How to Keep Everyone Happy At the Grocery Store
By Maria Young
1. Make sure everyone is well fed and well rested.
And if you have a Prima Donna daughter like my oldest, well dressed. Nothing can take a trip to the store down south faster than a grouchy mom or babe. It may seem a great idea to make a quick run for dinner after an intense park play date but that’s just asking for trouble. I usually schedule my grocery store trips after breakfast or after afternoon snacks. My girls don’t take naps anymore, but when they did, I never tried to squeeze in shopping before nap time: bad plan. Usually, this can be satiated by a snack (whether it’s a chicken tender from the deli or a bag of pretzels from one of the checkouts) but it’s best to just plan ahead. Oh, and the well dressed thing? Yeah, some little girls have a tough time going out of the house in jammies or with their hair a mess or dirt on their shoes or stains on their shirts. If you have one of these little girls, change her and brush her hair in order to avoid the impulse to throw her out of a moving vehicle because she won’t stop whining about how she looks the entire drive to the store, and then pouts the whole time there.
2. Set clear rules for the store.
We have two rules for the store: i) My 5 year old, Isabella, must hold the side of the cart and walk beside me in the parking lot or any other time I tell her to. I’ve explained that this is to keep her safe, and to keep us together as a family, and also talked up how I like to have her close to me since she’s my “right hand man”. ii) Anything that’s not on the list that they want, they have to give me 3 good reasons why I should buy it and if they can’t, we don’t get it. This doesn’t really work well with my 3 year old, Rosario, as all of her three reasons are usually “Because I want it!” or “Because I love you!” If I can’t think of 3 good reasons why they shouldn’t have their grocery wish then they can get it. These conversations usually extend our total grocery time by a total of 15 minutes on average, so there are those occasions where I forfeit or tell them No and that’s the end of it. They don’t like that, but hey! I’m the mommy and this can be a dictatorship when I want it to, right?
3. Let them help.
This starts at home, when I’m creating my meal plans. I ask them what sounds good, if they have any special requests, or if they would like to try anything new. I try to let them create at least one night’s menu plan. In the store, Rosario likes to hold the grocery list while she rides in the cart, and whenever I pick something up that’s not especially fragile or heavy, I usually hand it to her and she drops it in the buggy. Asking them what their preference is (Goldfish or Cheeze-its?), even if you already know it, makes them feel involved. Isabella has a mind like a steel trap, so usually, even if it’s on my list, when we get to the store I’ll tell her five or six things that she has to make sure to remind me to get.
4. Have fun.
If this means letting them sing songs loudly, ignore the other customers and let them! Better hearing a singing child than a sobbing one, right? Play games! My girls’ favorite is ‘Catch the Runaway Buggy’. I push the cart off in front of me and let go, then reach out as if they’re escaping me and then point at a spot in front of my feet, demanding they return ‘right this instant’. It makes them giggle like nothing else. Of course, only do this on empty, wide aisles with carts that have properly aligned wheels. You really don’t want to end up crashing into the one side of the canned goods section while a stock person is working. Other good games to play are scavenger hunts, most popular on the cereal aisle and ‘I Spy’ in produce where the answers are easy and the options are almost endless.
5. Positive reinforcement.
It may be that while you’re standing in line at the checkout they notice an inexpensive toy or candy that they want and you oblige. It may be that on the car ride home you fill their ears with how proud you are of their excellent behavior and listening skills and patience. You could let them choose what you eat for dinner that night, or you can make their favorite dessert as a thank you. Whatever you do, if they can tell that you’re happy that they were well-behaved, they’re much more likely to continue being that way. Everyone can use a little extra praise and encouragement once in a while. I mean, how good does it feel when they tell you that you’re the best mommy ever? It’s the same thing here.
Published January 28, 2009. Last updated June 29, 2018.