My husband jokes and says
“Once you feed and clothe the kids, they expect it every day!” Like it or not, feeding our families means grocery shopping. And that means teaching, not scolding as you shop.
A Circle of Moms member with a 3-year-old, wonders, “How do you get your child to sit [in the cart] at the grocery store? Because, on my last visit, I had to deal with my daughter’s tears and a stranger’s “looks of EVIL.”
Kids don’t have the same patience level parents have to linger while shopping. And, oh, the judgy silent looks that appear as the crying continues. We’ve all seen them, the nosy lookers and shamers. It feels like they roam the earth looking for situations and people to judge.
What to Say to Judgmental Strangers
I highly recommend you i–g–n–o–r–e them! They’re just waiting for anyone to mention their eye-rolling and nasty glances so they can argue. Don’t feed their need to argue.
If you must say something, make sure it sends the message, “I know you’re uncomfortable listening to my child cry, but really, I do know what I’m doing!”
To express that message succinctly, try saying, “Yes, we’re having a moment.”
That tells them, “I know my child is screaming. I may not handle this the way you would, but I’ve got this.”
How to Teach the Skills Needed to Cooperate at the Grocery Store
There are two things to be aware of when dealing with a grocery store meltdown.
#1: The 3-year-old developmental phase brings out a child’s insecurity. This phase causes them to either be anxious to please or strong-willed and difficult. They see their parents getting what they want by being assertive, yelling, or demanding, so they decide, “Since my parents act that way, I should too.” That’s age-appropriate thinking plus a misunderstanding, which makes this the best time to teach kids the new skills needed to get what they want instead of punishing them.
#2: The other important thing to know is that, in many ways, a 3-year-old is still a baby. So when she gets upset because her demands aren’t being satisfied, the intensity of her emotions can quickly overtake and scare her. That’s when an angry, demanding tantrum morphs into a scared, overwhelmed tantrum.
Here are some tips for teaching skills needed at the grocery store in the grocery store.
1. 3 yr. old requires entertainment or guidance as you shop. One way to begin teaching her to stay seated as you shop is to be willing to entertain or instruct as you shop the aisles. Or, reframe why you’re not taking her with you by telling her that you only take children shopping who stay seated and follow the rules for staying safe. Tell her we can work on sitting in the cart and being safe tomorrow if she wants to come with you next time you shop, but she can’t come today.” Saying it that way reminds her that it is a privilege to come shopping, as long as you listen.
Then, the next day take her to a different market, one that is unfamiliar, put her in the cart, and ask her to sit as you pretend to shop to see how she does and what she needs to learn.
2. If she does try to stand up or cry, don’t leave or abandon your shopping cart and go home, even if it turns into a tantrum.
When you use grocery shopping for teaching, make sure you have plenty of time and don’t really need to buy anything. Then, if your child acts up, you have the freedom to walk to the manager and ask if you can leave the cart full of food with him, and you’ll be right back. Walk outside, and both of you sit outside on a bench. When the tantrum subsides, ask, “You ready to try again?” No need to say anything else since I’m sure you’ve already talked about how she’s supposed to behave. This natural consequence does the teaching through action, not punishment.
If you leave the store at this point, you’ve switched the lesson from a teaching moment to showing her who really holds the power—your child. Using her immature reasoning, she will assume “I’m powerful—I made mom mad and leave the store.”
3. You may need to repeat this teaching several times during the first and second shopping trip. But since you know what you’re doing, you can be calm instead of embarrassed or mad.
4. Eat before you shop. If both of you eat a snack before shopping, things will go much smoother.
5. Give your child some power. For example, allow her to push a kid’s shopping cart and get one thing you need from a low shelf. If she bolts, get her and repeat the bench process. Repeatedly doing this shows her what you expect and what will happen if she doesn’t listen as she shops with you.
6. Make-up games: If you need your child to stay in the cart, try “I spy a green veggie; it’s your brother’s favorite. Use your eyes to find it; then we’ll take the cart to get it!”
7. Last but not least, this isn’t a “try it one-time” kind of thing. Each time your child moves to a new phase, she may need a reminder. But once you have established what happens and will happen each time she does _____ at the grocery store, acceptance and cooperation occurs.
Sharon Silver is the founder of Proactive Parenting dot net, and author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Transform Behavior into Learning Moments.
My husband jokes and says