Shopping with children can range from delightful to disastrous, depending on the personalities of the kids and the approach of the adults. Each type of store has its different challenge; the supermarket challenge is figuring out how to keep kids from getting bored and agitated, whereas the big box store beckons with toys that are hard to part with.
We all can relate, whether witnessed or lived out personally, to the experience of a child screaming that they want such-and-such in the middle of the shopping aisle, and causing tremendous embarrassment for the parents. It doesn’t have to be this way!
No matter what sort of store or errand, having some ground rules and being thoughtful of children’s needs goes a long way into making the entire experience enjoyable. Here are a few important tips:
1. Think ahead! Before leaving, figure out what the shopping trip will entail so you can be prepared, rather than scrambling to figure out what to do in the moment. Try to shop at a time when the kids will be well fed and rested.
2. Set ground rules. Before leaving home decide what, if anything, can be bought by the children, rather than trying to decide in the moment. The simplest approach: nothing the child wants to buy can be bought unless they use their own money. With this rule of thumb, exceptions will be exciting for children (e.g. you can pick out one fruit of your choice, or one gift for the party).
3. Shopping games! There are numerous shopping game ideas out there to do with children, in particular for regular errands at supermarkets. Do counting games, color finding activities, or finding items on the list. Older kids can help counting money and weighing fruit. Let the kids pick one new (healthy) item they’ve never tried before. Be creative and have fun. If the kids are getting too loud, try ninja stealth mode.
4. Kids can help shop. Especially when they’re older, children can help reading the list and selecting the brands the family uses. Kids can be surprisingly good at coming up with the list in the first place if they’re prodded with questions like, “What do you like to eat for breakfast?” If they have ownership of the shopping list, and feel included in the shopping event finding the items they suggested, they’ll be much more likely to be engaged the whole time.
5. Educate. As you go through the food aisle, take the opportunity to explain why you eat certain foods and not others. Explain the health benefits of the different types of foods, and why your family eats them. Educate your kids about money, and show them the price differences between brands.
6. Safety. Make sure to explain core ideas like staying nearby, keeping money well hidden, and what to do when lost.
7. Be quick! Don’t dilly-dally when you’ve got kids tagging along. Even with all these tips, a million and one possible mishaps will occur the longer you are there (think broken jars, fingers jammed in shopping carts, or dirty diapers in aisle seven), so do your best to get in and out as quickly as possible.
8. Make it fun. There’s always a way to make a stressful experience fun. Make the decision to have an attitude that is fun, positive, and energetic, and more likely than not, the experience will be wonderful for everyone involved.