By Janet Howard, M.S.W., Program Director, Bringing Out the Best

Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form at this web-site here. Our post today is written by one of our HRI community partners, Janet Howard of the Bringing Out the Best program.

This may seem like a silly question, but something that I find so stressful as a parent is going to the grocery store with my kids (who are 4 and 6). I feel like even if they’re having a good day overall, as soon as we get into the grocery store, they start to go wild! Lots of misbehavior, walking (or running!) away, fighting between them, and grabbing things they shouldn’t be touching. I try to get in and out of the store as quickly as I can, but their misbehavior makes the trip twice and long (and ten times as stressful) as it seems like it should be. I know I’m not alone, as I see lots of other parents trying to manage their misbehaving kids in the store as well. Is there anything I can do to help make this necessary errand more manageable? ~ Gotta Eat in Greensboro

Dear Gotta Eat In Greensboro:

This is an age-old problem, and there’s absolutely nothing silly about your question. I am certain that you are not alone in finding this to be a stressful venture. To help you and other parents who face the same challenge (and there are many of them!), here are a few useful strategies you can use to ease the stress of grocery shopping with children.

The first thing to do is plan for this outing, and I’m not talking about writing out a grocery list (which you still need to do to make the trip efficient), but I am talking about being very intentional about the following:

  • As best you can, pick a time of day for shopping when your children are well-rested.
  • Pick a time to go when they’re not hungry, OR, take a snack along with you for each child. (Pro tip: If you forget a snack, some stores have samples by the produce or have cookies for children)
  • Talk to the children before you leave the house and tell them what you expect of them while at the store. Let them know this trip is only for food for dinner, or only for milk and bread, or whatever the case is. Remember to have age-appropriate expectations, which also means focusing on just a couple of expectations.
  • Expectations for these ages might look like:
    • The 4-year-old can ride in the cart.
    • Use inside voice in the store.
    • The 6-year-old can either hold your hand or holds on to the cart.
    • Ask before touching something or putting something in the cart.

Children thrive with structure and routine, and therefore errands tend to be more successful when these things are in place. Consider having the same expectations each time you go (e.g., one child rides in the cart, the other child walks and holds on to the cart). Consider having a job for each child. For example, the 6-year-old could be the one who gets items off of the shelf and gives them to the sibling, and the 4-year-old is in charge of putting it in the basket. Or, the 4-year-old could be the navigator to make sure you don’t run into anything with the cart. Have a clipboard and crayons that they can use to mark things off the list.

Try to make the grocery store trip as fun as possible. Here are a few ways to add some fun to your normally-routine shopping trips:

  • Play I-Spy (“I spy with my little eyes a yellow box with a black C on it”).
  • Take an “outing bag.” This could be a tote bag that has things in it to keep your child or children entertained. The trick is that the bag (and the things in it) are only allowed to be used when on an outing, as otherwise the activities lose their allure.
  • Sing songs while walking the aisles

Finally, here are a few other tips that other parents have found to be helpful:

  • Offer praise, praise and more praise! Don’t forget to notice when your children are making good choices and point it out to them (e.g., “Thank you for sitting on your bottom.”).
  • Avoid the words “stop,” “no,” and “don’t.” Try instead to tell them what they can do or can have (e.g., “You can have a cookie when we get home,” “Use your walking feet,” and “Please sit on your bottom”).
  • If all your efforts at keeping the peace aren’t enough, and your child has a tantrum, act unimpressed with the tantrum or other negative behaviors, and do not react. When you remove the audience (even if it’s just an audience of one!), a tantrum isn’t giving the child what she wants, which is attention. As soon as the tantrum stops, then give your child positive attention.

All of these strategies will work best when you have already given your child positive and focused attention along the way, so that he feels capable and important. By planning ahead, you can reduce the likelihood of a meltdown and help turn the grocery store shopping into a fun adventure for you and your child.

And, when all else fails, you can always order your groceries online and pick up in the drive-thru! Some stores are even offering this service for free now, and there is no shame in taking advantage of some modern-day conveniences to help alleviate some of the modern-day stresses of parenting!

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