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Grocery Shopping with Kids

By Rachel Martin, AMFT supervised by Marté J. Matthews, LMFT

I don’t think I’m the only one who has daydreams sometimes about going grocery shopping alone. Sometimes, while standing in the cereal aisle between my screaming kindergartener and crying toddler, I dream wistfully about all of the peaceful shopping trips I had before I became a parent. I know it sounds silly, but I know that many of you have had a similar experience.

Until stores begin offering drop-in childcare (which is my million-dollar idea, patent pending), we as parents have a choice to make: continue to tolerate the intolerable tantrums, or figure out a new system for shopping with kids. Unfortunately, as with everything in parenting, these seem exhausting and overwhelming. Here’s where choosing to try just one of the following ideas might help. Warning: do not try them all at once! Try one for a week, then adjust as needed. A week at a time, you’ll know better what works and what doesn’t, so that you are more efficient at shopping, and effective with your parenting.

1) PLAN AHEAD: Make a list of what items you need and stick to it. No wandering around, browsing for deals. When the kids are with you, your mission is to get in and out quickly and efficiently. TIP: Try to write the items in order of how you’ll make your way through the store.

2) FEED THEM: Give the kids a snack before heading out the door, or better yet, give them a preferred snack while in the store. Some grocery stores have a bin of bananas or apples free for kids right near the entrance of the produce section. My kids and I have agreed that they are allowed to choose a bagel; we enter the store and head straight for the bagels and they eat while I shop. It’s what works for my family, but figure out what might work for yours. TIP: Avoid candy and sugary snacks; you don’t want to be dealing with a sugar crash halfway through the trip.

3) HAVE A CLEAR PLAN: Is this a “looking only” shopping trip, or can each child choose one food item to bring home with them? What qualifies as food? Set the expectations before you’re even at the store. TIP: If they want something that doesn’t fit the plan this time, they can add it to their “wish list” when they get home.

4) PICK YOUR TIME OF DAY: Try shopping at a time of day when your children are well-rested and in a pretty good mood. If at all possible consider picking your kids up from school and then letting them play and run out some energy before attempting the store. On weekends or with little ones, try the morning out. Kids are not so tired and are more tolerant of your To Do List earlier in the day. TIP: Once you get the yogurt into the fridge at home, get out and do something fun for the kids!

5) PARENT TRADE: Trade babysitting with a neighbor, grandparent or fellow parent. See if you can take turns running out to the store while the kids get a playdate. For sure, this one takes some pre-planning, but perhaps you could set up a weekly schedule with a different parent so that you could both get a peaceful errand done. Or offer to pick up groceries for their family while they babysit.

6) BEHAVIORAL REWARD SYSTEM: Many of us have tried and failed to make them work. As a fellow parent and as a therapist, trust me when I say THEY CAN WORK! This is where you might consider getting some extra support by attending a parenting class or meet with a therapist to figure out how to set this up and get it right the first time. Behavioral rewards can be very helpful!

If we're able to plan ahead, we can make these trips to the store easier. But sometimes planning ahead seems like a monumental task. If all of this seems completely awesome in theory and completely impossible in practice, then it might be time to consider getting some extra support. Even just a handful of sessions of counseling can be practical and very helpful as you figure out a plan to eliminate certain behaviors and help your child practice the ones that are helpful. Speak with your pediatrician, school counselor or call us here at Child & Family Counseling Group. Parenting tasks like grocery shopping can, and will, get better with the right tools and support.

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