Taking the kids along on a shopping trip can be a treat or a hassle, depending on how you handle things. With a good plan in mind and the right supplies you can turn a dreaded chore into a fun and potentially educational experience.
Pre-Planning Your Shopping Trip
Before you start shopping you need to have a plan in mind for where you're going and what you need to get. This is always a good idea, even if you're shopping solo as it helps cut down on unnecessary travel, time, and spending.
The first thing to consider is time, specifically what time you're planning on heading out to the stores. Avoid high-traffic times such as mid-day on weekends, or just before dinner on week days. If you have infants or young children, taking them shopping after they're refreshed from a nap and fed will cut down on fussy moments.
Write out a list of the stores you need to visit and what you're looking for at each one, then plan your route. A good rule to follow is to create a circle between your destinations so you'll spend less time backtracking and end up at home in the end. If you have older children learning about maps, have them help plan your driving route.
Making a checklist of the items you need to purchase can be a fun job to give one of your older kids to manage. Showing the progress of your errands by marking off finished tasks can help manage fussy shoppers by showing them you're getting near the end of your trip. This method also cuts back on impulse buying for both you and the kids by allowing you to say "well, it's not on the list - do we really need it?"
Shopping with Infants and Toddlers
When you have young children or infants in tow be prepared to take breaks to make sure their needs are being met. Pack plenty of supplies for the day - the normal diaper bag full of infant needs is an obvious must. Make sure to take plenty of breaks to ensure your baby is well hydrated, many stores have dry air which can cause them to dehydrate quickly, as well as the transition in and out of buildings.
A stroller may put too much distance between you and your child when shopping in a noisy, crowded environment. Most babies are happier when held close, so a baby sling may be your best bet to keeping your infant soothed. Having a favorite toy along for the ride may help a baby cope with longer shopping trips.
Toddlers can be a challenge in two ways, they may be fussy and not want to cooperate in the stores, or they become overly excited and a handful to keep in control. Shopping can be an overly-stimulating experience and some toddlers will break out and get into everything if you're not careful.
You should engage your toddler in discussions about things you buy, both to create a learning experience with them and also to keep their attention focused on a safe area with you. Asking them to identify fruits and vegetables in the grocery store or showing them how to read package labels not only involves them in the shopping process but fosters learning at the same time.
To reward good behavior during the trip, bring along a favorite snack, or let them make a shopping decision or two like which flavor of juice to buy. Avoid rewarding them with a toy or candy bought outside your normal shopping list, as this may establish an unwanted expectation that they'll get it every time they go to the store.
Shopping with Older Children
Older children who can navigate shopping areas on their own present new challenges: keeping them nearby and keeping them well behaved during your shopping trip. Giving older children tasks to help you with the shopping will help you finish your errands quicker and give the child a new sense of responsibility.
Have your child help you locate specific items on the shelf, or if they're old enough, send them to other aisles to find items alone. Children of all ages like to be involved in the purchasing decisions, so let them pick out their favorite flavor of cereal, or choose a new brand of shampoo.
If you want to work on good money habits, shopping trips can be a great exercise in savings and spending. To promote good behavior during shopping trips, give your child a set dollar amount, say $10, and let them know they can either spend it in that trip, or save it for a later trip to buy something bigger. Don't help out if they go a little over their budget, or they'll start pushing the envelope on future trips. This can be a good lesson on sales tax as well for older children - they'll learn that a $9.99 toy isn't going to be within their budget after tax, but they can save that $10 for next time.
Recharging Your Batteries
If you find yourself reaching your limits - physically or mentally - or observe the same in your kids, it's time for a break. Younger children may need to stop more frequently for snack or bathroom breaks, but even older children and you need a rest once in a while. Try to plan your shopping to include a "rest stop" somewhere in the middle - lunch, a food court, or a park are all good places to relax. Many shopping malls now have small children's play areas where parents can take a break and let their kids run off some energy. Take advantage of this, especially when your kids get tired of being confined to a stroller or holding your hand. If you're getting too frustrated inside a crowded mall, head outside for a bit of fresh air and an escape from the crowds.Remember to know your child's limits (and your own) when planning long shopping trips. With a good plan you can even turn a dreaded list of errands into a fun bonding experience for everyone!