The days of a quick trip to the store are over. For the next couple of years every time you go to the store with your little Tasmanian Devil, you will spend your visit avoiding one disaster after the next. It's a miracle we end up at the check stand with anything we came for in our basket at all. Though tying your little cherub to the shopping cart is a tempting option, I do have a few other ideas you might want to try first.
1. Bring something they love to hold.
There is so much to grab at the store! Colorful, crinkly, even squishy things beckon to your little one from all sides. You may be able to occupy one of her hands in the steel trap that is yours, but the other little hand will have only mischief to do, unless it too is occupied. My son has a piece of pottery that we found on the river bank while we were camping a few weeks ago. He LOVES this thing. I try to keep it away from him as much as possible to preserve the novelty of it. It is one of the few things I bring with me when we go shopping. He holds so tightly to this treasured little piece of clay that his hand is completely unable to touch, grab or pull everything within his reach. If your child has special items like this, they are a life-saver for keeping your toddlers hands to herself.
2. Pretend the shopping cart is awesome.
Shopping carts are not awesome. They are squeaky, bulky and difficult to steer. However, as far as your little Mario Andretti is concerned, they are a shiny race-car. Or a space ship, train, speed boat, dump truck or anything that your little feller thinks is the coolest thing in the world, as long as you say it is. The only hard part is maintaining the illusion while shopping. I try to keep a selection of 5 or 6 special "sound effects" that I can consistently make while navigating the store to help my son maintain the fantasy that I've sold him. Since he likes race cars, I screech when I stop, squeal when I turn, rev the engine while standing still, make gear shifting noises while accelerating and beep the horn when my son taps the cart's handle. What ever sounds you come up with, they can help turn the captivity of the shopping cart into a pleasant game.
3. Have labor intensive snacks available.
Now when I say labor-intensive, I do not mean for you. I mean snacks that it takes time and concentration for your little cart-gnome to eat. A simple one is a small box of raisins. One that takes a little more prep work is a cheerio necklace. If you like, you can also take an old straw-style sippy-cup and remove the straw, then toss in a few raisins, some freeze-dried yogurt drops, small crackers or whatever you want, and then show your child how to tip the cup over to get one or two at a time. I've also brought a Pez-dispenser filled with dried cranberries before, it was a little messy, but it was fascinating for my son.These difficult-to-get-at snacks are a great way to keep your little whipper-snapper's attention on them and off of creating a disaster zone in the store.
4. Ask for help with everything.
Nothing lights up a toddler's day more than being able to teach mommy or daddy a thing or two. A desire for freedom has come along with physical capability, and the ability to use words (or tantrums) to convey his needs to the adults around him. When the confinement of the shopping cart seat can no longer restrain your little "big boy", try letting him out, but asking him for help pushing the cart instead. Or help putting the pears into the bag, or help putting the boxes of cereal into the basket, or anything you are doing. For him it can seem like the most enjoyable thing in the world to help his parents with their tasks, even if those tasks are as mundane as handing the money to the cashier. A quick dose of hand sanitizer is a good idea after your toddler has been touching all of the germ-ridden surfaces at the store, especially if you let him handle money. You don't want to be adding a bunch of cold and flu bugs to the things you are picking up at the store.
5. Play I-Spy
Games like I-Spy are a great way to occupy your child for anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours (as in a long car-trip). Simply tell your little eagle-eye that you can see something, and then encourage her to try to see it as well. If your child is not familiar with this game, try it out in a more relaxed setting first like the park, where your attention can be more focused on helping her grasp the basics of the game. Another version of the game is to look for a certain thing, like "blue pants". Then every time one of you sees a pair, you can do a little song and dance. Oh, yeah, since you are in the super market, you may only want to give a high-five. As your little tulip-bud gets bigger you can try a version of the game where you bring a list of items for her to spot, like curly hair, apples, a baby, a balloon... etc. Then as she masters that version, you can begin to give her her own copy of the shopping list, and the game can become helpful as well as fun.
Over time the trips to the store will get easier. However, since we have to deal with going to the store now, try to keep in mind that as long as you are relaxed and trying to have a good time, your toddler will be more relaxed and open to trying fun new things as well. Think of each excursion as an adventure and you and your toddler will be able to share the fun instead of fighting your way through each trip. Please forward these tips to any parents of toddlers you know, and remember, questions and comments are always welcome. Happy parenting!