My husband used to joke and say, “Once you feed and clothe the kids, they expect it every day!” Like it or not, feeding our families means grocery shopping.
Taking kids grocery shopping can mean listening to crying, whining and begging. Navigating the store can cause a parent to wish for four arms. On the bright side, going shopping can be used as a form of exercise, since you run from row to row chasing your child.
Then there are the judgmental looks. The ones that say, “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” We’ve all seen them, the nosy lookers and shamers. It feels like they roam the earth looking for situations and people to judge.
What to Say to Judgmental Strangers
I highly recommend you i-g-n-o-r-e them! They’re just waiting for someone, anyone, to mention their eye rolling and nasty glances so they can have an argument. Don’t feed their need to argue.
If you *must* say something, make sure it sends the message, “I know you’re uncomfortable listening to my child cry, but really, I do know what I’m doing!” To express that message succinctly, try:
“Yes, we’re having a moment.”
That tells them, “I know my child is screaming. I may not being handling this the way you would, but I’ve got this.”
How to Teach Your Child to Behave in Stores
There are two things to be aware of when you find yourself dealing with a grocery store meltdown. One, the 3-year-old developmental phase focuses on power. Children see their parents get what they want by being powerful, yelling or demanding. They decide, “If my parents can do it, I can too.” That’s age appropriate modeling. Children need to be taught new skills to learn how to get what they want, not punished.
The other important thing to know is that in a lot of ways, a 3-year-old is still a baby. When she gets upset because her demands aren’t being satisfied, the intensity of her emotions can easily overtake and scare her. That’s when an angry demanding tantrum morphs into a scared overwhelmed tantrum.
Here are some tips for helping your child learn how to behave in the grocery store.
1. Either be willing to entertain your child as you shop, or leave her at home. Leaving her at home is always a good idea when you’re doing a large grocery trip. It also begins the teaching process. When she cries and says, “I want to go with mommy!” You say, “I only take children with me who stay with me and don’t cry. You can try next time.”
2. Don’t abandon your trip in the middle, even if your child tantrums. When you use grocery shopping for teaching make sure you have plenty of time and don’t need to buy anything. Then, when your child acts up, leave the groceries in the cart and both of you go sit outside on a bench. When her tantrum subsides simply ask, “You ready to try again?” No need to say anything else since I’m sure you’ve already talked about how she’s supposed to behave. This is about teaching through action, not punishment.
If you leave the store at this point you’ve switched the lesson from a teaching moment to showing her who really holds the power: your child. She will assume, using her immature reasoning, I’m powerful—I made mom mad and leave the store.
3. You may need to repeat this teaching several times during the first and second shopping trips. But since you know what you’re doing, you can be calm instead of embarrassed or mad.
4. Eat before you shop. If both of you eat a snack before going shopping things will go much smoother.
5. Give your child some power. For example, allow her to push a kid’s shopping cart and get one thing you need from a low shelf. If she bolts, go get her and repeat the bench process. Repeatedly doing this shows her what you expect when she shops with you.
6. Make up games: If you need your child to stay in the cart, try, “I spy a veggie that’s green, it’s your brother’s favorite. Use your eyes to find it, then we’ll take the cart to get it!”
7. Use technology. If video games are okay in your house, use them now instead of at home, where she’s learning the dynamics of communication.
Last but not least, this isn’t a “try it one time” kind of thing. As your child grows she’ll need reminders. But it will get easier.
Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be, and the anywhere, anytime Online Skills Class, a webinar that addresses reacting, ways to use teaching discipline, being proactive with outbursts, and mistakes. You can listen to the webinar from anywhere in the world, anytime it’s convenient for you. Click here to receive 2 FREE tips from Sharon’s book. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.