Going shopping with the kids in tow is a necessary evil.
Preparation, I find, is definitely the key thing. Here are a few tips and things I’ve learned as a relatively seasoned shopper with toddlers…
It’s good to talk
Before we go shopping, I always talk to the children about where we’re going and give them examples of what we need to buy - as well as mentioning the good behaviour I'm expecting from them. I try to make them feel I really need their help with the shopping. Describing them as “my special helpers” and praising them for finding things normally gets them on board.
I always write a list, otherwise I'm bound to forget something. It also helps draw attention back to “our plan”, which doesn’t usually involve spending two hours in the toy aisle. My children love to feel involved in the experience, especially choosing the fruit, weighing vegetables and finding the tricky items mummy is having problems locating. Sebastian used to enjoy having his own list when he was younger. I'd draw on a few items he needed to find for us – a box of eggs, a watermelon, yoghurts. He especially liked it if the pictures were funny, so I'd put a few smiley faces on the fruit.
Timing and tactics
I try and choose a good time to go; avoiding the kids’ nap times or when meals are due, as everyone gets a bit cranky when they're hungry.
Normally, the children enjoy shopping with me, looking for items and choosing them from the shelf, helping to push the trolley. If they're tired they happily sit in the trolley seat and help from there, so I tend to have a little toy or book in my bag for them to play with. The drink and snack come out as a last resort (a banana or a box of raisins normally does the trick), usually near the check-out if there is a long queue. It helps occupy them whilst the shopping is scanned and packed.
Visiting the toy isle
Sebastian and Imogen will usually ask to see the toys when we go shopping, so I use it as a reward at the end of the trip, as long as they’ve been good. If you do go down this route then try and be patient and let them look at everything they're interested in. Occasionally, one of them will ask for a toy and I say, “of course we'll put that on the list for your birthday, or Christmas”. They are normally pleased with that plan, which lets us get back to the shopping and checking out, loading the car, etc. Bribing them with toys on every visit to a supermarket would set an expectation and soon gets expensive.
Tackling the high street
Both Sebastian and Imogen used to hate clothes shopping. As tiny babies, it was almost like they could sense their pram being wheeled into a department store and would scream the place down. However, once they became toddlers, they started to enjoy choosing items of clothing for themselves, provided it didn't take too long.
If I know they need something new, I tend to look online beforehand to get an idea of what's available. That means I can head straight to the right place and quickly present the acceptable options, so they can choose. My advice is present only the options to the kids that you are happy buying for them - if they say the bright yellow rubber jacket with red polka dots is the one they want for school this term, and you told them they had the final say, then you have to honour it. The older two have a strong sense of self and Sebastian will only wear plain clothes - nothing with logos or characters. Imogen shows a strong preference for bright colours, jeans or trousers, and anything with dinosaurs.
Whenever you go shopping with kids you need to have reasonable expectations of what's possible for them. If they do scream, shout and roll on the floor (as they sometimes do), make sure they're safe, stay with them and let them shout it out for a bit. Shopping is overwhelming for lots of adults, let alone little kids, so give them a cuddle once they've calmed down enough and praise them on calming down. I'd never give in to buying a toy or bribing them with sweets as they will always remember you caved in and expect it every time.
It can be tricky, but whatever type of shopping you are doing with toddlers, try and find a time of day which is good for them and not too busy for you; be as well-prepared as you can and try to engage them as much as possible in the shopping activity. There are more tips on the Parenting. Give it Time website and, finally, stay positive and good luck!