The Secret to Grocery Shopping with Kids but Without the Tantrums

I have three young children, including a set of twins. Grocery shopping with twins, and then later with another child, has taught me a thing or two about handling the grocery shopping with kids, without tantrums. Honestly, I don’t remember that last time my child threw a fit in the grocery store.

Grocery shopping is one of those chores that we have to do unless we have a self-sustaining farm we live on. Since I would wager most of you reading this do not, let’s acknowledge that grocery shopping is an unavoidable part of life. Personally, I don’t love it. I don’t love making lists, checking them twice, pulling out the coupons, and sales ads, and still ultimately having to pay far too much money (or so it seems to me) for what will ultimately not last very long and also not cook itself. I’m not much of a cook, and I don’t enjoy this part of my life.

That being said, I don’t mind taking my kids with me to the grocery store. It’s fine. My kids do very well overall. Yes, sometimes my one year old will cry at the checkout, because he’s gotta move as an active toddler, or it’s nearing lunch or nap time (he still takes two naps a day which makes carving out grocery shopping time a delicate balancing act), or the cashier looked at him funny or something, but I just roll with it. Babies cry. And, okay, sometimes my four year olds run around like crazy, then trip, hurt themselves, and cry in the middle of the store; or they stubbornly refuse to follow me onto the next aisle. But, that’s all a part of raising kids. But, we get by without fights, tantrums, or tears the majority of the time. And I want to share with everyone how we do it.Grocery Shopping with Kids 2

Grocery Shopping with Twins

I have twins. And I had them as my first children. My preferred method of grocery shopping for a very long time was “Divide and Conquer.” My husband would take one child and half the grocery list, and I would take the other child in my cart with the other half of the grocery list and we would go up and down the aisles and meet up a few times before heading to the checkout. The bonus of doing this, is that it makes it a sort of fun game for both you and your child, guessing if you can find your other family members in the next aisle. Plus, you can also race the carts, bang into each other, back them up to each other so the kids are facing each other, and generally have a fun little outing, and get some quality one-on-one time with one of your twins. If you need some more suggestions on how to grocery shop with twins or more, see this excellent collaborative post from real MoMs over at How do you do it?.

Slowly Phasing Out of the Cart’s Seat

As much as my husband and I would sometimes have loved to just keep our twins and their craziness contained, we have made concerted efforts to teach them how to properly behave and act in public, and especially in grocery stores. As we neared the birth of our third child, we knew the days of each of us having a cart with one twin sitting in it, was nearing its end as the new baby would take the place of one of the twins. And if one twin had to walk, we might as well make it fair, and make them both walk. While I did a few times strap my son to my chest in a baby carrier after he was born while grocery shopping, bending down with a baby on your chest, as you reach for that box of cereal, is not exactly my favorite thing. Nor did I like my seated child messing with the baby in front of me. So, they officially got the boot shortly after he was born (and we even traded in our double stroller for a single one, but that’s a story for another post!), when they were about three years old.

Starting around the time our twin daughters turned two, we started, in general, letting them out of the stroller and shopping carts more regularly. We started with short trips to grocery store where we only needed to pick up milk and bread, and we also let them walk independently when we were just window shopping or not on a time crunch. In fact, one of these trips left me feeling like an awesome mom. These quick trips weren’t low stress since we didn’t have a lot to accomplish in a short period of time, so we enjoyed the moment, and they allowed us to work with them on things like staying with mom and dad, not touching everything, putting things back when you do anyway or putting them in the cart, and asking them to hold things like our coupon book. We emphasized how big they were getting, and that we couldn’t carry them everywhere anymore, limiting how much we picked them up. Now at 4.5 years old we rarely pick them up or carry them anywhere. However, at 3, we would still often hold them in our arms, or put them on our shoulders and backs.

Don’t let your kid hang off the side of the cart or stand up in the basket.

Once upon a time, I put my twins in the basket of a shopping cart, while shopping at Wal-mart. I ran into a friend and started chatting with her in the aisle. We were having a good time, but it was time to part and get on with the shopping. Well, one of my daughters was standing up in the basket while I was turning it around and out she plopped right on top of her head. If you have to put your children in the basket of the cart (which is a very common option with twins), do NOT let them stand up while they are in there! They needed to sitting (although, maybe not sleeping) like in the picture below:When grocery shopping, always make sure your kids stay seated in the basket!And I also do not like my children hanging on the sides or the front of the shopping cart, or even underneath the basket, on the bottom rack. The bottom rack one is a bad idea. I may have run over some fingers, even though I repeatedly told said child not to touch the wheels. Yeah, I have never let them ride there again. And while the front of the shopping cart poses some issues, I actually don’t mind it as much as the sides! Oh, the sides! Have you ever tried turning a cart with a 40lb child hanging on one side? It’s difficult and also dangerous! A few times I have almost tipped the whole cart over (where my baby is strapped into the seat). Another problem with the side hold, is that now we are a double wide going down any aisle, and children like to lean back and see how daring they can be. Don’t let you kids ride on or in the cart as much as you can! I’ll admit I’m still working on convincing my kids that hitching a ride is not okay. Lately, I’ve been letting them push the cart instead, always nearby to help steer them along.

Secrets to Grocery Shopping with Kids

Avoiding Nap Times and Meal Times

If you don’t want a child to throw a fit, the first rule is to not go when they are tired or hungry, or nearing a time when they will be tired or hungry. Obviously this can’t always be avoided, and some modifications to your grocery shopping game plan might have to change if do out then, but as much as you can, work to avoid those nap times, bed times, and lunch times! Everyone, no matter what age, starts to get grumpy and crabby when tired or hungry. And kids aren’t very good at hiding those emotions. So do everyone a favor and shop at optimal times for your child.

Just tell them No!

This is by far my favorite secret to grocery shopping with kids without tantrums! Just tell them no! Tell them no starting from a young age. Tell them no even when they cry. Tell them no even when they thrash and wail. Just tell them no!! When a child comes to expect a no answer, they’ll accept it more readily. My children will still pick up items and show them to me, but they know that 90% of the time they will be putting them back on the shelf. And they are okay with it. They don’t pout to get me to change my mind. I also explain to them (sometimes) why we can’t get this or that item – it’s too expensive; it’s not on sale this week; we don’t need it; it’s not very good for us; we can make it at home; and so on. Plus, telling my children no, explaining that things cost money and that we don’t have endless amount of money (don’t we all wish!), gives them a better sense of finances, and perhaps a slightly better idea of healthy vs non-healthy foods. My kids will even pretend play and save things like “Three bucks? You’ve got to be kidding me!” because it’s too much.

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Rewards only if they earned it

Did you know many grocery store bakery departments will give kids a free cookie? ‘Cause they totally do! And who doesn’t love free stuff, especially when that free thing is a cookie!? Once we discovered this, we used it to our advantage. While some people gave their child a cookie upon first entering the store, we most certainly did not. It had to be earned for good behavior. My children came to look forward to their tasty reward, and we would remind them, in the car, before we went in, that if they listened to us, came when we asked them to, and didn’t run around or scream unnecessarily, that they would get a cookie at the end. And they readily agreed to these terms. There were several times where their behavior was far from cookie-earning status. And in those times, guess what? We did not give them a cookie! No way! We would walk past that bakery, ask our daughters if they were well-behaved or not (and if they thought they were, but weren’t, we explained to them how this and this was not a good choice), and they would usually understand. Occasionally, they would get pretty upset, and cry, and I would just let them cry. It didn’t bother me. I would remind them that the next time we came to the grocery store they could try again to be better behaved and earn a cookie next time.  Overtime they greatly improved, and earned their cookies. But, sometimes the bakery personnel weren’t there so we couldn’t get a cookie, or sometimes they just forgot, and things were still okay, and they learned to (relatively) behave in the supermarket, reward or not.

In Texas the HEB’s here have these Buddy Bucks machines at the checkout that my kids greatly enjoy using. Good reward after the shopping trip is all done, and it keeps them occupied during checkout. Win for me too!

Ignore Your Child – And an On-lookers

I have heard a lot of parenting advice about grocery shopping with kids, and often the advice is that once your kid starts pitching a fit you leave the store and continue your shopping later. I don’t think I have ever done this. While I think that can be needed, I generally let my kid cry, even at the top of her lungs, in the middle of the store. Look, I’m used to the fits and the tears and the whines, and I’m not putting up with it no matter where I am, and I don’t care if people stare at my child and think they are possessed or that I must have pinched them, or that maybe I should just give them the darn cookie. I know the situation, and I know my child. Most of these outbursts will be short-lived.  I am handling the situation and I am working on calming down my child, I promise, but sometimes what my child needs is for me to ignore them, not coddle them or placate them. My learning and teaching moments are happening right there, in the store. So, I don’t look at the other customers, and handle my own parenting job. I ignore the other shoppers because I don’t want their sympathy or their disapproval. I just want my kid to calm down, as I’m sure their ears do too.

Explain why you have to go grocery shopping

Recently my kids have bemoaned going grocery shopping, especially at certain grocery stores. And I have to explain to them why we go shopping. I ask them if they like eating, and where we get our food. I explain that we have to go grocery shopping if we want to eat, and that even if it’s not fun (as I myself don’t love it), it is something that has to happen, so let’s have a good attitude about it, okay?

Distraction Free – No toys or electronics (or at least limited)

I am not the most technologically advanced person, just getting my first smart phone two months ago, but we have never let our children play with electronics while shopping and have never let them watch a video on our phone. I know some people do this all the time, or when desperate times call for desperate measures. But, I want to let everyone know that you don’t need to do this. We haven’t and our kids (relatively) behave while grocery shopping, and are pretty involved in the process and enjoy exploring the store.

We also haven’t let them bring toys with them very often while shopping, preferring that any toys be left in the car. This is mostly so they aren’t lost in the store somewhere, because even at 4.5 years old, my girls will put things down and completely forget about them until we get back to the car, and then I have to go searching through the store for the toy. However, my one year old loves holding onto a toy car, and does not let go of that thing. He once held onto the same car through two different stores. Kept him a little happier, but without it being a huge distraction to him or anyone else.

Setting Expectations

Before your shopping trip it is very helpful to tell your children exactly what it is that you expect of their behavior in the store. We don’t make our older girls hold onto the cart the entire time, although some parents have that as their rule. It’s a pretty good rule. But, with a kid touching each side of the cart we take up the vast majority of store aisles, and they usually fight if on the same side, stepping on each others feet. So, I don’t expect that. But, I do expect that my children stay with me, come when I ask them to, and don’t get in people’s way (this last one is the hardest – kids are so oblivious!). But, the truth is, I expect my kids to wander a bit in the aisles, to touch things, to run ahead, to get distracted. They are still pretty young. And I like my kids to have some relative freedom so that they can choose and learn how to behave and act on their own. So, set clear expectations, but also know what are reasonable behaviors for your child’s age.

I really hope that you can embrace grocery shopping with your kids. No matter how many kids you have under the age of five, I want you to enjoy it. I want you to embrace the reality of your life, and not fear running errands with your children. Sure, it will take a lot of work to train them over countless trips, but in the long run it will be worth it! I hope these “secrets” will help you do so.

If you have any tips and advice for how you manage shopping with the kids, please leave them in the comments below!




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  • It must be nice to not have a child with a strong willed personality. Every single one of those things is common sense and they still don't work for my daughter. I'm still laughing at the mention of short lived outbursts.
    • I'm sorry to hear that - every child is different. This was simply advice from Katelyn, based on her experience. I'm sorry this things don't work for your (and don't be afraid to put your name next time :)
    • Ha. One of my daughters can be pretty strong-willed, actually! I just take a more no-nonsense approach to it. First I prep her for the trip, giving expectations for in the store, and when it is time to leave. I talk about specific things she shouldn't do. And even if she did have an outburst that wasn't so short-lived at the store, I would just let her cry, and generally ignore it. It's usually because I said no to something. I just hold my ground. My kids are really used to me saying no now. It just takes some steeling yourself now while they are young, and sticking to it. It sucks in the moment, and certainly some kids' strong wills are bent on destroying your strong will as a parent!

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