Grocery shopping with a toddler can be pretty challenging. As a parent, you want to do the best you can to help your child learn and grow, but you also have a bunch of stuff to get done, and your little one doesn’t always seem to want to cooperate.
DeAnn Davies — the director for early childhood and pediatric psychology at Summit Healthcare in Show Low, AZ and an expert on early childhood development — has some advice on how you can make these outings less stressful and more positive for you and your child.
Timing is everything.
“First and foremost, you want to make sure it’s a good time for your toddler to go to the store,” says DeAnn.
Avoiding those times when they’re over-tired, hungry or cranky to begin with is pretty solid, common-sense advice. But as any parent knows, a young kid’s mood can change quickly and without warning.
That’s why DeAnn also says, “It’s important to know what you need to get, what you came for, and get out.”
See things from their point of view.
Keep in mind that a shopping trip is full of new sights, sounds, people and activities that can be quite intense for your little one.
“A store is a very overwhelming place for a young child to be. They just don’t ignore sounds and stimulation like adults do, or even older children do. They’re taking it all in,” says DeAnn. “Think about it this way: If you didn’t have any filters, you would become overwhelmed, too.”
Understand child development, and be realistic.
It’s also good to remember that young children learn by exploring and experiencing new things. It’s how they process the world around them. So what might seem like bad behavior is usually the result of their drive to learn.
“We put them in a cart or a stroller and we sit them down, and toddlers don’t like to do that. They need to be up and running around and exploring and learning about everything. So if they’re challenging you in a store or a restaurant or anywhere in public, understand that they need a lot of time to be able to get around and get into things, because of their drive for learning. It isn’t because they’re misbehaving. They’re not trying to be naughty. The opposite is true.”
The bottom line is that shopping with a toddler will go much better for everyone if you’re realistic in your expectations.
“When we restrict toddlers for too long,” says DeAnn, “we are asking too much of them. They’re not able to do that at that age.”
Podcast: The Basics of Baby and Toddler Development
The quotes from DeAnn Davies in this article are from an episode of First Things First’s pArentZ pod. Listen to the full conversation with DeAnn for much more about child development, including tips on understanding your baby’s cues, tummy time, and what your child needs most.
Listen to the podcast
Take the opportunity for learning.
If you get past the stress, these outings can be great opportunities to interact with your child and help them develop their emotional, physical and intellectual skills. Here are some simple ideas for activities when shopping with a toddler:
- Go over your shopping list together.
- Ask questions, like ‘How many?’ and ‘How heavy?’
- Ask them about the different colors they see.
- Let them touch and describe the different textures of the foods.
- Practice counting.
- Look for signs and point out different letters.
- Bring home a new food to taste.
“You can engage your child with activities. A toddler can tell you which bread is heavier, and so you’re working on some math skills there and conceptual skills,” says DeAnn.
Here are some more grocery store activities from PBS Parents.
“Parenting is hard, and that’s all there is to it.”
When things go wrong, just do the best you can.
Even with your best planning and understanding, you may at some point find yourself in the uncomfortable position of having an upset child in public. Everyone has the occasional bad day, and your child may have theirs in the middle of the checkout line. But take heart.
Says DeAnn, “If you do have an incident, and other people are looking at you, and you’re stuck in a line, and you just need to get out of the store, just keep this in mind: I’m going to tell you, if I’m next to you, that parenting is hard, and that’s all there is to it. Get through it the best you can and get on your way, and try not to let the judgments of other people bother you. That’s really their issue, not yours.”
Life can be busy for parents of young children. And challenging and frustrating and exhausting. And also fulfilling and wonderful and pretty amazing. Sometimes all at the same time.