Making Shopping Trips More Fun and Manageable

Remember the days of care-free shopping trips, or easily squeezing in a few errands during lunch break? Well, if you’re a parent, those days probably seem long behind you.

Shopping can be fun with toddlers in tow, but it can also be challenging. There are yummy foods to grab at, things to touch, and toys to play with. And, to a toddler, everything is a toy! With all the sounds, colors, lights and interesting things, upsets and unwanted behaviors are likely to pop up.

Just like learning to walk, ride a bike, or take turns, teaching children how to manage their emotions and bodies in public is a learned skill, and with some patience and preparation you can support your child with this skill.


When it comes to shopping with toddlers, common challenges include:

  • Whining
  • Touching things without permission
  • Running down the aisles
  • Not staying with their grownup
  • Upsets over not getting something they wanted
  • Overtired, or cranky

The good news is that there are strategies you can try for these different challenges!

Before we talk about some strategies that can help, it is important to remember that toddlers have big emotions, and haven’t yet developed the self-regulation skills or language to cope with them. This is a learning opportunity for them, and for you. When your toddler has big feelings, remember it is your job to manage your own emotions first, and then help him to learn these skills. Every upset is an opportunity for him to know that he can count on you to be there for him when things are hard.

Before you get to the store

If possible, schedule your trips to the store around your toddler’s nap or mealtimes. If your child is fed and well rested, they will have an easier time managing their emotions and behavior in the store. We all do better when our basic needs for rest and food are met.

Toddlers also tend to do better with shorter trips, so when possible, plan for shorter, frequent trips to the store rather than one long one.

Before you head to the store, tell your child where you will be going, what you will be buying, and when you will be back. Decide on two or three simple rules for your shopping trip and share them with your child. Here are some ideas:

  • Stay with your grownup at all times. Use your walking feet only.
  • Hands stay by your side, unless asked to pick out an item, or given permission to touch something.
  • Some toddlers do better if they are riding in the shopping cart. You may need to stay in the center of the aisle in order to avoid the temptation for your toddler to reach out for items on the shelf.
  • Use a quiet, indoor voice.

You could also take a moment to explain that while “grocery stores do sell lots of yummy, fun things, we are going to stick to the items on our list.” Then, go over what you need to buy with your child. You could even have your child be “in charge of the list.”

At the store

If you can keep boredom at bay, 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. Here are some activities to try while shopping:

  • “I Spy” games: “I spy with my little eye, something that is red.
  • Holding the grocery list.
  • Helping you find items or making simple choices: “Should we get purple grapes or green grapes?
  • Getting non-breakable items from the shelves for you.
  • Handing items to your child to put in the cart.
  • Finding different colors, shapes, and sizes: “Let’s look for fruits that have a circle shape.
  • Bring along some snacks. Some crackers or a favorite snack might keep your toddler busy (and full) while you get your shopping done.

Remember to tell your child when they are doing a great job: “Justin, you are doing a wonderful job staying with me while we shop. You are being a big help keeping our grocery list safe in your hand.”

Your new shopping buddy!

Toddlers love to be helpful, as well as do “grownup” things. Shopping with them has its challenges, but it’s also a teaching opportunity and a chance to bond with your child over everyday routines. And with practice, you might find yourself in the company of a very helpful shopping partner!

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis, and Lynne Grilley. 

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