How to Make Trips to the Store with a Toddler Enjoyable

Trips to the store with a toddler: how to make it an enjoyable experience for both of youTrips to the store with a toddler — or, heaven forbid, multiple stores… or perhaps multiple toddlers — can seem like a daunting task at times. At least with my son, trips to the store became very much the opposite of fun once he learned to crawl way back when. He’d squirm and scream in the cart, maneuvering his little self out of the safety belt until I’d either force him back down, making him cry harder which is something I usually prefer to avoid in public places for any extended period of time, or I’d pick him up to hold him in one arm while pushing the cart around the store and trying to super-speedily grab the things I needed with the other, while also making an effort to look as graceful and composed and I-totally-got-this as possible.

And then I discovered a trick that seemed pretty obvious, but by some of the looks and comments I’ve received, realized it may not be that obvious. When I’m at any store with a toy section, I like to make my way there first. I tell my Desmond ahead of time, usually while driving, “We’re going to Walmart/Target/Kohl’s/TJ Maxx/etc. Mama needs to get some things, but we will look at the toys first and you can pick out x amount to play with in the cart while I shop–but we are only playing with them at the store. We’re not buying any toys today. Does that sound good?” He says yes, and most of the time, everything goes according to plan with no tantrums or fits, I shop in relative peace and leisure, and my son plays happily with some new and different toys. As with many situations with toddlers, informing him of the plan and setting the rules beforehand is key.

If we have the time and he seems to be getting bored or restless with the toys in the cart, I tell him, “If you keep being good and let Mama finish getting what we need without whining, we’ll go back to the toys once I’m finished, put away these ones, and you can get out of the cart to look at/play with some more toys for x minutes.”

I suppose bribery + toddlers is no new combination, nor is it a standard for good parenting. However, I like and feel okay about the fact that this particular bribery doesn’t involve buying some junky little toy as a be-good incentive at the end of each shopping trip or repeated questions of “Are we done yet?” so we can finally stop by McDonald’s to get that ice cream cone I accidentally promised. At least this way neither of us are crying or wanting to pull our hair out, because the trip to the store with a toddler in itself is a pleasurable experience.

But fair warning: as I mentioned previously, not everyone seems to be aware of this trick. Like me, you may get some shocked and disapproving looks from shopping passersby, to then hear muttered comments like, “Did you see all those toys? You’d think it was Christmas!” or “That’s why kids these days are so entitled; parents are spoiling them,” or “I hope they’re buying gifts for some triplets’ birthday party.” So be prepared. Have a comeback ready if necessary, or just keep on walking like you didn’t even hear, feeling confident as always in your parenting skills. When going to the store with a toddler, you do what you gotta do, and feel pretty darn good when you’ve figured out something that works and makes you both happy.

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