12 Tips for Making It to the Store with Toddlers

As a parent, few tasks seem as daunting as taking your small children on a shopping trip to a big box store or supermarket. Imagining the challenging toy aisle, the temptation-filled checkout line, and the unwieldy car carts is enough to make anyone weary. If you’ve been there, you might appreciate some tips for making it to the store with toddlers, to save you from ordering pizza for dinner…again.

But sometimes you just have to go shopping with your kid. Even though it probably won’t be fun, there are ways to stop a meltdown caused by shopping before it starts. Here are 12 ways to make shopping with a kid a breeze.

Before You Go to the Store

Before you grab your keys and shopping list to go on your big trip, you need to do a little bit of planning to make sure it goes smoothly. Here are some things to remember.

Think ahead and take stock.

Before you take your child somewhere, think about whether it might be hard for them. What will it be like for them in terms of the amount of temptation and sensory input? Will she have to follow a lot of rules?

Remember that every temper tantrum has a chain of events that led up to it, giving you many chances to stop or stop it from happening. If you know what problems your child is likely to face, like seeing cupcakes in the baking aisle, you might be able to stop them from throwing a fit before they do.

Create a prize.

Despite what you might think, you can add a prize to a shopping trip as long as the rules are clear: “Stay close to me and keep your voice down and you can choose a treat from the checkout aisle on the way out.” We won’t be able to do that if I have to give you more than two warnings.”

Keep in mind that a prize is not the same thing as a bribe. A reward is offered ahead of time, before the possible bad behavior. This way, you don’t accidentally reinforce the bad behavior. On the other hand, a bribe is given after bad behavior, like a tantrum, has started. It shows that yelling, screaming, or crying can help you get what you want.

Don’t try to cram in one more thing.

No matter how badly you need new light bulbs, I don’t care. Your family will get along better with candles than if you drag your preschooler to the store right before dinner after a busy day. It’s better to take something off your list of things to do for the day than to try to do too much and have a bad “last stop.”

(Sometimes) technology helps us win.

If you live in a place where it’s possible and affordable for your family, don’t be afraid to take advantage of the Internet and order what you need online to make life easy.

However, I don’t think it’s necessary to do this every time you’re low on necessities like paper towels or breakfast cereal. We can’t show (and therefore teach) that avoiding things is always possible or better, so we shouldn’t do it ourselves all the time.

Work together with your child.

This is a very, very important piece. Your child will do best when they feel like you “get” them. This is especially true in hard situations. Send the message to your kid that you’re there for them 24/7, not just when “sh*t hits the fan.”

Give your shopping trip a name that sounds fun and upbeat, like “Mommy and Aaron’s Adventure in Costco” or “Jonas’s Journey to the Supermarket.” This will help you all work together. Feel free to get into it. Make up a song or cheer that you can sing as you go.

When You Get to the Shop

The necessary preparations have been made, and everyone is in the appropriate frame of mind for the next excursion to the grocery shop. But what does it look like when you get there? What should you do if your young child starts to act out? Here are some things you can do to stay cool.

Keep your child busy.

It sounds easy because, in theory, it is. You can talk to your little one about what they like in a tricky setting. Get your kid to retell you their favorite joke, the Paw Patrol episode they watched this weekend, or their costume idea for next year’s Halloween (they always know!). Be sure to be specific.

Play the “I bet…” game.

Toddlers and preschoolers go crazy when you “bet” that they can’t do something. Almost every time, they prove you wrong. You could:

“I’ll bet that you can’t do the hokey pokey all the way down this path.”

“I bet you don’t know what this color is (point to something).”

“I bet you can’t count everything we’ve put in our cart so far.”

“I bet you can’t remember the names of everyone in this room.”

Give your kids things to do.

Your child probably won’t throw a fit if they feel like they are helping you and if they really accept this role.

Get your kid to help you grab items off the shelf, load the cart, and pack up the purchases. Make up a job if you really need one. The other day I “asked” my son to “help” me count the number of hair ties in my purse.

Don’t push it.

Remember that you can always leave. If you feel like your toddler’s ability to stay calm is on thin ice, it’s okay to give up the ship (and your shopping cart). If you leave before you planned to, either before or during a meltdown, neither you nor your little one has failed.

When You Get Home

You got past the hardest part! Your child might have been able to stay quiet, and you might not have forgotten anything on your list. But this trip still has one more leg: going home. Read on to learn how to keep the peace until you get home.

Pat yourself on the back, and do the same for your child.

Really. Both of you did it. Whatever happened. If it didn’t go as well as you had hoped, think about what went wrong. Consider what went wrong and what you might do to mend the rift with your kid. Be kind to yourself.

Reward your kid’s efforts and explain why you think they performed so well. You may try saying:

  • “I noticed how great you did at staying calm while we were waiting in line.”
  • “Thanks for helping me run errands with me today. You were so nice and helpful!”
  • “I know you were upset when you didn’t get that candy, but I’m so proud of how well you handled it!”

Do what you said you would do if you offered a reward.

That is, if your child did what they said they would do.


Take a deep breath and remind yourself that taking small children out in public, no matter how annoying or tiring it is, is a great way for you to practice patience and for your child to learn how to connect with other people.

Meaningful articles you might like: 4 Reasons Toddlers Refuse to Poop in the Potty, How to Handle Sleep Regressions in Toddlers, Is It Safe to Put a Toddler on the Floor Bed?