November 8, 2009

Battle: Grocery Store

Everyone with a pair of working eyes or ears has seen or heard it: the battle of the grocery store.  The haggard parent remains grim and silent while the child prattles endlessly, begging for everything salty or sugary in sight.  Or perhaps the parent utters a quiet line of excuses and explanations in a flat monotone: No, we're not getting that because it's full of sugar.  That's not good for you.  That's nothing but a salt lick.

A parent at the end of their rope sometimes snaps, and their voice grows louder and, frankly, more annoying than the child.  Another parent gets to the last straw and growls in a low threatening voice, while firmly grasping the squirming offender's arm.

Not a very pretty picture.  Even for the best of parents, a rare bad trip to the store is to be expected; no one can remain coolly and happily in charge all the time.  But here are a few tips for those who find the grocery store terrifying.

  • Plan ahead.  If you know that a trip to the store can be a problem for your child, don't go right before their nap, during their usual lunch time, or at any other time the child might be especially prone to crankiness.  
  • Distraction is your friend.  If your child must be confined to the cart, perhaps you can bring along one item to keep them occupied while you shop, such as a special picture book.  
  • Make your child your helper.  If your child is old enough to help, let them help.  Yes, this may take a few moments longer.  Yes, you will have to allot extra time for the task.  But you will not have a trip to the store that ends in a screaming disaster.  Give a very young child a goal at their level, perhaps practicing a new skill: can you hand Mommy the green box of cereal?  Older children who can read can be sent down the aisle or across the store to gather items.  Be specific about what you want to avoid frustration: if you must have the low-sodium, Del Monte canned corn, say so.  
  • Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.  And not just in the grocery store.  A child who knows what 'no' means is less likely to pitch a fit to get a candy bar than a child who knows you'll give in.  When you set a limit, think it through and mean it.  
  • Try communicating.  By the time your child is in elementary school, you are probably used to toting them everywhere.  You have spent years carrying them about, but now things have changed a bit.  Now you are dealing with a person who has developed a better sense of time and may have a bit of an agenda of their own.  They may be eager to get home to play with a friend, frustrated by the delay of errands, and entertaining themselves by pestering you.  Here's what you can do for a child that is old enough: tell them where you're going and how long you expect it to take.  If you're stopping at the dry cleaner, the grocery store and the pharmacy, then say so.  Children have little control over their lives, and it can be frustrating!  But knowing exactly what the plan is can be helpful in making the child feel like a member of the team instead of a piece of luggage.  

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