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Shopping w kids (tips for calm shopping trips! )

We have four wonderful children and they are very young (7, 5, 3, 1) so I am often out shopping (see my tips to shop for less money!) with all four of them.

I would like to say that I can take them shopping and they are all so very well behaved every single time, but that wouldn’t be real life, would it? No, they ask for things and when I say “No”, they cry (well, not our older kids).
They want to be in the cart, out of the cart, in the cart, out of the cart.
They want to stop by every toy section in the store and play for endless hours.

Here are a few tips to get you through your trip, without tantrums.

1– know your limit! I know that our limit is about 30 minutes with all four of them. This means that I have 30 minutes from the start of the trip to the end of the trip before our one year old will begin to fuss. The older kids can last over an hour.

2- HAVE THE “Pre-visit” TALK!  Kids need to know what to expect.  I used this tactic when I was teaching and I use it with our own kids.
We NEVER go anywhere without our normal talk: we go over the rules and they repeat them back to me.
One time, when we were going to go into my brother and sister-in-laws house, we had the talk on the way there.
I asked the kids (in the car), “Ok, Guys, give me the rules, please.” and I heard

  • “Be a good listener.”
  • “Have gentle hands.”
  • “Act nice, not like a maniac” – that about covers it, right? Don’t act like a maniac!**Try to point out the “Do’s” instead of the “Don’ts” (Do have good manners, do stay sitting in the cart, do have quiet voices)

Before heading into a store, we also explain to them that we are NOT buying any new toys. We are buying food, school clothes, (whatever you are there for). There are always exceptions, of course, but plan that before you go in and let them know.  Example: If you want your kids to have a toy, you could give them a dollar or two and let them know that they can buy a treat at the end. I usually save this for special occasions and we make it a separate shopping trip, or else every trip is filled with the question “Can we buy this?” (times four kids!)

3- Be prepared:
Pack hand sanitizer, wipes, snacks, leapsters or iPods.  I try not to have electronics at the store, but if I know that I will be out for a long time, I pack them, just in case.

4- Take a baby stroller. I like to use a stroller for our daughter because if there are germs on that cart, she will certainly get them. I use the Touri Travel System because it makes it really easy. You can just pop the baby travel system, the Urbini Petal Infant Car Seat, (holds up to 35 pounds and very safe) into the lightweight Touri stroller, or you can just let your child rest (it has a reclining seat) Plus- its easy to fold, so its is easy to transport! It has a 5-point safety harness, which is great because our toddler will try to get out, if she is able.
It has a really roomy storage in the bottom for my purchases, too.  (You can see the basket area in the picture below)
stroller 1

Here were were shopping for our stroller.
stroller 2
5- Snacks! I always have EASY, NON-MESSY snacks with us.  The Touri has a removable cup holder and I love this part because I can keep their sippy cup in my purse and when we hit 20 minutes and they start to get antsy, I pull out the cupholder and snacks (that I put in a cup to make it easier to just place in the cupholder) .

6- The non-bribe (ITS NOT WHAT YOU THINK)… “When I am done with my shopping, we will walk over to the toy section at the end and you can look around, but we will not have time to do this if I have to stop to correct anyone. I would be very sad if we ran out of time before visiting the toy section!”

BEFORE I tell them this, I start with “WE are NOT buying any toys. Do you understand? If you ask me for a toy, I will have to say no and we will have to leave the toy section and go home.” (prepare yourself for a little whining if you have very young children, when you are done browsing and aren’t walking away with any new toy purchases, but this is an important life lesson for them.. you can’t have everything that you want.)

Unless, of course, you want to buy toys.  Some times a little surprise can brighten their days, but don’t start out saying “We are not buying any toys” or you will send the wrong message for future trips.
how to help your kids behave at the store

7- If you get in the cart, you stay in the cart until the toy section. If you want to walk, you walk until the toy section., but you have to hold onto the cart or me when walking. We would seriously have musical chairs if I let them get in & out of the cart during the trip.

8- Thank them for behaving. Everyone likes to be encouraged.  Do this during the trip.   Remember that if you compliment one child, the others will try to rise to the expectations to receive the same compliments.

9- The dreaded… last minute saving grace… LOLLIPOPS!
Yes, they are sticky, messy, make me nervous that they will choke the whole time, sugary… need I go on? Alas, I use them when we have to go over the 30 minute window. There are some whole-foods stores that have healthier versions. Also, the flatter ones are a little safer, in my opinion.

10- Tell them how they did after the trip.  Thank them or tell them how we can improve next time.

For more info on the Touri Travel System, visit the Urbini Facebook and Twitter pages or see the stroller at 

You can see my walmart review & many others here  (I haven’t come across a review that isn’t great, even on other websites)… here are few more key features:

  • Ultra-compact umbrella style fold
  • Includes Petal Infant Car Seat that holds children up to 35 lbs
  • Lightweight frame
  • Multi-position reclining seat
  • Removable child’s arm bar
  • 5-point safety harness with comfort pads
  • Tuck-away sun visor
  • Multi-position reclining seat
  • Front suspension wheels
  • What are your best tips for shopping with your kids?
    ****You can see what everyone said when I asked this question on my Your Modern Family Facebook page here – there are a lot of GREAT & UNIQUE answers!   Join in!

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. My daughters still can’t comprehend that they can’s have everything so the toy section in Walmart is never visited. Sad but this is the only solution for now.

    1. lol 🙂 Our 3, 5 & 7 year old don’t ask anymore, but our 19 mo. old just cries when we leave empty handed. Hoping that will stop soon. 😉

  2. One of the more important discussions I had with my children before we went to the store, while we were driving to the store, and while we walking through the store was about what belongs to us and what belongs to others. They were never allowed to touch anything that wasn’t theirs because it they wouldn’t want others to pick up their stuff without their permission. They were never allowed to ask for anything because daddy and mommy gave them what they needed and wanted and not the store. They were never allowed to walk where they wanted because we were visitors and we wouldn’t want people just walking anywhere they wanted in our house. Mainly, their actions were a direct result of how they viewed the world. Treat others (and their things) like you would want them to treat you. The Golden Rule!

  3. Thank you, I think these will come in handy after our second is born and they get a little older too 🙂

  4. I love these ideas. I have issues with my 2 old, who wants to get up and run away when I am trying to shop. Right now, I can’t even go too the store alone, its so bad. I will be trying these ideas.. hopefully they work. 🙂

  5. Great ideas !!! When we went shopping it was always a learning experience, especially in the grocery store. But then that was 100 years ago when there were no cell phones. I’ll not climb on my soap box at this point about that topic ! Keep being great moms.,,.parents!!

  6. What great tips! These will work fabulously for a trip to a museum, too! Prepare them, have something to keep them occupied (like my ebooks for museums and destinations) and praise!

    Parents everywhere will think this is valuable! Visit if your adventures include traveling with the kids!

    Thanks for the great tips.
    Natalie, The Educational Tourist

  7. I often dread shopping trips! It’s the whole preparing at home, preparing in the car, talking to the kids about their behavior the entire time, the after-talk… even if they’re pretty good, it’s very draining for me! In any case, I always tell them what is expected of them, and on the way I have them tell me how they are supposed to behave (both things we DO and DON’T DO).

    Sometimes they (ages 7, 5, and 2) help me look for things on the shelves, sometimes they make up their own games (like they pretend to get groceries or play “I Spy”). I have a mini grocery cart that I used to bring, but once they started fighting over it I left it at home. 😛 One thing my mom used to say to us when we were young, and that I sometimes say when my kids ask for something, is “It’s not on our list today.” And I often say “we’re just looking!” But I also talk to my kids about healthy choices – just because the box has a cartoon character doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Just because you don’t have THAT toy, doesn’t mean you need it. I tell them that there are SO MANY choices in the store because people like different things, but that doesn’t mean we have to buy everything we see. Sometimes I reward good behavior at the end with a favorite treat (like their own piece of fruit or a bottle of juice). They like to feel important, so giving them a job – like getting things from shelves, holding the coupons, etc. gives them something productive to do.

    I personally feel like packing snacks for errands sets an unnecessary precedent. I suppose if you plan on being out for a while, especially around a mealtime – and for younger children – that might be a good idea… but just for a run to one store? My kids would expect a snack every time we go somewhere! Instead, I tell them that we’ll have lunch when we get home, and oftentimes they help me put lunch together.

    Good tips, though!

  8. When my four were little (I had all four in four years and one month – no twins), as soon as they were walking on their own in a store, it was a rule that they had to hold onto my skirt or a pocket so that I could be aware of them when my eyes were focused on shopping. They never had an opportunity to walk away because I knew the minute they let go. It also gave them something to focus on so as not to have their hands on the items around them. It made shopping with toddlers and preschoolers much less stressful. I also taught them early on that if they weren’t going to buy something, they shouldn’t be touching it.

    Now, one of my teenage sons gets a little unruly when I have to shop, but he straightens right up when I tell him he’ll have to hold my pocket like he did when he was little if he misbehaves! ^_^

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  10. I make “balloons” for my girls at the grocery store with the bags from the produce section. Works every time!

  11. Also plan shopping trips to take place after little ones have had nap time and have had a little something solid to eat.

  12. I’ve got 2 boys and a little girl, so Thea’s ideas are super helpful. Whenever we go shopping I let them each pick one thing from the produce section. If they ask for anything else (which they typically don’t) I just remind them. We sometimes get fun new fruits or vegetables (star fruit, plumogranates, etc). Ultimately, though, we usually end up buying a lot of pineapple! ?

  13. I like your idea to thank our children for behaving during the grocery trip by complimenting them. Additionally, it’s a good idea to find a store with one of those kiddie rides outside, usually for 50 cents or a dollar. That way your kid has something to look forward to that isn’t an unhealthy treat or a toy that will take up space in your home.