Ask a Therapist: Ten Ways to Survive a Grocery Store Trip With Small Children
By: Kendra Doukas
At the Catalyst Center we get the struggles of parenting. Daily tasks can become much more complicated when you have to plan around kids’ schedules, moods, attention-spans, etc. In particular, something like going to grocery shopping with children can be an awful experience. It can be so awful in fact that going alone to a store can feel like going to the spa! What parent doesn’t dream about a solo Target shopping adventure? Summertime means kids are out of school and the dreaded “Bringing Kids to the Grocery Store Season” is upon us. We know that you are probably trying to feverishly throw items into your cart without a) losing a kid, b) losing your mind, c) losing your cool. It’s especially difficult when you have little ones that are cart bound…Where do the groceries go? “Car carts” can sometimes be helpful and more often end up being a place to aid in sibling aggression and banter because it is somewhat hidden from mom’s or dad’s view. Also, you might run over someone in one of those things and you definitely cannot fit down the aisles. Nevertheless, going to the store is an unavoidable aspect of keeping a home, and thus I offer these ten ideas that can help you survive your next shopping trip.
1. Make a game out of finding the items you need. (Works especially well in the produce department). Instead of grabbing bananas say, “Okay…I’m looking for something that is yellow and has a peel and makes a great snack after running at the park!” Your children can either call out what they think the item is or older children could even fetch the item for you.
2. Play grocery store bingo! You could get as fancy as making your own bingo boards for an art project or just have the children cut out pictures of items they might find at the grocery store and try to find them.
3. Play a game of “I Spy.” For those of you who do not know this game, the spotter picks out something within view and does not tell anyone what he or she has selected. For example, the spotter might spy a fire extinguisher and say, “I spy with my little eye something red” and the other people have to guess what the object is that the spotter spies. Really, any old-fashioned road trip game works well.
4. Let each child bring one small (but not small enough to fall through the cracks in the cart) toy from home for entertainment. Try to not have this be a screen or a device. Include the toy in the shopping trip in a creative way. For example, “What do you think your dolly would like to eat from this aisle if she could eat real food?”
5. See if your child wants to be “buried in groceries!” Kind of like leaves in the fall this approach surprisingly is a blast for some kids.
6. Reward good behavior at the store with a fun outing afterwards. You can say to your kids, “Listen. I don’t want to have to go to the store either but it is something we need to get done today. If you can make good choices at the store with calm bodies and quiet voices and being good helpers then we can go to the park afterwards.”
7. Kids love to be helpers. Let your kids find items for you or pull items off the shelf and load them into the cart. With multiple children, you can have a little “assembly line” of helpers and they could even take turns doing each job in the assembly line where age appropriate.
8. Play “Nutritious versus Delicious” where the children label each item you are buying as a a) nutritious item, b) delicious item, or c) both nutritious and delicious. This doubles well as an exercise in being mindful of what you are buying at the store! If you are already in a shame spiral about what is in your cart, then skip this one.
9. Teach your kids about the main categories of food, such as “protein, carbohydrate, fat” or “vegetable, fruit, grain, meat, dairy, etc.” Have them guess which type of food you are putting into the cart and where different foods are stored in the supermarket.
10. Try to be engaged and mindful with your kids. It is very tempting to switch into “get the job done” mode which often leads to feeling stress and upset feelings when the trip takes a turn for the worst. Set up your expectations accurately. The trip is going to take a long time. You are going to feel nervous about your groceries getting crushed. Of course, don’t let your child handle the tomatoes, but they probably can’t hurt a box of chicken nuggets too badly.
Although these ten ideas can be a tremendous help, pick and choose the timing of your trip with care. Don’t try to “stop at the store really quick” on your way back from a 3-hour park date. Your kids will be tired and hungry. You will be tired and hungry. Instead, choose the trip and go in with a mindset of embracing the grocery store run. Doing the aforementioned activities will not make for a “quick trip” but what you gain in ease will more than make up for what you lose in time.