Shopping With Children
One of the most trying experiences for parents is taking young children shopping, especially to the supermarket. But it can also teach your child one of life's most valuable lessons: money doesn't grow on trees.
In fact, the first time you strap baby into a backpack for a trip to the supermarket is just about the right time to be aware that your child is entering, or at least observing, the world of commerce. Babies are keenly observant, and, as strange as it may seem, even the youngest child may be learning about consumerism from you and your actions.
While children will get early lessons in nutrition from the choices you make when food shopping, that won't be the only issue that comes up. Learning that money is a valuable resource involving decision-making and trade‑offs is an important lesson for children. Parents need to teach children that they can't have everything they see or want.
But what can a parent do when her child is screaming bloody murder in the checkout line? Children quickly learn techniques to get what they want. In a supermarket and other stores, having a temper tantrum is one technique that often works with distraught parents. Giving in, though, is a mistake.
Tips for shopping with kids
- First, check how everyone is feeling. Don't go shopping at the end of a tiring, stressful day. If you or your child is too tired, postpone shopping for another time or arrange for a sitter. If your child is hungry, give him or her something to eat to reduce the temptations of food displays. Never take a child shopping on an empty stomach.
- Avoid shopping when stores are likely to be crowded and hectic. Pick off-peak times to shop at the supermarket or mall. Try to shop close to home in order to reduce travel time that can test a child's overall patience.
- Before going into the store, explain what will be purchased and what will not be bought. A simple statement like, "We're buying bread and milk today. We're not buying cookies or toys," will help temper the child's expectations.
- Make clear your expectations for your child's behavior. Remind her to stay close to you. Follow through when children break your rules. If your child is completely out of control once you're in the store, remove her immediately.
- Be consistent. If you have decided not to buy candy, stick to that decision. The child may cry, scream or try other tactics to persuade you. Don't give in. And don't worry about being embarrassed. Other parents will know what is going on and will likely sympathize with you. Eventually the child will learn that this technique doesn't work and give it up, but parents must be firm and consistent.
- Bring along some special items or playthings that can amuse or comfort a child while shopping. Pack a favorite blanket, toy or book to help him feel secure. Bring along a nutritious snack like crackers, cereal or grapes.
- Make a game of shopping. Play some easy games like "I Spy" or sing songs together. Let children count or sort items. Children can help locate items on the shelf. Ask children questions about items in the cart (What is the name of this fruit? Who likes to eat this vegetable at our house?) When possible, let them decide the choice of cereal, bread or ice cream.
- If children are old enough, give them a small amount of money, 50 cents or so, which they can spend as they wish. But be certain they understand that the amount won't get larger if they want more than one thing or choose the most expensive candy bar. This will help them learn that money is a limited resource and choices must be made when spending it.
- Keep the shopping trip short. Don't test a child's patience or attention span. You can make shopping more efficient by writing a list, clipping coupons in advance and knowing the store layout so you can shop aisle by aisle.
- If your supermarket has checkout lanes that do not display candy, try using those lanes to prevent last‑minute temptations and scenes.
- If the trip has been hassle-free, show appreciation for your child's cooperation. Your genuine praise is one of the best ways to motivate him to behave well in the future.
Source: Lois Morton, Department of Consumer Economics and Housing, New York State College of Human Ecology, Cornell University. Parent Pages was developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. HD 64
Last updated April 29, 2020