Making Shopping With Your Preschooler a Breeze

Parents shopping with child


Bringing your young kids along for a shopping trip can be a rewarding experience for the entire family, but it can come with challenges. Young children are still in the process of learning how to manage their emotions and behaviors, especially in new and unfamiliar situations like shopping. Without your guidance, your preschooler might be tempted to run in the aisles, touch items you aren't purchasing, wander off, or insist on items that are not on your shopping list. While these moments can be frustrating for you, from your child’s perspective this is a new and exciting world to explore. With some planning and consistent responses, you can turn shopping into an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Preparing for Shopping Trips

Plan ahead! Shopping trips take practice for young kids. Whenever possible, plan short
trips where you spend a quick 10 minutes in the store and then leave. Take your child
with you for small errands like grabbing a gallon of milk or some wrapping paper; this gives them the chance to experience a successful shopping trip in a controlled environment.

Before heading to the store, discuss what you'll be buying today with your child. Emphasize that sometimes you only buy items on the list, while other times you might be open to choosing one or two additional things. Stick to your decision during the shopping trip. If your child sees something they like, remind them to look with their eyes. This is an opportunity to practice self-regulation. Notice when they can contain their emotions and give them lots of positive praise.

Cover the Basics

Ensure that all your child's physical needs are met before heading to the store. Avoid scheduling trips close to meal or nap times to prevent hunger or tired-related issues. Time your shopping when your child is typically in a positive mood.

Set Boundaries

Establish two or three simple rules for your child to follow during the shopping trip. Discuss these rules with your child before leaving for the store and ask them to go over them with you on the way. Examples include ensuring that they "stay where they can see you," looking with their eyes only, walking feet only, and using an inside voice. If there's a specific challenging behavior your child struggles with, address it explicitly and reinforce positive alternatives.

Plan Activities 

Keep your child engaged during the shopping trip with various activities, such as finding items on the shelf, counting items, identifying prices, and making choices. Even young children can point out colors and shapes. When you talk about what is happening and describe what you see, you are helping your child to connect words in their real-life context. When your child is actively involved, they are more likely to enjoy the experience and stay engaged productively and positively.

Other Considerations 

Even with careful planning, there may be instances where your child acts out
unexpectedly. Remember that this is part of the learning process for both you and your
child. Stay calm and consistent, and be prepared for potential reactions from other

When you sense agitation or potential upset, take a moment to connect with your child. Get down to their level, make eye contact, and ask them what they need. If your child is upset, name their feeling for them tell them you understand how they feel, and restate your boundary. Stay with them as they express their feelings. You may need to make eye contact with other concerned shoppers to let them know you have the situation under control. As you take deep breaths and remain calm during the upset, you are providing emotional regulation for your child. You are sending the message that you are there for them when they are struggling. If necessary, be prepared to cut the shopping trip short. Starting with short trips and gradually increasing the time spent in the store can help build your child's ability to cooperate and maintain expected behavior.

Praise and Encouragement

Offer plenty of praise before, during, and after shopping trips to reinforce positive
behavior. Remember that shopping, like any other skill, takes practice: your family
will improve with time. Don't hesitate to bring your kids along this holiday season; they are capable of learning to enjoy successful shopping trips.

Triple P – Positive Parenting Program

Are you interested in receiving more parenting advice? Triple P Online – Positive Parenting Program could be for you! This online parenting program allows you to take a parenting class in the comfort of your own home!

If you live in Lane County, you can get Triple P Online for free by filling out the form on the Triple P page. A staff person from Parenting Now will send you an access code within 24 hours and you’ll be able to start using the program right away! For more information about the program and to sign up visit the Triple P page.


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