Grocery shopping with children. Just the thought of it is enough to make parents shudder. Meltdowns, spilled food, lost children – so many potential pitfalls. And then there are the critical stares or even comments from other shoppers. Yes, grocery shopping with children is not for the fainthearted, but your family's got to eat, right?
Like other aspects of parenting, grocery shopping becomes easier when you have a plan. Understanding your toddler's behavior is key to making the most of your grocery trip. Don't expect young children to naturally know how to behave at the grocery store. Instead, spend time teaching your child the ropes of grocery shopping. Start with quick trips to the store. Adapt a warm, enthusiastic, encouraging tone and point out interesting foods. Set simple rules and consistently reinforce them. Slowly increase the time you spend shopping, but don't overdo it. Young children simply do't have the emotional capacity or attention span for a marathon shopping trip.
Survival Strategies for Grocery Shopping with Kids
- Time your visit. Taking your child to the grocery store during naptime or when your child is hungry are sure recipes for disaster. A crowded store and long check-out lines can also spell trouble. Whenever possible, go shopping when your child is rested and fed. Try to go in the morning, after dinner, or early afternoon when stores tend to be quieter.
- Get organized. Young children have limited tolerance for shopping so you need to get in and out as quickly as possible. Write a grocery list ahead of time, grouping similar items on the list together.
- Set clear expectations. Talk with your children about how to behave in a grocery store, explaining what to do as well as what not to do. By setting clear expectations you give your child a better opportunity to be more cooperative. For example, "You can sit in the cart or walk next to the cart. We stay together and we use quiet voices." Offer only one reminder to a child that runs away; then provide a natural consequence. "You are not staying with me; you need to sit in the cart now." Be sure to comment when children get it right. "You stayed with me and used a quiet voice today. Thank you!"
- Make it fun. Behavioral issues occur at the grocery store mostly because children are either bored or they're overstimulated by the lights, people, and noise found there. Give children an active role in shopping or play a shopping game while waiting with your kids and you offer a distraction that solves both problems. Let children write their own grocery lists beforehand, choosing one or two items. Children can also help you find items on your grocery list or weigh produce.
- Come prepared. A simple trip to the grocery store can quickly unravel into a disaster. Make sure you come prepared for the inevitable diaper blowout or toddler meltdown. Stock a small backpack or bag with an extra diaper, wipes, and change of clothes. Throw in a few books, toys, and snacks. Consider carrying young babies in a wrap, which keeps them warm, secure, and usually more content than in a portable car seat.
Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, your toddler will have a meltdown or your preschooler will repeatedly try to run away at the grocery store. Then what? First, take a deep breath and resist the tendency to feel frustrated at yourself or your child. Try setting your cart aside and stepping outside for a few moments. A quick change of scenery can sometimes help a child regain control. Acknowledge your child's challenges and ask for her help. "I know you're tired of shopping. Can you help me get two more things and then we'll go?" Occasionally, you'll just need to be prepared to make a quick exit, probably without the groceries. If shopping trips are routinely difficult, it might be best to shop alone until your child is older, especially when you're buying a lot of items. Like most challenges, this won't be hard forever, and you'll figure out tricks that make it go better for your family along the way.
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