It’s 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting with KK in the middle of Cumberland Mall, sharing a smoothie and celebrating a job well done.
We’ve just wrapped up Christmas shopping for Dad and the grandparents, and while this may sound like no big deal (it’s still two plus weeks until Christmas), it truly is a triumph of modern parenting to complete a multi-store, multi-hour shopping spree in a packed mall with a three year old without temper tantrums, misplaced purses, losing your child, or losing your mind.
How does one manage this, you might ask? We all know the basics: feed and water your tot before leaving the house, schedule shopping after nap and before the next meal, and remember snacks and frequent potty breaks.
You can google “shopping with a toddler” and read through an assortment of articles that list out top ten ways to shop successfully with a little one and read over the basics in depth. What I’m about to share with you are my own personal tricks for not only surviving a shopping trip and making it home with everything you set out to purchase, but also how I find joy and excitement in this frequently dreaded experience.
Trick #1: Create a vibe. This is something I started with my oldest daughter, Emmers, when she was a baby: shopping trips get soundtracks. We’d pop in a CD (this was ten years ago, okay) of something lively and sing and dance all the way to the store. It’s a great way to be loud, expend excess engery, and create a positive and pleasant mood before hitting the store. KK’s musical selections for this particular trip: Fireflies by Owl City, Love Story by Taylor Swift, and Say Hey (I Love You) by Michael Franti.
Trick #2: Plan a treat for good behavior. I never tell the girls if there will be a treat beforehand, and since they don’t always get one, they aren’t expecting it, but they do know that treats usually show up after exceptionally good behavior. In this case, the treat (sharing a smoothie) was a reward for incredibly mature behavior in DSW. KK sat quietly on a bench as I purused the aisles and then accepted, without fuss, “no” as the answer to her request for a coin purse that she saw at checkout (KK’s next question: “Can I add it to my list for Santa?” Mom: “Absolutely”).
Trick #3: Ask them for help. I always tell the girls what we’re looking for when we are shopping, and then ask them to help me find it or ask for their opinions. I also ask them to help me navigate the store (for Emmers this entails having her reference signage and store maps) or create a problem that they need to solve (“KK, I can’t find pink leggings in your size…what do we do now?”). It’s a great way to exercise their problem solving skills, help them gain familiarity and comfort with the shopping experience, and encourage them to express their own opinions and tastes.
Trick #4: Be flexible. You know what your child can handle, and you know what you have patience for. Don’t set unrealistic or extreme goals for these outings, and be flexible and ready to deal with the unexpected. KK and I set out on Saturday morning with one goal: finish shopping for Dad’s presents. We also managed to shop for the grandparents, but that was a bonus and the result of a little luck (thin crowds, good parking spot, the right size and color available). The experience would have been completely different if fate had conspired to have us walk a mile in the rain only to find that everything we needed was sold out.
Trick #5: Travel lightly. I know we are all in the habit of traveling with massive amounts of stuff, but if your toddler is potty trained, shopping expeditions should be taken with a minimum of equipment. Consolidate the contents of your purse – just carry the essentials in a small bag, or better yet, in your pocket. Minimize the layers of outerwear since the stores are so warm you’ll be stuck carrying them anyway. KK and I hit the mall with just our outer coats and I had all of my gear (phone, keys, cards) in a small clutch that fit in my coat pocket. We didn’t have to worry about misplaced security items, hefting around a loaded purse, or my having to carry KK’s scarf, hat, gloves, and coat.
I enjoy shopping with my daughters, and I like to think they enjoy shopping with me. As Emmers has grown up, I have seen how these tricks have continued to make our shopping trips enjoyable and efficient.
I love how we can change the dynamic of shopping from a task to be accomplished to an experience to be shared and enjoyed, especially as it becomes a part of our family tradition during the joyous and meaningful holiday season.
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