Shopping with Toddlers: 10 tips to Better In-store Behavior

Shopping with a baby is usually easy. They generally sleep the whole time or sit entranced by all the bright lights, new sounds and changing scenery while people passing by gushing over their adorable, smiley faces. At worst, you may have to pull them from their seat from time to time to satiate a crying fit. Now shopping with toddlers, that’s something entirely different. It’s just a part of normal toddler behavior. They don’t want to sit still. They don’t want to be quiet. They want everything else and impulsively grab for it only to chuck it moments later or holler indignantly in anger if you deny them it while annoyed onlookers offer ever-so helpful advice. Shopping with a toddler can be a downright nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be.

What can I do before shopping with toddlers to ensure better behavior?
Having a peaceful shopping trip with a toddler starts before you ever go to the store. You want to create a state of contentment in your child. How do you do that?

-Plan your shopping for a time of day that your child is generally in a quiet, active state. This may be a time when you find daily that he/she may sit quietly and play with toys or watch a cartoon. Avoid times where your child is generally bouncing off the walls or tired, especially tired. Often, just after a nap or meal fits this description.

-Always feed your toddler before going shopping. The same way you shouldn’t shop on an empty stomach because seeing foods makes you hungry, it’s unwise to take a hungry toddler shopping. As you likely know, they are cranky when they’re hungry or tired. I can’t count how many times I’ve fixed a serious toddler melted down at the store just by grabbing a bag of chips and popping it open so my kids can have a snack. (Make sure you have your wallet before opening anything though, that could be embarrassing.)

-Plan your shopping trip for a slow time of day. Around 5 or 6 pm, when the store is absolutely jam-packed full of people, is not the most ideal time to take a young child shopping. Try to line up that quiet active time with a typically less-busy time of day for the stores. This also means you’ll be standing in line a lot less long, which is when kids tend to get the most impatient.

-Come prepared to shop quickly and plan short trips. Don’t, please don’t, plan to try and shop for two to three hours (or more) with a kid under 5. If you have a major, massive lengthy shopping trip that’s necessary, find a sitter or break it up into separate sessions. With toddlers, try to keep shopping trips under 45 minutes maximum. You can help cut time by coming prepared. Sit down and make a list ahead of time so you don’t have to go up and down every aisle; this also helps ensure — in your hectic attempts to hurry to keep your child amused — that you don’t forget things and have to go back.

-Allow yourself all the time in the world. I know, you’re thinking, “What? Didn’t you just say keep trips short?” You want to want to keep the trip short, not have to keep it short because you have 30 minutes before you have to do *this*. Having a strict time limit for a shopping trip is begging the universe to make your child misbehave and make you late. If you leave yourself plenty of time, you can relax, get things done, and not have to worry about it.

What can I do while shopping with toddlers so they behave better?
-Make shopping a learning experience. From infant to school-aged, you can always make shopping educational. For babies and toddlers, just talk about what you’re doing: name items, colors, letters, etc. For older toddlers, you can have them start naming things too or helping you find items. In school-aged kids, let them do the math on discounts or discover if one item is a better deal than another. At any age engagement keeps your child from getting bored and then annoying you.

-Let them pick something out. While I never wanted my kids learning they got a treat every time they were good, I let them choose an item I already planned on buying. For instance, I may hold out two types of cheese and let them pick one. By allowing your toddler choices, but only choices you find acceptable, you promote independence, influence less-picky eating and dressing, and make shopping easier.

-Take advantage of the free cookies. Almost all stores have them, and if they don’t, a cookie is what, 50 cents maximum? The free cookie gets my boys excited about the store and since I always take them after a meal, it’s just like dessert. They generally spend the first 10 minutes happily mouse-nibbling their cookies.

-Reward good behavior. In older toddlers, you can even use shopping as reward. For example, you could reward good behavior with the ability to get out of the cart and walk or use one of those pain-in-the-butt-to-steer car carts. Sometimes I even let my kids dress-up to go to the store. You may even consider adding a sticker category to a star chart if you have one. At the very least, always verbally reward good behavior. If your toddler did well, say so and say how they did well. Example: “You did a great job today not grabbing items off the shelves. Thank you.”


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