1. Remember that children have limits.
If you are shopping with children, be alert to their needs: are they tired, hungry, overexcited by the noise and confusion, or simply in need of fresh air and exercise, or a reassuring hug?
2. Remember that children are naturally curious.
Children are naturally curious; this is how they learn about the world around them. If they want to examine an attractive item, please don’t scold them. Instead, help them to hold the item safely, or let them know that it can be viewed but not touched. You might say “This is breakable, so let’s just look at it together.” Even if an item cannot be purchased, it can be helpful to share the child’s enthusiasm and interest in it.
3. Shopping with infants…
Shopping with an infant will be far easier if the trip is made after they are rested and have been fed. Babies and small children can become dehydrated in the dry air of shopping malls, so be sure to take frequent nursing or juice breaks.
Babies are almost always happier when carried. A sling or carrier worn by the parent provides far more comfort and emotional security than a stroller or grocery cart. A small child-proof toy can help a baby to cope with the inevitably lessened attention from the parent, but remember to stop as often as possible and take a moment for gentle words, eye contact, and hugs.
4. Shopping with toddlers…
Toddlers can begin to be included in shopping decisions. Involving the child with questions such as “which of these peaches looks better to you?” can turn a boring, frustrating experience into a more pleasurable one, for both parent and child. Children of all ages enjoy and appreciate being able to make some of the product choices themselves. Bringing along juice, a favorite snack, and a well-loved picture book, or a newly-borrowed one from the library, can also be very helpful.
Being surrounded by a crowd of adults can be intimidating to small children, especially when stores are busy. Using a backpack can be one way of bringing toddlers up to a height where they are more contented. It can also prevent the common, frightening experience of losing a toddler in a crowd.
5. Shopping with older children…
An older child can be a great help in shopping, if approached in a spirit of fun and appreciation. If the parent brings along clipped-out pictures of food from the newspaper grocery ads, the child can help to locate the item. Children mature enough to shop by themselves can help shorten the trip by finding items alone, returning periodically to put items into the cart.
6. Avoid the crowds.
Shopping just before dinner, when stores are crowded, and parents and children are tired and hungry, can be very stressful. Try shopping in the morning or early afternoon on weekdays, or move dinner up and shop during the quiet early-evening time between 6 and 7 PM. When we can avoid the stress of crowded stores and long check-out lines, we can have more energy and creativity for responding to our child’s needs.
7. The check-out lane can be a challenge…
Check-out lanes which have colorful, enticing gum and candy packages can be a real challenge, especially as they are encountered at the end of shopping, when both parent and child are most fatigued and hungry. Bringing a favorite healthful snack from home can allow an easy alternative: “That package looks pretty, but candy isn’t very nutritious. Here’s the oatmeal cookie and juice we brought.” Shopping at stores which have “child-proof” check-outs without candy can be well worth a longer drive. If there is no local store with such a check-out, you might suggest this feature to a store manager, promising to shop regularly if this option is made available.
8. When you need to say “no”…
The most important part of saying “no” is conveying to the child that we are on his or her side, even if we can’t satisfy all desires immediately. It might help to say, “That is nice, isn’t it? Take a good look and when we get home, we’ll add it to your wish list.” As the educator John Holt once said, “There is no reason why we cannot say ‘No’ to children in just as kind a way as we say ‘Yes’.” And remember that smiles, hugs, and cuddles are all free!
9. If you reach your limit…
If you reach the limit of your patience and energy, try to show by example positive ways of handling anger and fatigue. You might try saying, “I’m starting to lose my patience. I think I need a break from shopping for a bit. Let’s go outside for a few minutes so we can both get refreshed.” Even a few moments of fresh air away from the crowds can make a big difference for both parent and child.
10. If your children reach their limit…
If, after trying some of the above suggestions, your children have simply reached the end of their ability to handle any more errands, please respect that. Shopping can wait; an exhausted, hungry, or overly-excited child cannot
Remember that all children behave as well as they are treated. A child who is regularly given our time, undivided attention, patience, and understanding will have more tolerance for a shopping trip – and any other challenging situation – than the child who must face stressful situations without this emotional support.