How to Survive a Shopping Trip with Children in Tow

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.Β For more details, please see ourΒ disclosure policy.

Mom shopping in Old Navy.

Want to save this post?

Enter your email below and get it sent straight to your inbox. Plus, I'll send you time- and money-saving tips every week!

Save Recipe

Last week I decided that we needed to get out of the house — all of us. Normally I go shopping by myself. But, it had been off and on raining, and I, personally, was suffering from cabin fever.

Plus, I had quizzed everyone on the way to church one Sunday about all the clothes they were missing. It had been one of those mornings when everything appeared stained and worn. Needless to say, I had a list that needed to be shopped.

Rather than go on the weekend when everyone else was off shopping, we went early on Friday when the crowds were non-existent. We were back home in time for lunch and to finish schoolwork.

We caused more than a few raised eyebrows in Old Navy as me and my six little ducklings trooped through the store.

Yes, yes, we did.

But, honestly, it really wasn’t that hard. It helps to have older kids, but even if you don’t, here are some things that I do to survive shopping trips with children in tow.

1. Have a list.

And keep it handy! You will have enough to do to keep a smile on your face, don’t try to remember what you need. Write it down.

2. Pack snacks, water, books, and small toys.

This will definitely buy you some time when littles start to get fussy. And a mocha for you wouldn’t hurt, either.

3. Give a kid the timer.

I love the timer on shopping trips. I usually use it when we’re in the Lego aisle, since I want to know that the end is in sight.

Last week I gave it to my oldest and let him set the timer on me. I know, I’m the one in charge.

But at the same time, I don’t want to exasperate my children. Our trip through Old Navy was only ten minutes. I let him time me and the kids knew there was an end. Our venture through Target, however, was 1 1/2 hours.

4. Give them the camera.

Truly, I did. The camera was in my bag, and I figured that was a great opportunity for them to entertain themselves. I am not sure I would have used this trick if the store were crowded, but on a slow day, it worked like a charm.

Four boys standing in front of a mirror at Old Navy, goofing off.

5. Take lots of deep breaths.

There are moments when your patience is tried. Practice those relaxation techniques you learned in childbirth class. You never knew they were to be used for a lifetime, did you?

6. Give each child a job.

Kids do best with positive occupation. Since I had my list and we were choosing mostly clothing, it made it easy to assign small tasks and choices to each child.

Go find the ___________.
Help me choose the ____________.

7. Be on the alert for benches, particularly near the checkout.

Older children can be sent to the bench with a younger child. This gives their feet a rest and their eyes a new perspective. We do this often to stave off the impatience that is catching while standing in line.

Keep your eye on them, but know that for the moment, it’s quiet where you are, and you can focus on the prices being rung up, the change the checker gives you, redeeming coupons, etc.

8. Smile often.

One day you’ll be one of those little, old ladies smiling at the young mom tearing her hair out. Childhood passes and you will miss it — even those crazy, crazy shopping daze.

This is what works for me. What works for YOU?

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I love all of the suggestions but I think number 8 might be one of the most important!!! πŸ™‚ I have had this on my mind a lot lately! I needed to drop something off to one of my girls at school this week, and I happened to arrive at her lunch time, so I decided to sit with her in the crowded lunch room full of kindergartners while she ate her lunch. It was really a great time! I had my youngest in tow, who of course is ready and raring to get to school herself, as well as my three year old niece who was all about the crowds of kids! πŸ™‚ Anyway, as all of the kids were lining up after lunch for an indoor recess, due to the cold temps, I noticed one of the teachers talking SO gruffly to the kids… all because they lined on the wrong side of the lunch basket. It really made me think! My first reaction was “hey, nobody can be grumpy to my kid except for me!!” Which obviously is not the best of thoughts to have… NO one should be grumpy to my SWEET little five year old… especially not her Mama!! Anyway… I am trying REALLY hard to keep MY attitude in check with my girls! Time is flying while they are young, and with each passing milestone I realize I will NOT get that time back. What was my attitude like during those years? How will they remember me handling things…because I DO believe they will remember! My five year old is our “human sponge”! She soaks up EVERYTHING in her never ending memory and brings it up at the oddest of times! πŸ™‚ Gotta love her for that! πŸ™‚ Anyway… thanks for sharing your posts and I hope all of us moms can remember that there are enough grumpy people out in this world, we needn’t be one of them and certainly NOT to those who mean the very most to us! πŸ™‚

  2. I think a great part of shopping with kids is letting it be a learning experience. With an 18 month old, telling him what things are is big. He loves words and new things. Last night he was more than excited to sit and check out everything I was handing him. Telling him what things are also helps me think about what kinds of food goes in the basket too. And he didn’t mind taking what he was handed and throwing it in the buggy either. Especially the “tooties”. (Maybe more than one pack of cookies made it in.) πŸ˜‰

  3. I am not a mum, but my wife and I have 8 kids (and now 5 grandkids). You should have seen the looks we got when we went to the shops with the whole crew. Felt like the Duggars πŸ™‚
    I will link this page to my blog – I loved your ideas and I am sure many other parents will be blessed too.

  4. Thanks so much! With my three little ones- I rarely go out shopping with them. If you can do it with 6, it gives me a little bit more courage to do it with three πŸ™‚


  5. Your pictures were so adorable of your children and your tips were great too – our “baby” is now 20 (going on 30) and we wish he were that little to take to the grocery store and elsewhere again! We miss those days so! Good luck to you as you trek out again soon!

  6. I call my mother in law, mother or worst-case scenario, my dad. I don’t mind short runs but an all out day of errands, I think I’d have to feed my children to the lions! I love them dearly but we are NOT good shopping buddies!

    One time, I NEEDED to go to IKEA because that was the ONLY place we were going to find shelving for one area in our home that was affordable and looked decent. We even ATE before coming into the store. We were in the store all of about 20 minutes and I’d had enough… even though it was a 40 minute drive just to get there… I was done and fed up and we just had to leave. I felt guilty asking my husband to watch after them and I didn’t want to bite their heads off… and feel guilty myself. So I just said, we’re done. We left. They actually both apologized without being prompted by anyone because they realized their behavior was less than stellar. I decided if it was just for casual trips — no problem but NEVER AGAIN was I going to do that unless I wanted to wind up in a padded cell. πŸ™‚ ha ha!

  7. Love the timer idea!
    I only have one child so far, but she knows that if she uses bad behaviour in the store, we will leave IMMEDIATELY. She knows it’s not an idle threat! We’ve had to leave a store on many occasions without purchasing our items, but at 3 years old, she knows the rules now, and is usually great in stores, even when she’s tired of me taking too long!

  8. I’ve found snacks (in snacking friendly stores) to be a great distraction for the kids.
    I did my first trip out with three kids yesterday (had a friend’s son with me) and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. I think the worst part of shopping/errands days is the in-and-out at every store.

    1. @Ashley, Agreed. I can think of more than one occassion where the thought of taking out a toddler and putting him back in the car wasn’t worth the hassle.

  9. Like all the other commenters, I really appreciate these great suggestions. I especially like the part about not wanting to exasperate your children……I’m sure you know that’s straight out of Scripture, and it’s a command! And it’s something My Wonderful Husband and I are committed to making sure we don’t do, either.

  10. It can be stressful, but shopping with kiddoes is necessary a lot of the time for me. Since Wal-Mart is 30 miles away, it usually ends up being a 3-5 hour trip so I have to pack diapers, clothes, snacks or a meal, water, blankies, etc.
    Since my daughter is now 5 and follows directions carefully, one thing I can get away with in a small town in leaving the kids in the car. I can see them from the store in many of our local shops and so I leave her in charge or just take the baby and leave them in their carseats and run and mail some letters or a package. So much easier! I don’t let them eat snacks when I’m gone and they know better than to get out of their seatbelts. They often sing songs, play puppets, or play the quiet game and they sometimes get a piece of candy at home if they were really good. But I bet you could never do this in CA.
    I live in Wyoming.

  11. Those are truly all great tips! I will definitely give some a try…my lil ones are at the age of fighting over anything….so usually I bring some snacks and then we play games while we shop….”Look for something yellow” … when all else fails, I pull out the lollipops πŸ˜›

  12. I just have 2 ducklings although it sometimes feels like more as my youngest, who is age 3 is a handful. When I grocery shop with my son, age 6, I keep him engaged by putting him in charge of the list (I have to print it so he can read it). And he gets to pick out a special item from the produce section. A great way to get him to try new fruits and veggies.

  13. Fantastic tips!! Some I do..some I don’t…but I will now! Especially the timer and the camera. That’s fabulous.

  14. i cant wait until my little guy is old enough to help me shop! right now he just sits in his stroller and stares at the lights on the ceiling. πŸ˜›

    1. @cassie, Let a balloon float into my son’s line of vision and he’s golden. Well, until a very nice person tries to give it to him and I say “No thanks.” Then the beast comes out in him.

  15. Those are great tips! I especially like the idea of the timer and camera. My son is only two, but I’ll try to remember this for when he’s older! Right now snacks and giving him “tasks” usually works, but we have to keep the shopping trip super short.

  16. Love the timer and camera ideas! My son is all about timers right now. He even times himself with his school work!
    I have a 7 year old, 20 month old and 5 week old so shopping is always an exciting adventure!! Ha! Ha!
    I make 2 copies of my list and he marks off what I get, too or he holds my coupon book and picks out the coupon to go with each item.
    For my 20 month old I pack snacks and toys!
    I’m so doing the camera thing the next time we go shopping!

  17. Hi, useful tips. It can be hard shopping with children. I was queuing at the supermarket checkout the other day with a friend and both our 2 year olds. They were playing about but weren’t being naughty, however the customer behind us was so rude, I was speechless. It was totally undeserved. Adults often forget that they too were children once.

  18. I have four kids–my oldest is 6–and I take them everywhere with me. In fact, just yesterday we went to the mall, out to lunch and to the grocery store. I think there are a few things that make trips out successful. First, you must have resonable expectations of your child’s attention span. No child wants to be stuck in one place/store for very long so keep your trips short! Second, full bellies are a must! This is where a special snack, like a pretzel from the mall, comes in. Third, a stroller or cart is helpful as their little legs can only walk so much. Lastly, if you enforce consistant behavior on all your trips out of the house and remind your kids of that each and every time you leave the house then eventually it sinks in:)

    I wouldn’t say that all my trips out are successful but the successful ones far outweigh the negative ones!

  19. I try to shop alone, just because it’s easier and it means I get a bit of time to myself while I’m there. But when I do shop with kids, I have clipboards for them. One might do his math by weighing, multiplying and estimating a running total, another might write out all the words and practice printing neatly and the 3 year old can check off items on the list when I tell her to “find soy sauce, two words that each start with s.” In addition to making the time fly by for them, it makes me feel a bit better when some look at me sideways for having my school aged children in the grocery store at 10am. (Even though I know I don’t need to justify myself, it does make me feel better to demonstrate that learning can actually happen outside of the classroom.)

    We always end up in the toy aisle if the shopping was successful. Even though we aren’t buying, looking around is a fun reward for good ‘in store’ behaviour.

    1. @Trina@JoyandContentment, the clipboards are a great idea! I have one who goes major squirrelly if he doesn’t have a job, so he brought a book to read when he was bored. A clipboard would be a great addition to the Shopping Kit. Thanks!

  20. I love the bit about “Practice those relaxation techniques you learned in childbirth class.” So, so true!

    I love taking my three (ages 4, 2 and 5 mos.) to the grocery store with me. As long as we aren’t out TOO long, they love it too!

  21. I have 4 kiddos (3 boys 6,5,2 & 8wk girl). When I go to the grocery store or anywhere – I use two tricks: 1. Everyone has a buddy – you have to hold their hand (if we’re not using the stroller or cart). 2. You need to keep a hand on the cart – no wandering off.

    I’ve started to relax the 2nd rule with my older boys – but it was a great way to keep them in check while we’re out an about.

  22. We ALWAYS take all the kids along on shopping trips; it’s part of our Sunday routine. It can be rather chaotic and a tad bit stressful, and there are definitely times I wish I could just go without them, but it does get easier over time. Your tips are all good ones!

    1. @kp, when hubs is along, we are all along. But, I do enjoy going by myself. I can think better and nab some better deals. Still, I did get a great cracker deal — even with six in tow.

  23. These are great tips–never thought about giving them a camera! How creative πŸ™‚ Although I give my son my cell phone to play with while I cut his hair! haha…it’s for his own safety!

  24. Great ideas! When we’re at the grocery store (when blueberries are in season) I pick up a package of blueberries and let them eat as we go through the store. I am totally loving the camera idea!

    1. @Candi, goldfishy crackers work wonders, though they aren’t as healthy as blueberries. Great idea!

  25. The camera. Pure genius.

    And don’t worry about “being in charge”–I think it’s great you’re respectful of their limits.

  26. Great tips!! I’ve had to take mine with me to the grocery store, but I have been hesitant to venture out anywhere more creative. I like the timer and camera ideas!

  27. I recently made a “treasure box” filled with little toys like party favors, McDonald’s toys, stickers, crayons, etc. You could also use little bags or backpacks. It gives them something to keep track of and to keep them busy in lines, strollers, or waiting on benches.

  28. Oh, I had never thought of the camera! I always keep it in my bag, so I’ll be trying that next time the kids get restless in the store.

    I also find that it helps if I give specific instructions to each child who is old enough as to what you expect of them while in the store (ex. who will be in the cart and who will walk, etc.)

    1. @Laura, great point. I neglected the obvious: tell them what good behavior looks like. Thanks for bringing it up.

  29. I love the idea of a timer and a camera! I also love the pics your kids took πŸ™‚

    Before going into the store I always have a talk with the kids about the expectations of what is to happen in the store and we review our list so we can find the items together. I also practice those deep breaths!

    1. @Sara @ Supersavingsense, they took both the pictures that inspired this post. Not bad, eh? The trick with the camera was to make sure the photog had the strap around his wrist at all times. πŸ˜‰

  30. the timer and the camera sold me! I’m SO going to try this soon. I only have 3 ducklings but they are quite the rascally variety and I can use all the ideas to help with shopping I can get.