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Shopping with a Toddler: A Mommy’s Tale of Survival

Every parent knows what I’m talking about when I say survival is certainly a primary objective in describing our days with children. Please don’t misunderstand me — children are a blessing, and I love my daughter more than I ever thought possible. However, there certainly are times when we all enter survival mode and just start telling ourselves, “Five more hours” or “Just get me through this.” Initially, after several successful shopping trips with my daughter, I was starting to think, “Wow! This is so easy. I just put her in the cart and she falls asleep.” Well, my friends, those days didn’t last long.

One particular shopping trip had my head spinning. Like all of my previous trips, I had a clear plan in place. All of my coupons were cut and organized according to the various sections of the store; I had put my daughter in the cart, made sure to bring a toy and bottle for her and even made sure to go to the store when I knew she was moments away from a nap. It was the same formula I used every time, and up until that point it worked excellently. She would fall asleep, and, inevitably, fellow shoppers would pass, smile at her and then at me. I have to say that after awhile, I got a little cocky about it all, as though I could challenge any mom in a “my baby is better than yours” contest. (Don’t we all think that at some point?)

It started the moment I tried putting her in the cart. She bowed her back, stiffened up and began wailing. I remained calm, as all parents are expected to do in a politically correct world, and gave her a bottle and toy. Just steps into the first aisle, she threw the bottle and continued crying. I immediately kicked into gear with the Mommy Circus Show – singing, dancing and swerving the shopping cart as though the aisle were the curvy Lombard Street in San Francisco. Nothing worked. She was writhing in her seat, trying to escape when I made the mistake of taking her out of the cart. From there it was all downhill. She immediately took off, and I went running after, yelling in that whispering manner moms master. She rounded the corner and ran smack into another shopper’s cart. A busted lip and judgmental look later, I scooped her up and made my way back to the cart. At this point I realized I had somehow become the pity show and World’s Worst Mother all at once.

I quickly patched her up and continued on my shopping mission. All was great until she again decided she wanted out of the cart. Learning from the earlier incident, I decided to let her cry. I have to say, at a certain shrill pitch there comes a breaking point. In frustration, I picked her up and carried her for the next two aisles. Now came the bowed back and crying again. I put her down. She was wearing a hooded sweater, so I held on to the hood while I pushed the cart. Believe me, I’m aware of how that looked. A number of times she tried escaping my grip, so I finally just deserted the cart and went home. Of course, on the way home she fell asleep in the car.

Since then I have armed myself with ways to survive shopping with a child.

1. Find another adult to climb on board.

Sure, having someone else to shop with you and a toddler sounds like the easy way out, but that is not all I am suggesting here. In order to truly have a successful couponing trip with a toddler, there needs to be an understanding among the other adult figures in her life. Going to the store with Mommy shouldn’t be much different than going to the store with Grandma or Daddy. While they may not be on a couponing mission, like yourself, they need to abide by the same general rules.

2. See the store from your child’s perspective.

It may not always be easy to allow your child to walk along side you, but it has its perks. (Make sure to have a way to keep her close to you at all times. I recommend a backpack with a leash. No, your child isn’t a dog, but trust me on this. Knowing they can only go so far without yanking you along with them will make your trip easier than running after them.) Most, if not all, stores keep their cheaper items on the lower shelves. If you get down to your child’s level, you may just find some deals that would have otherwise been overlooked.

3. Treat your child like an adult.

Before you go up in arms over this tip, hear me out. Children, especially in the toddler stage, want to be like their parents. They want to do everything you do. So I say, let them! At the store, have your child help you load the cart or hold on to the coupons. When they hand you a box of crackers you asked them to reach for you, give them a high five and really play up their achievement. It will give them valuable skills in learning to help Mommy and Daddy

4. Know your child’s limitations.

If an hour shopping trip is too long, then find another adult to accompany you so you can take turns concentrating on the hunt while the other keeps your child entertained. Better yet, find another mom to shop with so the kids can keep each other company. (Tread lightly here; two may be double the trouble.)

After implementing these tips, I learned that sometimes knowing our own limitations is the key.  It’s not easy, so hats off to all moms; you deserve to be applauded.

This has been a guest post by Nikki from Oxnard, CA
Find out more about the KCL Contributor Network!

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38 thoughts on “Shopping with a Toddler: A Mommy’s Tale of Survival”

  1. Jane Smith says:

    I work in a grocery store and I think you have some great tips. The couponers that come in are in there for a long time sometimes, so of course the children are going to get antsy. I think it’s great if you are organized and let them help. I know it sometimes takes longer to let them “help” but it lets them know they are wanted and needed and they are proud to help out when they’re little. So many times I have seen parents yelling or nagging at the kids to not help and it just makes me sad. I know that it gets unnerving when you’re at the end of your trip and your both exhausted. But for their sake do let them help. Plus kids start to think you’ll do everything for them, even at home and they get to the point where they don’t even think of helping anymore. One other tip that I implemented with my daughter was to never ever ever ever take her out of the cart. From the time she was a baby til she was got to big to ride in the cart, she rode in the cart exclusively. Sometimes in the basket part and sometimes in the front with her legs dangling, but always in the cart. She never knew it was an option to do otherwise. Of course when she was an infant, I would sometimes carry her. It really worked, you just have to make sure they know its not an option. If we were having a bad day we would just leave, even if we hadn’t finished. And sometimes I gave her a break and let her stay with Grandma :D

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great tips – my 22 month old is usually very good when I coupon shop. And my 4 year old is great too. It’s when they are both with me that all the trouble starts. They feed off of each other and a cookie from the bakery only lasts so long. Lately, I’ve been running out earlier in the week after my husband gets home. I try to combine trips twice a week – so I’ll hit Publix, CVS and Walgreens on one day and Target and Wal-Mart on the next.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great tips – my 22 month old is usually very good when I coupon shop. And my 4 year old is great too. It’s when they are both with me that all the trouble starts. They feed off of each other and a cookie from the bakery only lasts so long. Lately, I’ve been running out earlier in the week after my husband gets home. I try to combine trips twice a week – so I’ll hit Publix, CVS and Walgreens on one day and Target and Wal-Mart on the next.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have two great kids and have this problem too. I have a 24 month old who has learned how to say “let’s go coupon shopping” and a 7 year old who knows that it’s important to save money by using coupons. I love them both but I DREAD taking them shopping both with me because they just feed off each other and I just cannot concentrate on what I’m doing no matter how organized or prepared I am. Every time I’ve made a mistake shopping with coupons, I’ve had them with me. I really can’t shop without them though since I’m a single mom. But when I get that rare chance of shopping by myself, I take advantage of it :) And speaking of shopping with kids in tow, I have to make a quick trip to Fry’s to get some deals…wish me luck!

  4. Elena says:

    When my daughter was a toddler, I would give her distractions. I would hand her something unbreakable that I was going to buy (a can of beans, a roll of paper towels, a plastic spoon, etc) and literally say to her “Here you go, here’s a distraction for you!” and she would gush “Oh, I LIKE distractions!” After a few minutes, she’d lose interest in the item and she would say to me “I’d like another distraction now.” and then I would give her something else. She thought it was so fun.

  5. I just had one of those all-to-familiar “toddler trips” with my 23 month old today! Shudder….. ;-)

  6. Anonymous says:

    The best solution would be to join up with others who also have little ones and arrange shopping dates, not together, but by leaving your kids with them while you shop and then you reciprocating. Think of it from the point of view of those of us who long ago had kids and what perfect parents we were and how OUR kids never misbehaved in public. The truth is that we were allowed to correct them without worrying about being turned in to the DCS. Now you have to not only be vigilant about predators, but about “ninny-nannies” who like to report anything they deem to be child abuse.

  7. I have triplets that are 2. I usually go to the store at night when my husband is home with them, but sometimes have to take them with me. I am very picky about what stores I go to with them. I have a local store with the car grocery carts that I can buckle them all in. We grab a few items and then hit the bakery for a free cookie, grab the rest of our stuff and we’re out of there- in 20 minutes flat!

  8. I take my two boys (3 and 1) shopping all the time, but it’s not always pretty. Little one rides in the cart, big boy walks. When they were younger, the older one rode in the cart, and I wore the baby in a baby carrier (which worked GREAT). I can’t imagine expecting a child (except an newborn) to sleep in a cart (mine never would). I have much more success with well-rested kiddos, after a nap.

  9. I feel your pain and like your tips! My two year old was not on board with a quick stop at Walmart yesterday. 30 mins. into the trip, she had already been in and out of the cart 5x, been carried 2x, and made several laps with me and my best friend (another mommy) chasing her. She wanted out of the cart, and that’s where it goes crazy. We finally got what we came for and headed for check out. She LOST it! She screamed loud enough for all of Walmart to hear her I’m sure. Kicking and making herself impossible to pick up or carry. It was a NIGHTMARE. At least, I wish it would’ve been a nightmare at this point. Then I could’ve woke up with relief instead of seeing all of these people staring, glaring, and awing at me. My friend was soo red, as was I. I made it through, but felt a piece of dignity disappear as I finally sat in the driver’s seat. This is child number two. I remember trips like this with my son who’s five now. They are only memories now, and knowing that he’s not like that anymore is comforting. Once again…”This to shall pass”. I have a little monkey backpack with a leash, My next shopping adventure will include this item. LOL Thanks!

  10. Since my husband is in school full time and working full time, I shop regulary with barely 1 year old twins, a barely 2 year old and a 5 and 6 year old and I understand how difficult it can be to take kids to the store. I regularly push a stroller and shopping cart at the same time and do my best to blaze through the aisles as quickly as possible, and count of my oldest two to follow directions with baby entertainment and putting things in the cart. Without them, we wouldn’t have food in the house. ;)

    • Amanda Silvia says:

      Oh my. How do you carry 3 little kids!? I can’t imagine taking 5 kids anywhere, even with another adult!!

    • Amanda Silvia says:

      Oh my. How do you carry 3 little kids!? I can’t imagine taking 5 kids anywhere, even with another adult!!

    • Amanda Silvia says:

      Oh my. How do you carry 3 little kids!? I can’t imagine taking 5 kids anywhere, even with another adult!!

  11. Stephanie J says:

    I’m no expert and still have plenty of outbursts in the stores, but the one thing I notice works best is when I prepare. When I talk to the kids about what we’re going to be doing, what we’ll be getting, how they can help and what their reward will be if they do, the trip goes much smoother. When they’re going about their day playing and I suddenly stop into a store and expect them to sit for an hour while I shop I think they feel like an unexpected wrench has been thrown into their day. I’m not saying cater to their every whim, but a little planning and preparing them goes a long way. Even a short explanation followed by a promised reward works wonders.

  12. Stephanie J says:

    I’m no expert and still have plenty of outbursts in the stores, but the one thing I notice works best is when I prepare. When I talk to the kids about what we’re going to be doing, what we’ll be getting, how they can help and what their reward will be if they do, the trip goes much smoother. When they’re going about their day playing and I suddenly stop into a store and expect them to sit for an hour while I shop I think they feel like an unexpected wrench has been thrown into their day. I’m not saying cater to their every whim, but a little planning and preparing them goes a long way. Even a short explanation followed by a promised reward works wonders.

  13. I have two toddlers, 11 months apart. So, you can imagine my shopping trips. I’m usually pushing a cart with one up front and pulling a stroller behind me with #2. I can’t tell you how many looks of sympathy I get per shopping trip, lol.

    I have to do it that way because the youngest can’t walk yet, she’s only 1. And the older 2yr old is hell on wheels. He’s at the throwing things stage. He constantly throws things out of the cart. If I let him down to walk, he’d be throwing glass jars of spaghetti sauce from the shelves down the isles or something. It would not be pretty. And if I used a leash, I can already hear the accusations of abuse when he throws himself on the floor, or screams hysterically when he’s fighting it to get at something on the shelves. It would look and feel like I was yanking him around. Besides, my child isn’t a dog.

    Nope, only way with them is either in the cart, or the stroller fully buckled in with toys and cheerios or my shopping trip becomes very stressful very fast.

  14. I have 3 toddlers a 2year old and twins that are one let me tell ya our shopping has to have routine for the day or it does not go well more so if I go alone yes I said it I do take my children shopping all on the solo but it must be after nap and they have to have drinks and snacks and then at times I want to throw my hands up and run out lol but on thursdays I got to get my good deals before its all gone

  15. Desire Lesh says:

    I have a 3 year old and a 1 1/2 year old that always come to the store with me. Although I’m new to the couponing, shopping with them & looking for the best deals possible has always been a struggle. Sometimes they entertain each other, others they feed off of each other and make it 10 times harder. Bringing another adult really does help make it easier. Toys, in my experience, most often end up on the floor. I’ve even lost shoes that got thrown out of the cart. Because mine think its a fun game – lets throw everything out of the cart & make mom pick it up. My 7 year old is almost just as hard because she wants to grab EVERYTHING, run, jump & sometimes even climb. Sometimes letting them in on the tasks helps. My 7 year old loves carrying the list or the coupons. Both little ones sometimes enjoy putting stuff in the cart or holding onto something (when they don’t get carried away & I spend as much time pulling stuff out of the cart as I do putting stuff in lol). I tell them to “keep it safe”. they have gotten a little better, as long as I don’t spend too much time in the store – 1 hour is definitely their limit. So I have to do my research & shopping all at one time, or just shop by sales papers one day, make another trip the next day for the unadvertised sales I saw on my first trip. I find that is helpful too. It may not be the most gas efficient way to shop, but it is sometimes the easiest with the kids – making several short trips to the store. Not too short or they will be just as upset as a trip that is too long.

  16. I remember those days! I agree with you on the leash issue-it is for your child’s safety!
    The worst trips were when #4 of 4 boys under 8 was an infant- the older kids scattered like cockroaches in a cheap motel when you turn on the light….then magically appears with some food item they wanted that Mommy told them they couldn’t have….The trio of wailing, then the baby joining in to sing the oblogotto…But now I just laugh…and think to myself that at least they kept the other shoppers entertained…..the really funny thing is I still rock the shopping cart when I am in line at the grocery store- and my youngest is now 17!

  17. I remember those days! I agree with you on the leash issue-it is for your child’s safety!
    The worst trips were when #4 of 4 boys under 8 was an infant- the older kids scattered like cockroaches in a cheap motel when you turn on the light….then magically appears with some food item they wanted that Mommy told them they couldn’t have….The trio of wailing, then the baby joining in to sing the oblogotto…But now I just laugh…and think to myself that at least they kept the other shoppers entertained…..the really funny thing is I still rock the shopping cart when I am in line at the grocery store- and my youngest is now 17!

  18. Anonymous says:

    Oh, the dreaded day when they decide they are to big to ride in the cart! My son just turned four and my daughter will also be 2 in November. They both think they are “too big to ride”. Luckily, they will BOTH be in mommies day out starting next week. So it looks like coupon and grocery trips will be done on Tuesday and Thursday mornings!

  19. Erin Ammons says:

    What a nice post! Lately, I have been waiting till my husband gets home before I do our coupon shopping, but it makes my evenings so long and exhausting. I only do very short trips with my daughter in tow, and there have to be LOTS of snacks. Target is her favorite place, and usually something from the $1 bin will distract her. Good luck ladies! :)

  20. Erin Ammons says:

    What a nice post! Lately, I have been waiting till my husband gets home before I do our coupon shopping, but it makes my evenings so long and exhausting. I only do very short trips with my daughter in tow, and there have to be LOTS of snacks. Target is her favorite place, and usually something from the $1 bin will distract her. Good luck ladies! :)

  21. Erin Ammons says:

    What a nice post! Lately, I have been waiting till my husband gets home before I do our coupon shopping, but it makes my evenings so long and exhausting. I only do very short trips with my daughter in tow, and there have to be LOTS of snacks. Target is her favorite place, and usually something from the $1 bin will distract her. Good luck ladies! :)

    • Andrea West says:

      Erin, you posted almost exactly what I was going to say….I also wait for my husband to get home or I get “mommy time” on sundays to go shopping for a couple hours. if i do take my 2 year old daughter, a distraction is completely necessary…whether it be a snack i bring with us or something she spots in the aisle. we too have visited the $1 spot at target before we even start shopping and i let her pick something out that usually lasts the 20 min we are in the store :-) happy shopping

  22. Anonymous says:

    Yes, that shopping car is a clever joke, isn’t it? We think it will keep them entertained, but then they can get out at any time and stop our progress, or even just lean out and bump into something – possibly hurt themselves or some merchandise. They are also heavy, unwieldy, and have a smaller basket. I tell my boy, “If you get out, I will have to put you it the back of the cart with me.” Then I try to hurry up and get out quick because the back of the cart is holding my coupon folder!

  23. Yanina Jerew says:

    I have a toddler (2 1/2) and I have noticed that when she’s with me, she’s very good, we talk a lot, she helps me counting the fruit or vegetables, etc. When I am with a friend she gets bad! wants to run around…I don’t know why, but I’m guessing it’s because she wants my attention? My friend takes more time shopping than I do, so instead of 20 min. max. we take 1/2hr to 1hr.
    When I am with my hubby, oh my! role model kid! my husband is more strict than I am and at the beginning we would take her to the car as a form of ‘time out” if she misbehaved. She sits, play with her toys, we could even spend 2hrs at a store and you could barely feel her!..that is of course, if my husband is with me.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Oh, sympathy. I have 5 kids. 2 step daughters and 2 birth daughters and a birth son. I used to think I was super mom with my little step daughters, because they were so great in stores. Hah! When my others came along I was put in my place! Turns out those two are just particularly naturally well-mannered. I have learned that if I bring the 3 little ones to the store, something will inevitably go wrong at the register, and my poor 3-year-old son will be left to entertain himself with an assortment of filler items and/or dump my accordian file while the cashier and I hash it out – awesome. I work on weekends, when my hubby watches the kids, so I slip out on the way home to pick up end of week/beginning of week deals. He does not appreciate being alone with them longer than he has to be!?!?!?! But hey, he doesn’t have the patience to get the fabulous deals I can get either, so I guess he has to deal with it. Hey, cheap meat and coffee, dude. For any mid week trips I have a system. I have the kids on a rotation. One will go at a time to the store and it is like a treat to be the chosen one. It’s like quality time for us and they get to select some variety, meet the cashier and present a coupon. And if a goodie happens to be on clearance – yay! The system had it’s rough start – with my verbose 6-year-old berating me in front of a cashier for not getting her a toy and how taking her on a shopping trip was torture. We fixed that when I explained that had she been a good citizen in the store the next stop would have been to get the polymer clay that had gone on sale for which she’d been asking – whoopsies, better luck next time, kid. She has since gotten a grip. Ahhh…as I feel the blood pounding between my ears…I try to remember that I am trying to get them through to adulthood…or at least get them back out to the car.

    • Jane Smith says:

      I like how your husband being the father of all the kids doesn’t like to be alone with them longer than he has to be! My husband is the same way sometimes!! Gotta love em :D This really made me giggle!!

  25. If we are going to Target I get my 2 1/2 year old an icee as soon as we walk in the door. She is quiet and still the whole time . I don’t give her a treat at any of the other stores, but I can spend an hour in Target going over all their clearance sections. When we go to CVS they have the shopping carts with the cars attached to them and she has to ride in that. Unfortunately, she can get out of the car whenever she wants…which she does to grab lots of candy. Sigh, I used to think having candy and snacks at the register was convenient….then I had a kid. I hate it when stores put all their candy on kid level,

    • Desire Lesh says:

      they have those same car buggys at our kroger & I always go for the ones with the seats high up. Its twice the size of a normal buggy – but worth it.

  26. I have abandoned many a cart in my first few years as a mom! My son is 4 now & having him “help” is our solution fix but he does have a tolerance time limit. And I will shop for 20-30 minutes, and if he’s good (we discuss beforehand) we will visit the toy aisle for 5-8 minutes. Then back to shopping. He get’s a prize at checkout if he is good for the last 20-30 minutes of shopping. Prize is sometimes something we already had at home that I bring. (stickers, granola bar, juice box, etc.)

  27. Anonymous says:

    This is great! I have a 2 year old and shopping lately has been difficult. Some days she is an angel, other days I double the amount of time in the store and always forget something (Even with a list). I have found that I will save her snack for the store, I also give her a “coupon” binder with expired coupons. she loves that. I have a play phone, a travel coloring kit, and her cup. I also have her help me put things in the cart and ask her what shapes and colors she sees. The last time I did a stocking up trip, I learned my lesson and will NEVER forget my kit again. Happy shopping!

  28. Anonymous says:

    KCL above and beyond financial coupon Guru you are a fabulous writer!

  29. When my daughter was a toddler we used to show her everything, especially fruit and vegetables. We’d talk about what it was, talk about colors, talk about taste. It made shopping much more interactive and fun for her. Now that she’s older {she’s 7 now, goodness how time flies} I let her weigh fruit that we buy, we talk about price and what ingredients we need for dinner, and she likes to help look for the items for our coupons.

    Also, when she was at an age where she caused more trouble I always brought my husband along and she knew if she wasn’t behaving they would have to leave while I continued my shopping alone.

  30. Kate Maddox says:

    My youngest is turning 2 in November. HE is the easy one; my 4.5yo daughter is the Hellion on grocery trips. My son loves being able to toss things in the cart for me, but, at the same time, anything my oldest gets her hands on winds up in the cart as well.

    When it comes to taking them with me, and I HAVE to since my husband’s deployed, timing is everything. I found that after lunch & a possible nap time for the little man is best. Everyone’s full and awake but not rowdy and it goes much smoother. Especially when I make sure to write out my list clearly so my oldest can help me out (and work on her reading skills) by reading the list to me.