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How to go grocery shopping with a toddler: 11 tips and hacks

If you are a parent, you probably already know that few things are more terrifying than going grocery shopping with your toddler. But what if I told you things don't really have to be that hard?

What if I told you there are a few simple things you can do to make your next shopping trip with your little one fun for both of you? Yep. Use these tips to say goodbye to tantrums and meltdowns at the grocery store.

1. Make a list and plan your route

Before starting your trip, make sure that you have everything you need down on a list. You can make this list days ahead on a rare occasion when you have some time to your self. Trust me, making the list right before the trip is a bad idea. You'll be distracted and you are almost guaranteed to miss something important that you need.

So make the list ahead of time, then double-check on the last day to make sure you don’t miss anything. Organize this list according to the aisles you need to visit. Having a mental map of where you are going will save you lots of stress when you get there. 

2. Avoid the trouble spots

Anticipate and assess. This means you have to be smart about how you shop. Know the tricky spots you want to avoid in the store. Every tantrum has a chain of events leading up to it.

Try to put yourself in your kiddo's shoes and imagine what the experience is like for them. Think of the sensory input and sensation level. Avoid anything that might trigger a tantrum. 

3. No “one-last-things”

Making lists helps you avoid impulse buying. Making more stops than you had planned for is a sure way to make your kids cranky. It’s actually better to shave off a thing or two from your list than to have one extra nightmarish stop.

4. Pack lots of snacks for the trip

You’ll want to pack lots of healthy snacks for your kids. Nothing too sugary though. You do not want to make things worse with a sugar rush! 

5. Incorporate a reward system into your trips.

While this is a little controversial among many parents, it is totally okay to do this- as long as you do it the right way. Set clear expectations around it, and make sure that you only reward good behavior. You want to reward them for being patient and nothing else. 

Make a distinction between a bribe and a reward. Rewards reinforce good behavior while bribes do the opposite. Be careful not to reinforce negative behaviors in your toddlers. Bribes are given when an unwanted behavior has begun. It sends the message that yelling or screaming or crying can be effective in getting whatever you want.

6. Give them a ride

Putting your toddler up on the shopping cart is the easiest way to contain them while doing groceries. The good news is that most toddlers love sitting in these carts so you will not have too much trouble convincing them to get on. 

It will save you the trouble of having to push a stroller and a wagonful of groceries. Just strap them in for safety and make sure to keep them busy while they are up there. You don’t want the ride to get boring.

7. Keep them engaged

Settings like grocery stores provide a great opportunity and place to talk about your child’s interests. Make this conversation super-specific. Ask him to tell you some of his favorite jokes again or about something he enjoyed watching recently.

Make the ride more interesting by playing little games. For example, you can play, “I Bet”, a game that makes them go nuts. Toddlers always have a point to prove, so when you bet them that can’t do something, they'll always take the bait. Here are a few bets you might want to try: "I bet you can't count everything in our cart so far," "I bet you don't know what color this is (point to something)," “I bet you can't name everything in this room."

Another great way to keep them engaged is to give them a job to do. This will make them feel like they are part of the team. The moment your child feels like he is your helper, he really embraces his role and is less likely to give you trouble. Simple tasks like getting items off the shelves, putting things into the cart, or pack ing items into shopping bags, can really go a long way. 

8. Take advantage of teaching opportunities

Any day out with the kids is a terrific opportunity to have them practice the skills they have learned in school or at home. You can help them do things like identifying shapes (point items out and have them try to identify their shapes and colors). Ask them to name items that you point out. You can also get them up to speed with their vocabulary and social skills. 

9. Get the essentials first

The items you need most should be at the top of your list. Grab them first before venturing deeper into the store. When you do this, you are guaranteed to make a quick getaway when you begin to read signs of imminent trouble.

10. It’s okay to leave

Whenever you are out with your toddler, remember that leaving is always an option. Don’t push it. It’s okay to leave when you are right in the middle of shopping or even when you are almost done. Don’t take it as a failure. Take it as a learning opportunity and a teachable moment. Or something to laugh about with your friends or spouse over dinner.

Things don’t always go as planned. Take it as an opportunity to reflect on what you might have done differently.

11. Pat yourselves on the back

When you do manage to get everything you needed, be grateful- to yourself and to your kids. It couldn’t have gone better. Make good on any rewards or promises you might have made earlier to stave off chaos (presuming they held up their end of the bargain).

Final thoughts

The next time you have no choice but to take your toddler with you as you go grocery shopping, remember these tips. In fact, think of them as the keys to your sanity. You'll thank me later! Good luck! 

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