Shopping with a Toddler and How to Make it Easier

A Big Change to How I Shopped

I was 36 when my son was born.  Previous to his birth I could take my time reading labels or deciding between items while I was actually standing in an aisle of a store.  Not.  Any.  More.  Now I was worrying about making sure I brought enough diapers, milk (my son was an eater & it showed in his rolls) or burp cloths, would he start crying in the middle of my trip and not stop?  It was very intimidating, which sounds sad because when I was single I decided to visit Washington DC (I lived in Michigan), by myself, just because I had never been there before!

Now I look back and wish I had done more with my son in his first year because that really is the “easy” time with a child.  He slept a lot, couldn’t wonder off or grab things off the shelf while in the cart.  He didn’t talk back to me, throw himself on the floor and make a scene because I wouldn’t buy him a toy.  I didn’t hear things like “poopy momma” come out of his mouth in a voice loud enough for everyone around to hear (to let me know he went in his diaper).

He’s approaching three and I keep asking myself, “when will this get easier?”, maybe it won’t, I don’t know!  He is a very active child but I have learned a few tricks along the way to make shopping easier.  Hopefully these tips will help you too.

10 Tips to make shopping with a toddler easier

  1. Make sure they aren’t hungry.  My son always eats breakfast before we leave and if he doesn’t eat a lot I bring his smoothie with us and he will usually drink it on the way to the store.
  2. Try to wait until they have done their business.  My son isn’t potty-trained yet and I don’t like changing a messy diaper on a small changing table tucked in the corner of a stall or behind a bathroom door, not fun!  But if he doesn’t go by 9:30 we usually risk it and leave.
  3. Plan your route.  There is plenty of traffic where I shop  and I usually need to go to more than one store so I plan where I’m going to go the night before or while he’s eating breakfast.  Then based on the stores location and what I’m getting I try to go in an order that works with the traffic routines and doesn’t have me back tracking, every minute counts with a toddler.  On a hot day I may break this rule so most of my frozen stuff is bought last.
  4. Be realistic about how much time you will need in the store.  Sometimes that’s hard because you might be going somewhere new or things just took longer than expected.  Remember, there is always another day to finish your shopping.  My son can handle about 2 hours and then he’s done.  Every child is different though and each one has their own limit.  However, you as their parent should know what it is and try to stick close to it.
  5. Always use a cart if the store has them.  Even if you are just getting a couple items because you know you will most likely remember something else you need.  Then you are trying to carry all those things while keeping track of your toddler.  My son loves to run and he will run in the store at some point, no matter what, so I keep him contained in a cart.
  6. Bring water and snacks when it’s more than a quick in & out trip.  Toddlers get bored sitting in a cart, even for 10 minutes.  By giving my son a handful (his handful) of trail mix (nuts, raisins & chickpeas) and his sippy cup, I can keep him occupied long enough for me to finish getting what I need.  I also keep a lollipop on hand.  Occasionally when he’s well behaved at the first store I will give it to him at the second store.  This actually occupies him.  I don’t like him to eat candy.  He is a kid, however, so it’s going to happen from time to time (this is the balance part).
  7. Have them “help”.  I give my son non-delicate items that he can “hold” for me.  He’ll usually pick the item up and look at everything on it.  When he’s bored with it we (he helps me) put it in the back of the cart.  Then he can have something new sitting next to him.  He likes to talk about what the item, like what letters or colors are on it.  Usually it’s food he likes so if it’s something he is able to have for lunch when we get home I tell him that.  Then he’ll talk about that and whatever else he’s going to have for lunch.  He may want to eat it right then but I tell him we have to pay for it first.  That usually works but if not, it goes in the back of the cart where he can’t get it.
  8. Interact with people.  I have my son say hi or wave to other children.  This usually leads to him saying hi to adults too, who sometimes will further interact with him.  The interaction keeps him from getting bored.  Also if he hears another child crying he’ll talk about that with me.  He’s pretty empathetic and is usually concerned so we talk about why they might be crying.  Talking about things like this also keep him from getting bored because they cause him to think about the situation.
  9. Have them help at checkout also.  While checking out I let him hand me what is next to him and anything he may be able to reach in the back of the cart.  He seems to enjoy helping me so I’m trying to work with that.
  10. Put them in the car first.  When we get to the car I put him in his car seat so he’s safe and restrained.  Then I give him a toy and then load everything else into the car.

I’m sure there are many more tips I could put on the list but that’s what I can think of for now.  I’ll definitely update if I think of any more later.

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