Ahhhh. The Christmas season is upon us. Parents happily shop around town, finding everything they are looking for. Red-cheeked children are giddy with delight as they select the perfect gifts (all within price range) to bless others with. Babies coo in their car seats as they go from store to store to store to store, and toddlers smile at strangers in Wal-Mart. What? This isn’t your shopping reality? Well, it isn’t mine, either. Going shopping with all of my five sweet children in tow is right up there with root canals and strep throat. But I have found a few survival techniques that may be helpful as we enter the shop-a-thon season.
If you know you have a marathon shopping trip planned, consider trading babysitting with a friend, or waiting until a spouse or grandparent can be with the kids. Face it–most kids can’t handle 4 hours of shopping. Be realistic about children’s bladder capacity. If you are gone a long time, it is pretty inevitable that someone is going to have to pee. (And they are probably going to start the potty dance as soon as you get to the register to pay.) They are going to get hungry and they are going to get bored. They’re kids.
A little preparation goes a long way. If you are shopping from a printed sale, cut out a few pictures from the ad and tape them to a paper for an instant treasure hunt. Younger kids get so excited when they see something from their list. Older kids can be coupon-keepers and be on the lookout for those items. Consider keeping a stash of small toys in your purse, or little board books that you can pull out to distract your little ones. Planning ahead also involves pre-teaching your children what you expect from them on the trip. You know who is going to whine for a candy bar, and who is going to hide from you in the clothing racks. Remind them what you expect before you go in the store, and set a reward if they behave appropriately. I have sometimes given kids coins in their pockets before we enter a store. If they behave, they get to keep the coins and get something in the vending machine on the way out. If they don’t, one by one they lose them–and lose the treat. You can do the same with tokens that might earn screen time or a game with you. Plan ahead to praise your kids before they start misbehaving. “You guys are doing great! I love taking you shopping!” goes a long way in prevention.
If you didn’t have time to prepare and your little ones are getting cranky, you can always play “I Spy.” Ask questions like, “Do you see a Grandma?” “Who sees a baby” or “See if you can see someone still in their pajamas.” Little kids can look for a certain letter, color, or shape in the store and older kids can try to find all the letters in their name. Even the whiniest kid is usually distracted by me making car sounds and pushing the cart fast down the aisle. Make weird faces. Tell jokes. Say nursery rhymes. Tickle and giggle. Don’t be afraid to be a little silly and have some fun. Even if someone cleared the shelf of those Oreos that were going to be $.25 after coupons, we can still keep a good attitude and help make shopping a fun experience for our kids.
Put it in perspective
Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose what sticks forever in our kids’ memories. A frantic, frustrated, coupon binder-clutching-mother with a scowl on her face is the last thing I want living forever in my children’s minds. Even a mundane shopping trip can become a great memory. We can nurture children while snagging the latest deal. And we can stay in control of our emotions even when they don’t. Besides, even though it feels like the whole store is staring when a kid is having a hard time, most people really do understand. I have yet to be offended by a out-of-control child in a store. But I have yet to be impressed by an out-of-control parent.
What are your best tips for shopping with kids? This group does a whole lot of shopping and there’s a lot of experience out there! Tell us what works for you!