Since my Vie Road Trip, a lot of parents have come forward and asked me a simple question:
Forget the meal plans and recipes! How do you shop with four kids in the grocery store?
The answer is: it has taken me years to figure out the right combination of rules, pre-set expectations and strategy. Any parent knows that shopping with children in tow can be a painful experience filled with tantrums, stares from strangers and worse…needing to high tail it out of there before the basics are even in the cart! A bad shopping experience can leave us feeling inadequate, frustrated, embarrassed and let down. There’s even a bit of dread thrown in at the thought of shopping with kids at all. Period.
Many of us have found ourselves over the years waiting until we have a sitter or the kids are all asleep to go shopping, often at 9:30 pm, exhausted and feeling alone. That was me a few years ago. Then, with more kids (and more experience) I’ve figured out a solution that works for me…about 90 % of the time! No one is perfect, but I hope that you’ll take a look at my simple tips for shopping with kids and find them helpful. Keep in mind that I shop with all four most of the time and rarely do I find a grocery store that even makes a cart large enough to hold all of them safely.
If you’ve ever seen another parent peacefully shopping at a store while her/his children stay close by to the cart, listen and even help (gasp) chances are that parent is utilizing at least some of these tips. Here they are:
TIP 1 Set Expectations
The first thing I do before I even unbuckle my kids from their car seats is this: I turn to them and ask that they all (minus baby) look me in the eye. Then I say something like this: “All of you know we are going into the store now. Here are my expectations of you…” By the time I get to that part they -by now- are already spouting off what they know I ask for each time: that they stay close to me, that they not run away, always keep a hand on the cart, no fighting and no touching anything unless asked. I then tell them how long I expect to be in the store and what we’re getting so that they can understand that this is a part of our daily life and that it leads to an end goal of a yummy dinner, lunch for a picnic, or that new box of cereal that they’ve been asking for. The bottom line is I keep them engaged in the process. They are not being dragged to the store, they are a vital part of our trip and are my special helpers.
TIP 2 Be Consistent With Your Rules
I set the same rules each time (listed above) but in short again are:
- Stay with me
- No running away (this one needs reinforcing–also helps to answer the question of what “stay with me” means.)
- Always keep a hand on the cart
- No fighting (or screaming or horseplay)
- No touching any item on the shelves unless asked to
These rules are always the same and in the same order. Always. If I have an extra rule for the day, I offer it up at the end with an explanation, for example: “Last rule is be respectful of those around you. Today is a busy day because the students are moving back in so the store will be crowded. Our trip will feel different than normal and I want you to be aware of that.”
We’ve (thankfully) gotten to the point now where they not only know the rules by heart but they enjoy offering them up for approval! This helps tie in the consistency piece with the expectation piece, which (and I’m not child psychologist) seems to help reinforce and validate their small worlds in a way that makes them feel secure in, and understanding of, their environment.
TIP 3 Offer a Reward
Before we enter the store, I explain that if they follow all of the rules, they get to have a [reward]. Usually this is a cookie or a special drink, and often it’s something we need or could use anyway, like sparkling water -which we call soda-. I remind them when someone stops following the rules or gets off track that they won’t get their reward, and I give them one chance to correct their behavior, then I take the reward away. Those who follow the rules still get the reward and those who don’t have a hard time watching another brother enjoy the reward–but I’ll tell you, they correct their behavior for the next time.
TIP 4 Make it Fun
This is the best part! I explain what meals we are making, chat about the process of the recipes and the ingredients involved and allow them to pick out certain ingredients that we need (one at a time). We also always explore! We visit the fish counter every time and spend a few minutes checking out the different fish, crabs, mussels and clams. We rarely buy anything not on our list, but sometimes I’ll pick up an inexpensive whole fish so that we can take it home and learn more about it. Since I get excited about exotic ingredients or new items in the store, so do they! We often chat about how intriguing new items are and even discuss whether or not they are on sale. I always make it a point to say that we look for sale items and we don’t buy what we don’t need, unless I think it can be used as a learning point later in the day/week. Sometimes they even get an idea for a cool recipe (main dish or dessert) and I will indulge them and let them purchase the ingredients. We then go home and make it right away to keep the momentum going.
TIP 5 Praise Good Behavior
Finally, I always praise good behavior during our shopping trip. I mention when I’ve noticed that someone has stayed close to the cart, kept their hands to themselves, said hello to a fellow shopper or store employee, etc. Once we get back to the car, we have a recap about our experience and I explain what behavior I liked or didn’t like. This helps to cement all of the lessons learned and bring our experience together full circle. I think one of the most vital parts of this process is helping them to feel included.
This may seem like a lot, but I promise it should be quite easy to incorporate into your shopping routine. Best of all, after a few tries, you’ll begin to notice better behavior from your kids and YOU yourself will begin to look forward to shopping with kids in tow! Also, for the record: I have my awful days, too. I choose mornings, typically, for shopping because the kids are rested and fed. Going to the store during nap time or lunch is just asking for a hard time, right? On the days that I struggle, my kids are running around the store like banshees and pissing off every elderly person in sight, I’m reminded that kids are kids, and parents are just human. No matter what though, I always do my recap in the car once they are buckled and don’t hold back if I’m feeling upset. Kids need to know when they mess up. After all, how will they correct their behavior otherwise?
I would love to hear your experiences with this!! And if you’ve got any other helpful tips that I left off, please leave them in the comments so all of us can learn and get better, because at the end of the day we are only as strong as our village!3