Running errands or grocery shopping with your little one is probably going to take longer than one on your own. Accepting this will help you be more tolerant and flexible. Young children’s concept of time and their ability to control their emotions aren’t fully developed; there will be times when their feelings overwhelm them. Do your best not to let them overwhelm you! Here are few tips for your toolbox:
1. Tend to the basics. Make sure your child isn’t hungry or thirsty during your grocery shopping trip. Offer a small snack and a drink beforehand if needed.
2. Have a plan. Before exiting the car, discuss your plan. Say things such as, “Today, we are going to buy only the things on our list,” or, “You may choose one treat: carrots with ranch dressing or stickers. Which one would you like?” Make the conversation brief. This will help limit (not necessarily eliminate) many last-minute requests.
3. Offer your child a small clipboard and colorful pencils soon after you arrive. Use these to play tic-tac-toe or so that your child can draw pictures of things she or he sees.
4. Make them your assistant. Invite your child to help you find items on your list, so that they have more buy-in.
5. Prepare a “surprise bag,” and take it out when you see your child starting to squirm. There is no need to spend a lot on the items: pipe cleaners, Wiki-Stix, stickers, old Christmas cards, toys that come as prizes with other purchases, crayons or shaker eggs can do the trick. Mix up the contents so that there are new finds each time you shop.
6. Follow through with what you say. If you’ve said no to a toy, don’t cave. Name your child’s emotion with a statement such as, “I can see that you are disappointed, but we are not buying that today.” Then, continue with your shopping.
7. Breathe, and don’t let your child’s upsets become your upset. If your child becomes upset or noisy and a fellow shopper gives you an unkind look, ignore it. I’m confident that if they are a parent, they have been there themselves.
8. Promote patience by modeling it. Acknowledge that waiting in line at the checkout can be boring. Share something like, “I don’t love waiting in line either. Let’s think of something to do until it is our turn. I wonder how many things we can find that are red!”
Try to start with short trips, if possible, and take in to account your child’s age and personality. Every child is different. Errands and waiting are realities in our lives, but practice will help them learn to make the best of them.
Susan Rudich, M.Ed is an early childhood educator, parenting coach and adjunct professor focussing on child development. In addition, Susan is a fellow of the Simms Mann Institute’s First 36 Project. The Project cohort studies the latest in human development theories and neuroscience as they relate to children ages 0-36 months. Susan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.