I began thinking about this blog entry over the weekend as I took my almost 2 year old to the grocery store with me. We were there to pick up an order that would take 15 minutes to complete.  I thought, “what a great time to walk up and down the aisles and talk about everything I’m seeing”.

As soon as my daughter saw the food she said “snack”.  I, the unprepared mother, had left her diaper bag in the car since I thought we would be in and out relatively quickly.  So I began tell her that I heard that she wanted a snack, but the bag is in the car.  Let’s wait and see what we find inside the grocery store.

Suddenly we rounded the corner to the dairy aisle and she looked at the shelves, looked back at me and said “cheese”.  Clearly my child was hungry and wanted to eat something…could I really deny her at this time? She was definitely verbally expressing herself in a very calm and collected manner.  We hadn’t yet reached tantrum/hangry level…so I was still in the clear. Luckily my local grocery store has individually wrapped pieces of cheese so I pulled one out, unwrapped it, gave it to her and saved the wrapping for the checkout line so that I remembered to pay for the item.

I got lucky this time.  My daughter is still in the phase where she enjoys being placed in the seat of the shopping cart and keeps her hands inside for the most part (the checkout line is a whole different story).

But a couple months from now I am in for a whole new situation.  Because I know what’s coming, I decided that now would be the perfect time to discuss some handy tips that all parents/caregivers can use while taking children of all ages to the grocery store with them.

  1. Lists are your friend! If you are making one of your regularly scheduled grocery shopping trips, bring a list.  If you can, try to organize it beforehand according to the layout of the store.  If you know that produces is directly next to the cereal, see if you can list your items in such a way that you are easily scanning down the list rather than eye-darting all over the page.  The more organized you are the less likely you are to miss an item, and the quicker you can get through your shopping.
  2. Go to the store at the right time. Mornings are usually the best time to go. If you can time your trip out right, you stand the chance of avoiding the large lunch rush, when the store can be extremely crowded, loud and overwhelming. Also try to plan your trip after your child has already eaten.  We know as adults how difficult it can be to shop on an empty stomach…imagine what your child may feel like in this situation…
  3. Let your child help. It doesn’t matter if your child is under 2 or over 7. If you allow them to assist you with the shopping, they not only feel a sense of accomplishment, but they are also less likely to become bored, whine and eventually tantrum. If your child is young, allow them to hold the shopping list. If you’re afraid that they may rip and tear it, make a second copy just for them.  Also, give them a crayon or pen to mark off the items as you place them in your cart. There more engaged they are the better.
  4. Play “I spy” games. If your child is younger, start with colors. While in the produce aisle say “I see a red fruit. Can you find it?” You can do this as you are placing your desired produce in the cart. Your child is engaged, looking around, and incredibly enough, working on developmental skills (colors, searching, pointing, etc). If your child is older you can say, “I see a bag of small carrots. Can you find it and bring it to me?” Again, engaging your child in the task of shopping will frequently prevent the meltdowns.
  5. If you do experience a meltdown, have a plan. Sometimes we just can’t prevent the tantrum. Your child is hungry or tired or bored. The first thing to remember is that EVERY parent has gone through this.  Don’t worry about the looks that you THINK you may be getting.  Most of those are from parents thinking “ugh I know that feeling!” or “been there, done that”. Try to first get down on your child’s level and speak to them in a calm manner. If you are able to identify and acknowledge their feelings, sometimes you can nip the tantrum in the bud there. If you need to go a little further you can try “when/then” Or “first/then” statements.  “When we are done in the grocery store, then we can go outside”. “First we shop, then we go to the park”. If that doesn’t work, sometime you just have to abandon ship, leave the grocery store and try again another time.  No one wants to resort to this, but sometimes it’s inevitable.

The more you take your kids with you, the more accepting they will become of the experience and the less they are likely to tantrum. It will become a routine that they will get used to.  And the older they get, the more responsibilities they will gain. Kids love to feel ‘grown up’ and ‘important’. It gives them a positive sense of self because they are contributing.  Let them contribute.  Let them feel useful and part of the experience. Grocery shopping can be an incredible learning and bonding experience.

I think the most important thing to remember in all of this is that ALL parents/caregivers have to complete this task.  We’ve all done it at some point in time.  We’ve all had very successful trips and we’ve all had horrible experiences where our children are anything but cooperative.  Just breathe and know that we have ALL experienced it.  You’re not alone. 🙂