When I first became a mother, going to the grocery store by myself felt like a vacation. If you’re a mother, I know you understand! Thankfully, now I usually like having my four boys with me at the grocery store, but it’s taken time and a lot of trial and error to get to a point where they’re not driving me insane as I try to shop.
So, how do I manage to keep my sanity and (mostly) enjoy shopping with my kids?! Read on, dear reader, read on!
Get completely ready the day before.
Starting a shopping trip already frustrated does not a happy mommy make. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve planned to go shopping with a goal of leaving at a specific time, only to have my whole trip completely derailed when I sat down to make my list and put together coupons, etc.
It ALWAYS takes far longer than I think it’s going to. So, I’ve learned to make my list, clip any coupons, pack the diaper bag, etc., a day or two before my trip, so I can just grab my stuff and go at the time I’ve planned.
Babies and Toddlers:
Time shopping trips around naps
A screaming, crying baby while shopping isn’t fun for anyone, let alone a sleep deprived mommy. With my first born, I found that the easiest way to shop with him was to time my shopping trips around his naps. I’d give him a good feeding and then head out the door right around nap time and he’d usually be asleep by the time I got to the store. This would give me 30-45 minutes of peaceful shopping. You may be blessed to have a baby that sleeps longer than that, but my little guy would rarely sleep longer than that in the car seat.
Now that I’m homeschooling and on my fourth baby, I can’t time my shopping trips around nap times as easily anymore. Praise the Lord for my sling! (I so wish that I had known about baby slings with my firstborn. We both would have been much happier.) Now when I go shopping, I just pop my little guy into my sling and he’s happy and content as can be the whole time. Plus, it saves me space in the grocery cart when I don’t have to put his car seat in there. Have you tried shopping for a family of six with a car seat in the cart? Yah, there’s not even close to enough room for your groceries.
Plan ahead with special items to keep their hands busy
As my firstborn got a little older and could be entertained by toys, I found that having toys that I only pulled out at the store helped keep him occupied. By saving them for those times only, they were “new” to him and kept his little hands busy while I raced around the store trying to get done before the newness of the toys wore off.
Depending on the store, I might even grab something from the toy section for him to play with, and then put it back when I was ready to check out. (Sh! Don’t tell! Desperate times call for desperate measures. 🙂 )
Stuff for drawing can be fun no matter what the age. I always have some pens and small notebooks tucked into my diaper bag or purse. One of our local grocery stores (Publix) also usually has coloring books and small packs of crayons on the same kiosk as their ads, free for the taking. Now if they just had free coffee for the moms, we’d really be set!
Now that I have more kids, they often entertain each other, so I don’t have to be as conscientious about packing toys for the little ones. You know, I’ve found that to be true overall – the more kids I’ve had, the less toys they play with because they have each other.
Preschoolers and Up:
Training, training, training.
I’ve found that my most frustrating parenting moments in a public place have happened because I did not prepare my children ahead of time for what type of behavior I expected from them. I forget sometimes that they’re not grownups in little bodies and they don’t have the experience or knowledge I have as to what is proper behavior and what is not.
If I took them to a funeral parlor, a place they’ve never been to, and which certainly has rules for behavior different than what is normally allowed, it certainly wouldn’t be fair of me to discipline them for talking loudly and joking around with their brothers if I hadn’t prepared them ahead of time, would it?
I think the same is true of the grocery or department store. Are they allowed to touch food in the produce department? Grab things off the shelf? Run down the aisles? Lay it out plain and clear before entering the store. Now, when we go to a new place and a new situation, I try to remember to outline for them the behavior I expect before we even get out of the car.
I also have to remember that “training them up in the way they should go” is my focus; not keeping them constrained so everyone else in the store thinks I must be an amazing mother because my kids are so well behaved. I’ve felt my sanity slipping a few too many times when I’ve been more concerned about what the people around me think than about patiently training my children in righteousness.
Pack snacks. (Non-messy snacks!) Hungry kids are cranky, whiny kids. And/or fill their bellies before you leave. My boys are eating machines and I usually need to do both.
I also recommend avoiding sugary snacks or that trip to Starbucks until the end of the trip (unless you’re just getting coffee for yourself, then I highly recommend it!). Not doing this has come back to bite me too many times. Some kids can do fine with sugar, but others do not. In my house, while three of my boys do okay after sugar, one of them used to become a different child. He would get aggressive, stop listening, and have a very hard time sitting still. Thankfully, he seems to have mostly out grown it, but there are still times I see a bit of a behavior change in him, so I’d rather be safe than sorry.
Schedule trips around nap time as much as possible.
Tired kids are cranky, whiny kids. Save yourself the headache of trying to deal with a tired little one in the grocery store and do your best to go grocery shopping before or after nap time. This is a simple, but powerful tool!
The Ticket System
As my boys got older, I started encountering squabbles and disobedience, so I came up with a ticket system.
I would give them three pieces of paper (their “tickets”) upon entering the store. If they disobeyed, were disrespectful, did something aggravating to their brother, etc., they lost a ticket. If they obeyed me in a particular instance or did something kind for their brother, they would earn a ticket. At the end of our trip, if they had at least one ticket left after I checked out, then we would go to the bakery and take advantage of the free cookie offered by the bakery. No tickets, no cookie. If they had all three tickets at the end, I would give them a special treat like candy from the checkout lane or a special privilege to be used at home, like extra computer time.
This system only works, though, if you actually stick to it and enforce it. The first time a sibling see his brothers getting a cookie and he doesn’t is likely to stick with him pretty well. If you cave and give him a cookie anyways, this system is likely to lose its effectiveness. However, a brother who did get a cookie is definitely allowed to share with his sibling who did not. That’s just being kind.
If you’d like to try the ticket system, you can just find some random papers in your purse or you can use these cute printables I’ve created for you! One for girls and one for boys. I’d recommend printing them on cardstock so they last awhile. If you’re really fancy, you could even laminate them!
Dealing with “Can We Buy This?”
Don’t you love it when you’re going through the store and your kids are asking you, “Mom! Mom! Mom, can we buy this?” Yah, me, too. Not! 🙂 To combat this, I tell my kids they can ask me how much something is, but they may not ask me to buy it for them. I’m there to buy what’s on my list, but they may buy a desired item with their own money as long as it’s reasonable. This strategy takes some training and patience, but really reduces my annoyance level. It also works well with the ticket system – if they ask me to buy them something, they lose a ticket! Boo-yah!
Grocery Ad Busy Book
Here’s an idea with multiple options. At the start of your trip, grab an ad for each of your kids and hand out writing utensils.
-Find and circle a specified letter on an assigned page.
-Find and circle a picture on the page that begins with a specified sound.
-There a lots of easy ideas for this, just use your imagination! But, if you’re like me and trying to use your imagination might hurt your head a little, let the older kids come up with the game ideas for the little guys. They’ll probably love it!
-Bingo – locate three items in a row.
-Tell them three items from your list that are in the ad. First one to find them all wins.
-Give them a dollar amount. First person to find enough items adding up to or over that amount wins.
-Etc.. The sky is the limit with this one!
I must also mention here the obvious – the smart phone or tablet loaded with games. Personally, I save that for when all else has failed or I’m PMS-ing (I know you know what I mean!). I try to limit my kids to one hour of electronics time per day, so even if I do pull out an electronic device, I usually only do so with the stipulation that any time they spend on it comes out of their electronics time.
Let Kids Be Kids
Kids love to play, so working within that framework also helps keep us all happy while shopping.
For example, sometimes I can tell my kids several times to get in the cart, and nothing happens (if I’m not employing the ticket system on this go around), but as soon as I say, “The first one in the cart’s the winner!”, there’s a mad dash and everyone is loaded up in less than 3 seconds. A simple change in strategy achieves the desired results with no yelling or frustration.
Along these same lines, playing “train” or “garbage truck” also works – “Choo-choo! All aboard! The train is leaving the station to go to the next stop!” or “Where’s the all the garbage men (or women)? The garbage truck is moving to the next stop! You have to be on board if you want to help pick up the garbage (groceries) at the next stop!”
Also in keeping with letting kids be kids, at some stores I allow my boys to run up and down the isles. This may be a controversial one, but I find it to be pretty effective and helpful when used within certain guidelines because it lets them get some of their energy out. I only do this at Costco or Sam’s Club where the isles are huge and frequently completely empty.
To keep this idea from getting out of hand, I give them the following guidelines:
They are only allowed to do it when there is no one else in the isle.
They may not run past the end of the isle so that they don’t run into anyone.
There is NO yelling or screaming.
They must immediately stop if anyone enters the isle.
If any of these guidelines are broken, the privilege is immediately lost and they have to walk hanging onto or riding in the cart for a set amount of time.
Department Store “Treasure Hunt”
I can’t take credit for this one; my boys invented it. The goal is to search for “treasure” (hangars, tags, etc.) on the floor and put it in the “treasure box” (the cart). They think it’s fun and, you never know, they might find some money! When you’re done shopping, you can dump all that stuff in a trash can or find the nearest sales associate and enjoy the look of joy on her face as you hand over your children’s “treasures”. 🙂
Use a timer.
Rather than say no to their requests to visit the toy section (or the dollar section at the entrance to Target), I say yes, and then when we get to that part of the store during our shopping trip, I set the timer on my watch or phone for 5-10 minutes. I find using a timer with an alarm to be really helpful. Then they all hear it, know it’s time to go, and I’m not the bad guy ending their fun time, the timer is!
That 5-10 minutes is a small enough amount of time that it doesn’t make a big difference in how long I spend in the store, but it does make a big difference in their attitudes. They enjoy looking forward to that on most trips to the store and I don’t have to listen to them asking to go that section the whole time I’m shopping.
Listen to audio books in the car.
This is one we all love and look forward to. We get an audio book from the library or from Audible.com and listen while we’re driving around. We’ve enjoyed the whole Chronicles of Narnia series, The Boxcar Children, Little House on the Prairie, Ralph S. Mouse, and more. It helps keep everyone quiet and calm as we listen so they aren’t all bouncing off the walls by the time we get to the store (not that that’s ever happened 😉 ), and I love that they get to hear books I’ve often wished we were reading together.
I hope this post has given you some great ideas to pull from the next time you’re at the store with your kids and they’re starting to drive you a little batty. I’d also love to hear any ideas you have to share that work for you. Please share your ideas in the comments below and/or let me know which idea in this post was your favorite! I love comments!
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