Going shopping can be a fun activity for the entire family, but with toddlers and preschoolers in tow, shopping can have its fair share of challenging moments. But there are ways to make shopping trips a little easier on yourself and more fun for both you and your child.
First, it is helpful to plan your shopping trip when you and your child are well rested, fed, and up for an adventure.
When you first start taking your child shopping with you, it's best to take them on short trips—under 10 minutes—when you only need a few items. It’s typical for toddlers and preschoolers to get tired and irritated easily, especially in situations where they are bored or expected to be calm and patient for an extended period of time.
If you can keep them curious and excited about the adventure, your child is less likely to engage in disruptive behavior while at the store. By giving your child a “job to do” or turning shopping into a game, you can hold your child’s attention and engage them—and have fun in the process.
Before you go to the store, it is helpful to talk about how we act in the store. Your child will feel more secure if they know what you expect from them. You can give them two or three guidelines to follow, such as using an indoor voice and staying right with you. Sometimes you can buy extra things and sometimes you need to stick with what’s on your list. What can they expect for this trip? This will help you set up your trip for success.
When you give yourself plenty of time and take the opportunity to connect with your child while doing your shopping, you will get the task done and build your relationship at the same time. It can be a win-win activity.
One approach for keeping your child curious in the store is to try games that utilize your child’s five senses.
What catches your child’s eye while in the store? Do they like certain colors? Do they like the cold area near the freezer foods or the garden area with all of the plants? They might see a fruit or vegetable they have never seen before and you can let them explore it by asking them questions about it. See if they can find and name all the different colors of produce they see, and then let them sort the colors in the grocery cart.
Take guesses at whether certain foods taste sweet, sour, or salty. When you are at the grocery store, ask your child if there is something from the produce aisle they would like to try at home. Cotton candy grapes are always fun to try! Purchase the product and take it home to try it together as a family.
Notice the different textures of various fruits and vegetables. Go on a hunt in the produce section for bumpy textures (avocado and oranges) and smooth textures (tomatoes), fuzzy textures (kiwi), and spikey ones (pineapple, dragonfruit). You can let your child gently hold the item to feel the different textures, and better yet, let them pick out one they would like to take home.
Different stores have different smells. Sometimes each aisle has a different smell. Talk to your child about what you both smell. Is it different? Is it the same? Why do they think each aisle smells different? The produce aisle is a great place to seek out unusual scents, such as citrus or more earthy smells like beets. If there is a deli or bakery in the store, walk down the aisle and take a whiff together. Talk about what you smell and how smell and taste are connected. Is there a memory that is evoked by the smell of baking bread?
Stores have all sorts of sounds: there is music playing, people talking. Take a moment to notice what you hear—are the noises loud or quiet? High-pitched or low-pitched? With your child, take a few moments of silence to notice the sounds around you, such as the crinkly sound of the produce bags or the rattling sound of a peanut can. You can name the sounds you hear together and see if you can copy the sounds you hear (quietly).
After your trip
On the way home from the store, review how your shopping trip went with your child. Give your child positive feedback when they follow your shopping guidelines. Tell them how much fun you had with them and how much you appreciate their help. Everyone in the family can help it run smoothly, and their contributions matter. You can feel good about getting your shopping done and taking the opportunity to use shopping as a way to engage your child’s curiosity and learning. And, you are even contributing to a foundation of strong, positive memories with your child.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis, and Kalina Glover-Moresi.
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