Monday, September 19, 2011

How to have a stress-free shopping trip with your children

Today, I am very lucky to feature Dr Kristen Wells, health psychologist and creator and blogger for Stress and Health Online.  Please be sure to visit her blog at

Managing Stress While Grocery Shopping with Your Kids

“Mommy. I’m. Sorry!”  It was a scream at the checkout aisle at Target. “Mommy. I’m. Sorry!”  Everyone turned their head to see what was wrong.  Had someone lit the store on fire? Was anyone bleeding? 
No, it was a preschool-age girl who was riding in a shopping cart, screaming at the top of her lungs while her mother and two sisters tried to select a bathing suit.  “Mommy. I’m. Sorry!”  The flustered mother tried to continue her shopping trip.  She tried to calm the child.  She tried her best.  Then she gave up and dashed to the checkout line with all the kids in tow.  She apologized profusely to everyone in the general area.  The child continued to scream “Mommy. I’m. Sorry!” She could not be pacified.  The only option was to get out as soon as possible.

I watched this scene with my family as we too were checking out with our groceries and household items.  I empathized with the mother and the sisters.  They were clearly horrified and slightly panicked.  But deep down, I was so thankful that it was not me.  It certainly could have been because I also have a preschool age child, and they are prone to such behavior in stores.

Our weekly shopping and grocery trips have become one of the more stressful parts of my week.  These days, I would rather give a presentation to 400 people then spend an hour shopping.  When my child was very small she enjoyed going to the store.  It seemed to be soothing, and she liked to look at things.  She was quiet and, and she never got lost because she was strapped into the grocery store cart or her infant car seat.  But, now that she is four years old, it is an exercise in stress management.  It is hard not to be overwhelmed.  

There are several things that are stressful about shopping with a preschooler.  First, preschoolers are independent.  In other words, she does not want to ride in the cart.  She wants the ability to get on and off of the moving cart while you push it.  For her, it is the equivalent of a trolley or street car.  She does not realize that a moving cart can run over her feet or her hands.  I understand that my child is not the only one who has trouble with the moving cart. A friend’s preschool-age daughter managed to pull the cart over on top of herself.  So, there is a danger factor.  

Once she gets off the cart, she tends to wander away.  Often she picks up something that is clearly breakable, like light bulbs or a glass measuring cup.  We do our best to encourage her curiosity outside of the store, but inside the store her curiosity can lead to glass shards all over the housewares section.
Lately, she also enjoys selecting her own food.  This means that she bypasses the fruit selection and chooses anything that has a princess or other cartoon character on it.  Or she picks up cookies.   She has also become aware that the store has a selection of toys, costumes, movies, books, and greeting cards.  Each time we go to the store, she wants to take home one of each of these items.  She is getting better at sneaking these things in the cart too, so we find ourselves at the checkout line wondering how we managed to purchase the Dora band-aids….again.

As this is all going on, I am trying my best to get groceries and other items for the house.  I often forget that we are out of something important, like dishwashing detergent or cat food, because I am so focused on keeping her safe and keeping the cookies out of the cart.  Then, when we get to the frozen food section, she remembers that she needs to go to the bathroom, which is on the other side of the store.  I leave the store in the same state as the mother with the screaming child—flustered, with a box of Dora band-aids and some cookies, but without the ingredients to make the cupcakes that I promised for her school party.  And so the process repeats itself.

Lately, I have found a few ways to more effectively manage our shopping experiences :
  •    Going alone.  Before I became a parent, going to a store by myself was just another thing to do, but now it seems to be a wonderful experience, almost like going to a spa.  On the rare occasions that I can go to the store alone, I can actually read food labels and remember what I came to buy.  I can even comparison shop.  In other words, I can think.
  • Setting the Ground Rules Before Entering the Store.  Recently, I have been trying to communicate to my child the expectations for grocery store behavior before we enter the store.  I usually try to remind her that if she follows the rules there might be a fun experience after our trip the store, like going to the park.  Sometimes this helps and sometimes it doesn’t.
  •   Going to the Bathroom at Home.  If I can remember, I try to remind my child to go to the bathroom before we leave the house so that we don’t have to go in the middle of the shopping experience.
  • Making A List.  Sometimes I will make a list of unusual items I might need at the store in case shopping with my child impairs my ability to think straight. I won’t write down things we always get, like milk.  I usually just list things we rarely get, like the filter for our air conditioner.
What do you do to manage the stress of shopping with a child or children?

Learn more about stress, health, and stress management at:

Thank you Kristen for sharing!  I wish I had thought of that when my son was that age.  Now he helps push the cart, put items on the belt and carry bags into the house!  They grow up so fast! 


Suerae Stein said...

Ahhh... those were the days... sorry I am just gloating a bit because I am SO PAST THAT STAGE!!! But I remember those days well. My sister-in-law once left an entire full-to-the-brim grocery cart and high-tailed it out of the store because her daughter was in tantrum mode. I always tried to go alone. I would go when my husband was home or when my kids were in preschool or if they were at friends houses. Like you said, it seemed so much less a chore that way. As much as we have other things that we'd like to do when our kids aren't underfoot, few of them are as stressful as shopping with them. Great post - thanks for the memories! It does get so much better! :) ~Suerae

Danielle said...

When my kids were little I used to turn shopping trips into a game/learning experience. For example - whoever could bring me a fruit that I couldn't identify got to choose a fruit that I normally wouldn't buy (because I couldn't afford anything out of the ordinary. my daughter always chose mangos or avacados).

Another game we would play was the no trans fat game. I taught them how to read labels and the person who could bring me a tasty snack from the cracker aisle with NO trans fat would get to choose a healthy no trans fat treat of their choice.

Cute Coconutters said...

shopping used to be stress-free before my first son turned into 2,5 years old and now he is 3, things are getting escalated. There were times when he would not move at all until his desired-toys were approved. In most cases I just ignored it. Yeap I am so used to put a wall-face despite his screaming to the core. And yeah, running for the toilet also happens a lot!...

Kristen said...

I thought about this post today since we had our weekly trip to Target and just like clockwork, my child had to go to the bathroom right in the middle of frozen foods. And I ran over my foot with the shopping cart. By the end, I begged my husband to take my child to the car while I paid. On a positive note, we didn't pick up anything with Dora on it. :)

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