Updated: Nov 17, 2020
Taking a toddler to the shops can often be a daunting task, and I know many people who avoid it. I often take my two to the shops (aged 3.5 and 2) and people often comment that I am brave, and I am repeatedly asked how I do it. Yes, some trips are more successful than others, but here are seven tips for going shopping with your toddler!
1. Trolley Or Pram Is Your Best Friend
Where possible, use a trolley or a pram! Personally, I avoid letting my children’s feet touch the ground at the shops, for as long as possible. Miss C still always sits in a trolley. As I fell pregnant when Mr I was only 10 months old, he was always in a trolley or pram when I went shopping, and then when Miss C was born, we invested in a double pram. I used to see other mothers with a newborn in the pram and a toddler walking nicely next to them and think… how?!? At 18 months old, Mr I would’ve been running through those shops like lightening, chased by myself and a baby in a pram. This concept was way too stressful for me! Miss C just knows when we go to the shops, she goes in a trolley, or in a highchair if we eat at a café. I plan to keep it this way for as long as possible!
Mr I does walk occasionally now he is almost 4, especially if daddy is with us. However, he knows that if he starts to try and run away or be silly – e.g. hang onto the side of the trolley, then he must get in it. I usually give him one or two warnings and then that’s it, he’s back in the trolley. Some days, he will walk the entirety of the shopping trip, others, he will be back in the trolley within five minutes of being at the shops. If he does need to go back in the trolley, even if he cries and carries on, he stays there. If he is quietly sitting in the trolley for a decent amount of time, I then allow him another opportunity to walk. Generally, if he plays up again, he will stay in the trolley for the remainder of the shopping trip. He is slowly starting to learn, with persistence, what is acceptable in a shopping centre. I don’t expect him to walk like he’s in the military, but there are certain things that you just can’t do – for example, run off. I explain to him the reason why he can’t run ahead of me, and that he needs to stay safe so I don’t lose him, to help him understand. I give him opportunities to learn, but at the same time need to be practical that you can’t spend all day at the shop, and sometimes if it just a quick dash in, they are both in the trolley, no questions asked.
Always… Bring… Snacks… Non-negotiable! Of course, you can always buy them if you’re at the shops, but I still always have a snack sized bag of pretzels or popcorn with me, because you never know when you might need it. Having a snack can save a tantrum or a meltdown and can be particularly helpful if you get stuck in a long queue or need a minute to look at the items on the shelf. Snacks are also great for in the car if you get stuck in traffic or a busy carpark.
3. Have A List And Plan of Attack Prepared
One of the biggest tips for going shopping with your toddler – I always have a list prepared and a mental note of the route I’m going to take in the shops. I do my most important task first, whilst the children are fresh and have the most patience. I then go to the shop I need that’s farthest away from the car, and then work our way back towards the car. It makes it much more efficient if you have a plan and are less likely to encounter tantrums when you aren’t mucking around. When the people selling things in the middle of the aisles try to stop me, I usually say, ‘No thanks, I’m on a mission,’ haha! Of course, it can depend on the mood of the children too, some days I can wander around a bit more, others I get what I need and get out!
4. Think About Where You Park Your Car
Where possible, I always choose a carpark that is on a flat road. I once made the mistake of parking on a hill, at Spotlight, and I had to ask a random group of teenagers to help me, as the trolley kept rolling away whilst I was trying to get the children into the car – this was also when they were much younger and I couldn’t just let Mr I get into the car himself. Lesson learnt! I make a mental note about which shops I need and try to park nearby, so there’s less walking. I also always try to park near a trolley bay, so I can grab a trolley and get us all set up in it before we even enter the shops. Sometimes this means I need to circle the car park a couple of times, but it’s worth it! Of course, it isn’t always possible, especially leading up to Christmas, but I at least try. I park near a trolley bay (and I also glance out the window to make sure there is a child seat – many trollies don’t have them these days!). I then quickly lock the car, and run (and I mean run), grab the trolley and wheel it back to the car. I open the doors to let some air in, and at this stage, if children are getting cranky, will hand them a snack, or sometimes I’ll turn music back on in the car. As I have done this practically their whole lives, they are completely used to it, so rarely complain. I usually get them to help me look for a trolley whilst we are driving through the carpark too, so they don’t whinge if it takes five minutes to find a park. I have a packet of Dettol antibacterial wipes that lives in my glovebox, and I wipe down the trolley, especially around the seat area. I then load the trolley up with our bags, pop the children into the trolley, lock the car and off we go! Depending on how far away we are from the entrance, I generally always make Mr I get in the trolley whilst we are walking through the carpark for safety.
If we are unable to park near a trolley bay, I put the backpack on my back (with the Dettol wipes inside it), put my handbag on my shoulder, carry Miss C and hold Mr I’s hand until we can find a trolley. I then put our bags in it, wipe it over with one arm (amazing what we can do with one arm!), then pop the children in. Sounds like a mission, but you get faster as you learn your rhythm and I find it worth it to set yourself up for a successful shopping trip!
5. Choose Time Of Day Wisely
One of the tips for going shopping with your toddler, is think about what time of day your child is in the best mood. We generally go to the shops first thing in the morning, or in the mid-afternoon… this being before or after rest time. I find this is when they are most fresh, and less likely to tantrum. Sometimes if we are at the shops too close to rest time, they are more whingey and irritable. It can also be handy if they are due for morning or afternoon tea, because then they will happily sit in the trolley and eat.
6. Praise And Rewards
We believe in praising our children when they are listening and being well-behaved. When they are sitting nicely in the trolley or Mr I is walking calmly, I ensure I thank them and praise them with specifics: “I like how you are walking nicely next to Mummy.” Some people don’t believe in thanking their children, that it should just be expected they wait patiently. Personally, I like to be thanked for doing things, so I like to apply this to my children. I thank them for waiting for mummy to pay for the groceries or for me to wash my hands if we go to the toilet. Manners are underrated and dying these days, but personally I like to instill them in my children. If they feel appreciated and valued, for even the smallest of things, it can help them to want to do those things, and then in turn, they are likely to thank you in return, and in general, exhibit good manners. I’m not going to delve right into the whole topic of rewards, but I just wanted to mention that, as well as thanking my children, I also like to treat them for good behaviour. This could be buying them a cheap toy, a lollipop, or even something simple when we get home, like riding the bike in the front yard. I just like to show them I appreciate when they listen and cooperate.
7. Get The Children Involved In The Shopping Process
I often read my list out to my children as we are walking through the shops, and explain to them what is going to happen. I tell them what shops we are going into, and then what we are looking for. I ask them to help me find it, and suggestions on which one, if there are a variety of colours (e.g. buying a new bath mat.) We also point and talk about other things we walk past, and it helps them to remain occupied and content. They hold items for me and enjoy passing them to the checkout person. Mr I loves getting the receipt and showing it to the security person upon exit at places like Kmart. It’s good to teach them that sometimes we shop for fun things like birthday presents, other times necessity items like a new toilet brush, because it’s all just apart of life. My children like being involved and helping during the shopping process.
I hope these tips for going shopping with your toddler will help you have a calmer shopping experience. If you have any more to add, please feel free! Remember, it is all a learning curve, some shopping trips are amazing, others you can’t get out of there fast enough. Just keep persevering and hopefully you will all find your rhythm soon!