unnecessary detours.
  3. Review expectations and consequences: Before taking children into a store, go over with them what is expected and how the trip will go. For preschool age children and older, review the consequences for failing to follow directions, as well as the reward, if there is one, for doing well. Make sure to phrase your expectations in the positive, such as, “In the store we will walk and hold on to the cart.” Children respond better to boundaries and expectations when they are told what to do, instead of what not to do. If you have consistent behavior problems with children in the store or public places, inform them of what the consequence will be if they break the rule. “If you run away and hide, we will leave the store and go home. You will not get to buy strawberries.” Make sure you follow through, with whatever your consequence is, even if that means leaving a full cart behind! Remember, consequences are most effective in young children when they are timely in relation to the misdeed. If appropraiate, a small reward such as being able to select their own breakfast cereal or dessert for Sunday night’s dinner can help serve as an incentive to keep behavior in tip-top shape!
  4. Assign tasks: Recruit your children to be your helpers! School-age children can use shopping time to brush up on their reading and math skills. Provide children with a list of items to look for. Teach them to comparison shop for the best price per unit. Provide them with a calculator and challenge them to keep a running tab of how much is going to be spent on vegetables today. Similarly, talk with younger children. Can they find a yellow fruit? How many apples are in the bag? What kind of milk do we normally buy? Keeping toddlers enganged in the tasks at hand limits the likelihood that they will resort to undesirable behaviors to get attention.
  5. Follow through: If you promise children a trip to McDonald’s if the grocery store went well, or if you threatned to leave the store when someone screamed, it is very important you follow through. Children are very keen observers and they notice when adults do not follow through. When adults consistently fail to implement the consequence, provide the reward or complete the task, children see that they have some leeway. If yesterday, they still got gum at the check out after they ran away and hid under the clothes, maybe they can still get gum today.

Taking time to plan ahead, review expectations and work with your children prior to outings can make the difference between a great experience or an awful one. Teaching children to behave appropriately when out and about is a valuable skill for them, and can make your life much easier in the long run!

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