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How to Have a Successful Trip to the Grocery Store with Your Child

Updated on September 29, 2012

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Grocery shopping can be stressful enough – rising prices, busy parking lots, and lives that don’t allow enough time to do more than a quick dash through the aisles to pick up the bare necessities or some instant, microwavable meals. Bringing a child along can make it worse, especially if you have a toddler or a child with special needs. But the trip to the store doesn’t have to be the most stressful part of your day. There are some ways to make it easier and more enjoyable for both you and your child.

So while shopping at the grocery store may not be at the top of your “fun” list, it doesn’t have to be at the top of the “misery” list. Relax, prepare, and stick to the plan, and you’ll be fine!

Yoga for Relaxation

First – Relax.

If you’re stressed out about going to the store, that will transmit to your child. Nothing is worse than making a bad situation worse by worrying about it. Remember that the trip is necessary and that nothing will go wrong. If it helps, try to meditate or at least sit and breathe in and out. While it may seem like overkill, you’ll have a much more enjoyable trip to the grocery store if you start out relaxed.

A home-made grocery list to help keep your child in check!
A home-made grocery list to help keep your child in check! | Source

Second – Prepare to go to the grocery store.

Write your list. And then make a list for your child/children. For your list, you probably want words, but for your child, it may be a list with pictures on it. You can make up a simple one using a word processing program and clip art, or you can even make it a craft project and cut up some old magazines. Giving the child a copy of the list for their own use will help them to know how long the trip is, and it keeps them busy while you’re doing the shopping. Try to start out with a small trip with ten or less items, but you can build the size of the list as your child starts to get used to it. Bring along a crayon or washable marker (or two) so that your child can also check off items you buy. If your child is young enough to sit in the seat in the shopping cart, bring along a small toy that you can hide in your purse or pocket.

Child driving shopping cart in Japan
Child driving shopping cart in Japan | Source

Third – Actually shop at the grocery store.

It’s not a test – it’s the real thing. And it’s not that bad. If you’ve prepared and relaxed before you left, you should be ready for it. Make sure that your child is either in the proper seat in the basket or get them to help you push the cart. (They don’t really need to push – but keeping their hands on the cart will help to keep them off the products that line the shelves!) This is a great time to use the list – if your child often asks for items that aren’t on the list, you can point to the list and show them that you can only buy what’s on the list. Most children understand rules, even if they don’t always like to follow them. If you follow your own rules, your children will, too.

Fourth – Paying and packing up the groceries.

When I was little, there was a deal around my house. If I went shopping and packed the groceries, I could get something. Normally it was a candy bar or a pack of gum; nothing big. But letting your child pack the groceries helps to teach them a skill for their potential first job, and it teaches them a sense of responsibility. They get to work for their prize. You can explain it simply – you have to work for money to buy groceries, and so do they. Of course, if your child is too young to pack groceries, now is the time to whip out that little toy. It can be anything that your child likes; going to the Dollar Store and buying a few of the same treats there can be sanity-saving while waiting in line or checking out.

Fifth – Unloading the groceries.

If your child is too small to participate, now it’s time to get them someplace safe so you can do the hard work. There’s nothing wrong with a few toys and a playpen for a few minutes so that you don’t trip and they don’t get hurt. But if they’re old enough to walk, they’re old enough to help. Get them to carry a bag with one or two small or lightweight items. My son’s first “job” was to carry in the toilet paper. He liked it because it was squishy and light, and he knew where to put it. Once he had done that, he could get juice or have a snack, depending on the time of day.

How to Handle Special Treats at the Grocery Store

Let’s be fair – sometimes we don’t stick with the list. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is to give in to whining or crying. When you do that, you’re actually reinforcing the behavior. Once your child has learned that crying equals getting a candy bar, you can bet that each time you go to the store and your child sees that candy bar, they’re going to cry. Instead, set it up ahead of time. That way, it’s a reward and not a bribe. Offer your child a special treat if they do something at the store. What that is is up to you. For me, I was extremely shy, so my father offered me soda if I was willing to say hello to the people he knew who worked at the store. For you, it may be if they don’t ask for anything in the toy aisle, they’ll get a candy bar at check out. Make sure that you’re clear that your child must perform the behavior before they get the treat. If they don’t, don’t give in. It’s hard, and getting stares from other customers and even store employees can be rough, but in the long run, you’ll be happy that you stuck to it because future shopping trips will be more enjoyable with less yelling.

A sign, illustrated with graphics, showing the proper method of washing hands.
A sign, illustrated with graphics, showing the proper method of washing hands. | Source

Dealing with Trips to the Bathroom at the Grocery Store

It always happens; your cart is full of groceries, you’re almost ready to check out, and you’re exhausted. Then your child says, “I have to go potty.” Or, if they’re younger, they poop in their diaper and the smell warns you that waiting until you’re somewhere else isn’t an option. Not a problem! Most grocery stores have a spot to park the carts near the bathroom. Be sure to bring your purse or any other items that you brought with you, and go to the bathroom. Your items will be waiting. If it happens after you check out, most cashiers or baggers are willing to keep an eye on your cart while you do the bathroom run.

Ways to Cope with Special Needs Children while Grocery Shopping

My son is Autistic, and so we’ve often had to deal with issues that other people don’t. For example, he’s terrified of loud birds. He can’t walk through the parking lot if they’re there, and he will absolutely freak out. Since we’re afraid of him running away or getting hit by a car, we talked to his pediatrician who gave us the paperwork for a handicap tag. That way, if there seem to be a lot of birds – or if it’s raining too hard or anything else in the environment might bother him – we can park close to the store and avoid the problems before they even begin.

Another thing that can help is the use of noise canceling headphones. While we may not hear the noise from the overhead fluorescent lights, sometimes children with Autism have especially acute hearing, and the noise might bother them to the point of pain or distraction. Noise cancelling headphones can help block out that noise.

Sunglasses are a great way to deal with the bright lights, and some parents swear by pressure vests or weight blankets as an option for children on the spectrum who have special needs for the items.

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    • savingkathy profile image

      Kathy Sima 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great tips! My son has autism too, and I used to dread bringing him with me to do the grocery shopping. Everything was completely overwhelming to him - the lights, the sounds, the smells ! - and waiting in line usually resulted in meltdowns. However, leaving him home wasn't usually an option. Over time he has come to enjoy grocery shopping and has become quite a good helper.

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