Strategies for shopping with preschoolers

Levi smiling, sitting in a shopping cart.

For the most part, I feel like taking my kids along to the grocery store or Target is not bad, but lately, my 3- and 5-year-old boys are pushing the limits of my sanity with their craziness. They aren’t throwing tantrums or doing anything overtly bad, but they are loud and hyper and feed off each other’s energy. When they were smaller it was easy to just strap them down in a cart or stroller, but that isn’t possible with a toddler little brother added to the mix. So I am going back to a solution I used when my oldest two kids were preschoolers.

Each kid gets 3 stickers on their shirt when we go into a store, when we get home if they have any stickers left they get to trade them in for something. The reward changes depending on what I have around. In the past, I have done one Swedish fish for each sticker, or sometimes they could watch a TV show while I put away the groceries. Do whatever works for you and your kids. Just make sure you are clear about what will happen before leaving the house.

As we go through the store and they are being loud or crazy, I will ask them to quiet down. If they don’t, they lose a sticker. It is surprisingly effective and a very hands-on way for them to see how their choices have consequences.

In the past, I have done this consistently for a month or two and then slowly faded it out. It worked as a nice training tool, but I didn’t want to do it long-term. I also don’t think my kids need to be rewarded every time they behave in a way they are expected to behave. That being said, if they do well, I almost always compliment them for doing a nice job once we are back in the car. I want them to know that I do notice their good choices as much as I notice the bad. 

Disclaimer: You know your kids. If you know the first time your child loses that 3rd sticker will cause her to melt down, prepare yourself for that beforehand. With my kids, this only happened once, but being prepared and having a plan is always the way to go.

And for the love of all things, if possible don’t go shopping with a tired or hungry little person. It won’t end well, and if we are being completely honest it probably won’t end well if I am tired or hungry either! 

Shopping with your preschooler can be stressful - but it doesn't have to be! This one simple strategy can help!
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