- Plan ahead. This is almost always going to be one of my suggestions! First, make sure to plan errands when everyone is rested and fed - don’t attempt errands during your infant’s meal time, or when your toddler skipped his nap, or even when your own blood sugar is low. Everyone is happier and less crazy with sleep and food! Bonus points if you can expend some of your kids’ energy before the trip (i.e., walk, bike ride, etc). Then, make sure you have essentials before you leave the house - you don’t want to be stuck without a diaper, for example. Also, bring activities and snacks to keep the kids happy during the errands. Last, make a list of what you need to do or buy (so you don’t have to trek out later in the day too!), and keep things as brief as possible.
- Lay down the rules. This one is for older children who can understand rules. Prior to leaving the car to enter the store, tell your children what the rules are. (You would be surprised...or maybe not...how many parents don’t think to actually explicitly tell their kids what the rules are.) Try to frame it as “do (this)” rather than always saying “don’t do (this).” For instance, I tell my kids, “The rule for the store is that you have quiet voices, gentle hands, and calm bodies.” I chose these rules specifically for our situation, so you might have different rules. I have twin boys, and they love to talk loudly (read: yell) and play roughly (read: wrestle or hit) together, even when in a shopping cart. So, when I thought about what I wanted them to do instead, these were the rules I created. I have said it so many times that now I just ask, “What is the rule for the store?” and they can tell me. Remember, young children will need reminders in the store. Lastly, be sure to praise them when they are following the rules!
- Distract. We can’t expect young children to sit quietly in a shopping cart without anything to do. So, have a bag of tricks. For infants, simply talking about what you’re doing may be enough to distract them. You can also provide a snack, teether, textured book, or rattle toy. For older kids, a favorite (quiet) toy or book are good options for some kids, but don’t expect that to last too long. Snacks are awesome for shopping - try putting small foods (like raisins, goldfish, or Cheerios) into toddler snack cups like these since this will buy you more time on the errand. Lollipops also work well, either to keep them occupied or as a reward for great behavior on the errand. When used to occupy time, I tell my kids, “Eat lollipops with your tongue, not with your teeth,” so they aren’t gone in three seconds. You can find organic varieties if you are so inclined - we have used these. For some situations, don’t be afraid to break out the tablet or smartphone. Before my kids were old enough to go to the IKEA play room, we plopped them in the cart with the iPad. If you’ve ever been to IKEA, you know it takes forever to go through from start to finish, and this can be torture with cranky, bored children. All of the other parents we passed looked at our calm shopping cart longingly, and my husband and I left the store with our purchases and our sanity. That being said - I try to use screens as distractors on rare occasions, most notably because the novelty can wear off if they are overused, and then you’re back at square one.
Next up: What to do if things go wrong!