Taking back control is essential, and it should start well before you leave for the mall. Tell your kids the rules before heading out and realize they may need to hear them over and over before it sinks in. Also, let older toddlers know your expectations for that particular shopping trip. They could be: "You will stay in your stroller" and "We will not be buying candy today." You might even want to role-play the correct way to act in a store.
Children—especially toddlers—should be well rested and well fed for a shopping trip to have any hope of running smoothly. Bring nutritious drinks and snacks such as milk, juice, raisins, apples, carrots, and nuts. For younger kids, a favorite toy or book may help them to feel secure.
Pack plenty of toys for your child to play with in the stroller—and don't forget his favorite blanket or other special item if he has one. Some of your best shopping will probably happen when he takes a nap in the stroller, and he just may need that comfort item to help lull him to Snoozeville.
Brian Waterman of Vaughan, Ontario, Canada, has found shopping with another family with kids to also be helpful, as the supervision of the youngsters can be shared among the adults. In addition, he suggests that parents shop "where there is a special event, like a live show for kids and bring along another adult with so that you can take turns shopping and being with the kids." There are also malls with supervised daycare or play areas, which might offer a nice break for the kids and a chance for you to shop more quickly.
From your children's point of view, holiday shopping can be a depressingly unsatisfying experience if they have no input into where they go or what purchases are being made. When possible, give your child some choices. It could be where you eat lunch or what color socks to buy for grandpa.
Shopping Safety Tips
Safety issues are a major concern when taking children into crowded malls. Always accompany small children to the bathroom and watch them closely at all times. Teach your older children how to use a public phone, and they should know to call 911 in emergencies. Pamela Addo, director of communications for the Retail Council of Canada, offers these holiday shopping safety tips for families:
- If you have older children, as soon as you enter a mall or store, agree upon a meeting area in case you are separated. The customer service desk is a good choice.
- Put ID tags with the parents' name and phone number in the pockets of young children in case they get lost. If you have a cell phone, use that number on the ID tag and keep it on.
- Thieves know that harried mothers, who are often easily distracted by their children, tend to leave their purses hanging on the back of a stroller. Never take your eyes off your purse or wallet, and guard your credit and debit cards. Make sure that no one is looking over your shoulder when you are entering your PIN number.
- If you are making trips back and forth with gifts, make sure to lock them in your trunk. Leaving gifts on the back seat will tempt crooks to break into your car. Park near a landmark or tie a ribbon on your antenna so that you can easily find your car in a crowded lot.
A Job Well Done
And when it's all over and you've all made it out alive with only a few battle scars, remember that there is nothing wrong with rewarding good behavior—especially for a marathon shopping expedition. Jody Roth of Toronto, Ontario, an expert in early childhood education, suggests letting your toddler choose a gift at the end of a long shopping excursion. "Show them two items you are willing to let them have and let them chose one," she says.
Remember, the holiday season is supposed to be fun. So take a positive outlook, prepare the troops, pack some ammunition to fend off boredom, and enjoy the time spent with your children.