From getting your weekly groceries to holiday shopping, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up at the stores with your kids. I know for me shopping with baby seemed so daunting. Quick errands that used to seem so trivial were suddenly monumental.
One of the first times I took him out was Southpoint Mall in Durham. He was barely a week old, but my mom insisted that I needed to start practicing getting out of the house. I’m so glad that she helped me gain confidence in those early days. It’s tricky to manage what with the crying and nursing and pooping. And, you know, those things are still a factor with an almost-two-year-old!
Here’s my Top 10 List of tips and tricks for shopping with your tiny human in tow. Please feel free to add on your advice in the comments below!
1. Consider the nap schedule.
Depending on their age, little ones might be able to nap while out at the stores. My son (see above) often napped better in a noisy store than the quiet house when he was between 0-9 months. Now that he’s down to one nap, we try to schedule all the shopping in the morning and plan to fall asleep on the car ride home. And sometimes we go in the late afternoon. You just have to evaluate what’s the best time of day for your child.
2. There’s no hurrying a toddler—or a baby for that matter!
Going along with planning your day around the nap schedule, make sure to allow enough time to realistically get everything done. It’s difficult for children to make transitions, especially when they don’t understand what’s happening. If you aren’t rushed to accomplish too many things and go too many places, you will find the experience so much more enjoyable. My usual rule of thumb is no more than two stops (in and out of the car) per day.
3. Bring your baby carrier.
Whether you use a wrap, sling or structured carrier, make sure you have it with you. I usually stick it under my stroller. If I had quick errand to run, I wouldn’t even bother with the stroller and just use my Ergo Baby Carrier.
4. Learn where to go.
I quickly learned which stores had the cleanest bathrooms with changing tables and where was a nice spot for nursing. Of course carriers can be an easy way to nurse without missing a beat, but sometimes I would want to take a break myself. If you aren’t at a baby-friendly store (like Sweetbottoms!) with a nursing glider, dressing rooms are usually a good, quiet place. Nursing covers can come in handy if you are in a crowded place and want some privacy. (Have you seen the Latch On? Such a tiny thing to throw into your diaper bag!)
5. Poop happens (and it usually does when least convenient).
Of course, you need your diaper bag. I actually had a hard time figuring out what I really needed to drag along with me in the beginning. Now, I’ve learned to keep a diaper bag packed and ready to go so it’s not quite so chaotic getting out of the house. I keep a white onesie, neutral pants, 2-3 All-in-One diapers, wet bag, and wipes inside. (Can I just add that I think I might be in love with this Skip Hop Duo diaper bag? It has little loops that hook around the stroller handles or a regular strap. Why am I just finding out about this now?!)
6. Bring snacks and water for them and you.
Before I had kids, I thought that bribing them with food was, like, some sort of sin. Now? I always have a stash of snacks in my purse for just such a need! Some of my favorite things to keep are raisins, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, cashews, and peanut butter crackers. They are all things I can bag up in my Planet Wise snack bag way ahead of time and grab as I go out the door. If you’re still exclusively breastfeeding, congratulations, you only have to worry about yourself. But don’t neglect your own needs! I have a tendency to keep going and going—“Just one more store!”—and I end up terribly hangry. (Yep, that’s hungry + angry, not a good mood for Mommy.)
7. And pack the other bribes.
Especially if I know my little guy has a long car ride or an especially boring shopping trip ahead of him, I pack up his little backpack with small books, re-stickable stickers, an old wallet, and some of his still-fun-but-less-expensive toys. When he was smaller, I never left the house without some kind of teether or rattle to distract him. I love using the backpack so he has his own little place to keep his things. Not only is he beginning to learn about responsibility, but it also keeps my purse free from plastic dinosaurs and race cars (usually). As far as phones and tablets go, they can be highly effective in getting kids to sit still. But I have found that the tantrum that comes when I inevitably have to take it away isn’t usually worth it. For us, it’s usually a measure of last resort.
8. Keep a hold on things.
If your baby uses a pacifier or has a favorite toy, the last choice you want to be faced with is whether or not to give it back to her after it’s fallen on the floor. Paci catchers are a great way to make sure that doesn’t happen. For toys that don’t have a hook, I’ve used a chain of links to anchor rattles so they won’t be cast away.
9. Let them be free range.
Once your child starts to become mobile, the amount of time he or she is willing to sit idle decreases significantly. For my son I’ve found that if I let him have a few minutes to explore by walking around, he’ll get tired and sit in the cart or stroller. It was really important to me that he learn how to behave in a store—that he needs to stay next to me and not pull things off the shelves. We have been practicing a lot and now he usually manages to walk on his own for most of our shopping trips.
10. Watch where you park.
When going to the grocery store, I always find a space next to the cart return. It’s so much more convenient to be able to place kids directly into the cart from the car and you don’t have to leave them when you need to put the cart back before leaving. If I’m going to a mall, I try to park next to an entrance that has a handy bathroom just in case I need to change him right before I leave. It’s amazing how such a small thing can make such a big difference.
Now it’s your turn. What are your best tips for shopping with a small child? When did your toddler first learn to walk around a store?
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