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Surviving a Trip to the Grocery Store With Children

Updated on January 9, 2012

Leaving the house with young children is like gambling. You never know what is going to happen, so you plan as much a possible and then just hope for the best. Some outings go so amazingly well you decide you are the most prepared and competent parent there is. Others are so disastrous that you can't wait to get home and swear you will never take these little crazies out again. Unfortunately, for most parents, "never leaving the house again" isn't an option and would probably just drive you crazy anyways. So here are a few tips I have found that help me have more successful outings then disastrous ones. I'm sure most are just common sense, but sometimes my life gets so busy that I literally lose all common sense. So here is a refresher.



That statement is never more true then when talking about children. There are two times when you should always avoid taking your kids to the grocery store: nap time and rush hour. I know I am guilty of trying to beat the clock as I run in for a few quick items. But my toddlers internal clock waits for no one and when it says nap time no amount of crackers, juice, toys, or even candy(hey, I was desperate) can console him.

What this means is, if I stayed at playgroup a little too long, even though the grocery store is on my way home, and all I need is a gallon of milk and toilet paper, it is still better to drive past the store and go straight home. As a result, I will have to return to the store after nap time and have all 3 children in tow, but it is still worth it to avoid the complete melt down my little guy would have if I don't get him in bed.

Rush hour brings a whole new set of problems. First, it becomes that much more important to keep your children close to the cart and out of everyone's way. However, it seems the more you ask them to stay close the more they want to wander to the other side of the aisle. Thus preventing traffic flow and almost getting taken out by that guy with the mini cart that is in a huge hurry. This can cause much frustration for us and them.

Then there is the dreaded long line at the check out. Why do they put all the cool little toys and every kind of candy on those stinking check out aisles??? Of course we know why. Because no matter how strong your resolve has been through out the entire store to say no to every toy, candy, sugar cereal, and even items the kid has no clue what it is but HAS to have it. Those marketing reps know that standing in line for 10 mins with an onslaught of, "Can I please have this, please," we will cave. "Fine, you can have that one thing and nothing else." We word it like this because it makes us feel we are still in control, and we cave in an effort to simply maintain our sanity.

Trust me, I know the days rarely go according to plan. But I have used napkins after using the bathroom instead of stopping at the store at an inopportune time to buy toilet paper. When my husband came home and asked about this situation I explained honestly, "I just couldn't make it to the store today."

Make a List

Making a list helps with so many things: ensuring you don't forget anything, helping you avoid impulse buys, making it possible for you to only have to go to the store once a week, and most importantly it helps your shopping trip to move more quickly.

If you shop at the same store often you will soon be able to put your list in the order of the aisles at the store. After having my 3rd child I gave my husband our weekly grocery list to allow him do the shopping. He called me half way through the store and exclaimed, "This is amazing, this list is exactly in order with each aisle in the store!" To which I replied, "Well honey, that is because the layout of our local grocery store is just one of the many all important pieces of information I now have stored in my brain, this includes where the bathroom is and which cashiers are the fastest."

Though this piece of advice seems very common sense, this alone has been the most helpful in getting me in and out of the store with very few mishaps. Even when I get all 3 kids unloaded and safely through the parking lot and into the store(no small feat), only to realize I left the list on the front seat of the car, we turn around, hold hands, and head back. That is how highly I regard my list.


Keep Moving

When you have little children accompanying you it is very important to keep moving. As mentioned before, their attention span is short and the faster you move the less likely they are to find trouble. A grocery shopping trip with children is not the time to browse new products or read labels. Follow your list, get what you need and get out. No dilly dallying.

I have learned this the hard way. My husband likes to put black olives on his spaghetti. Black olives are a random ingredient that grocery stores don't know exactly where to stock. This means I must walk slowly up and down each aisle that might possibly have olives on it, stopping every few steps to browse and make sure I'm not over looking them. I start out trying to make this a game, "Who can find Daddy's olives first!?" For the first aisle or two they are engaged, then they start to get too competitive. "No, don't run down the aisle!" "Hey, you have to stay on the same aisle I'm on!" "Alright, forget it, just stand here while I look." But we all know how well that works. "Stop poking your sister! Don't smash the bread! You can't eat the grapes until we pay for them! OK, Dad doesn't get olives with his spaghetti tonight, let's move on."

Cause and Effect

I highly believe in positive reinforcement. I try very hard to praise my children when they are behaving the way I want them to. I don't feel the need to buy them toys or give them physical rewards constantly, but I do praise them often. With my crew, this is very effective. So far all three want to please and literally light up when they are able to help out or when they are told how wonderful they are.

With this in mind, I have a conversation with my children before we go into a store. I give them reminders of how they are to behave. At this point I usually don't have to say anything, I simply ask, "How do we act in the store?" Then they are able to tell me, "Stay close to the cart, look where we are going, listen to Mom, and don't ask for toys and candy." I added this last one to preserve my sanity, I get so tired of hearing, "Mom, can I have this?"

After this quick reminder we head into the store. If they start to wander down the aisles or are getting in peoples way I simply have to ask, "Where should you be." This isn't to be mean, it is simply out of safety for my children and respect for the other shoppers.

When my children do misbehave we have immediate consequences. I used to say, "When we get home..." But quite honestly I would forget to enforce it once we finally made it home. So now I have things that happen in the store. Most commonly, if they are misbehaving they have to sit in the cart for several minutes. It is basically time out. This is something that was discussed before going into the store. They know when they get in trouble, if they sit quietly in the cart(as opposed to crying or loudly protesting) then they will be able to get out and try walking again. Usually, if this happens, it only happens once. It gives them a chance to calm down so they can walk by the cart again without running or being overly rambunctious.


Keep Them Involved

Children love to participate in the task at hand. Of course involving them helps with so many things, it betters relationships, increases self-esteem, and when shopping, it helps to keep them busy doing what you want them to do. Once on an aisle, I will ask each child to find an item on my list. They love to pick them out and put them in the cart. This really only works if the store isn't crowded.

When my husband accompanies us(I know, if my husband is around why would I chose to bring the entire family instead of just going it alone? I still haven't figured out why that always sounds like a good idea even though it never really is...)he likes to use the really fun carts with the car attached. Of course that is why the kids prefer him to me, he is the fun one. I personally have enough trouble maneuvering the normal sized cart with the wobbly wheel and the children hanging off of it. I would rather not drive the bus of all carts and try to maneuver that through the hungry grocery store crowds.

The check out line can be the worst part of the whole trip. My children love to help put all the food on the conveyor belt. I love that by doing that they aren't noticing all the candy and toys placed just at their eye level.

When we are just waiting in line we play games. "I Spy" is a favorite. Also, we find the letters of the alphabet on the items in the cart. We play, "Where does this food come from?" and many other games that I make up on the spot.

Grocery shopping with little children can be one of the hardest tasks we mom's have. But with a little planning and prepping, it doesn't have to be impossible. I do understand that sometimes, even with the best planning, children have their own agendas. That is part of being a mom. While it is frustrating, it is helpful to remember you aren't alone. Every mother has felt that way before and no one is judging you. Well ,there is that onlooker staring wide eyed in your direction who is probably thinking, "My child will never ___!" But she doesn't have children yet, just give her time.

If you have more advice that has worked for you, or stories of woe, please share them. The best part of hub pages is being able to connect with others.


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    • urgurl_bri profile image

      Brandi Swieter 6 years ago from Holland, MI

      Very true with everything you said. Great hub!

    • profile image

      Rachel 6 years ago

      I wish more moms would follow this advice. I HATE going to the store and having children running around unsupervised. I am always afraid I am going to hit them and they really get in the way. Thanks for sharing!

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      Natasha Ireland 6 years ago

      You hit this Square on. Good Read. Thank u