I think Christmas shopping and shopping generally with toddlers is given a bad press! With a little bit of planning and some common sense there are many practical ways to take the stress, frustration and tension out of buying your father-in-law his annual socks and festive tie!
* Remember that small children have limits.
If you are shopping with toddlers, be alert to their needs: are they tired, hungry, overexcited by the noise and confusion, or simply in need of some fresh air or a reassuring hug?
I don’t think it’s fair to expect toddlers to go from sitting in the car seat to sitting in their buggy for hours on end, so make sure you take breaks in your shopping to let them get rid of some of their energy and have some physical fun.
Lots of shopping centres have places for them to let off steam – or while you have a coffee let them move about while you supervise them.
I used to pop into the Early Learning Centre for a quick 20 minutes while they had a play to give us all a break!!
* A great idea is to get your child to wear something with pockets before you leave the house. Once you are at the shops fill their pockets with something healthy like raisins or grapes. Toddlers love to sit in the shopping trolley or their buggy independently digging out the raisins or grapes and you are able to zip around happily picking up what you need.
* Bring a small container with their favourite snack or a sandwich as a stand by as a hungry toddler is a grumpy toddler!
* Babies and small children can also become dehydrated in the dry air of shopping centres, so be sure to take frequent nursing or juice or water breaks.
* Make shopping fun – play games in the shops and look for things and get your toddler engaged in counting the reindeer or looking for snowmen.
* Keep their hands busy with a toy or a book to occupy their minds.
*Remember that children are naturally curious and this is how they learn about the world around them. Make the trip a learning time and sing Christmas songs or Nursery Rhymes and talk about colours or shapes or see how many circles they can find along the way.
If they want to examine an attractive item in a shop, don’t automatically tell them off or shout at them. Instead, help them to hold the item safely, or let them know that it can be looked at but not touched. You might say something like “This is breakable, so let’s just look at it together.” Share your toddler’s enthusiasm and interest at this exciting time of Christmas with all its sparkle and magic and see the world from their perspective of curiosity.
* Choose a time when you know your little one will have a nap and make sure they are in the buggy so you can shop while they are asleep.
* How about sharing your kids with friends – they go shopping for a couple of hours on their own while you look after their children and then you swap. You get far more done and you have a break and a bit of “me” time while your kids are having fun too.
* Toddlers can begin to be included in some of the shopping decisions so involve your toddler with questions such as “Which of these toys do you think Sophie would like to play with?” This can turn a boring, frustrating experience into a more pleasurable one, for everyone.
* Being surrounded by a crowd of adults can be a really intimidating business to small children, especially when shops are busy so using a backpack can be one way of bringing toddlers up to a height where they are more contented. It can also prevent the common, frightening experience of losing a toddler in a crowd.
A slightly older child can be a great help in shopping, if you approach it all in a spirit of fun and good humour. Ask them to go and get something for you while you supervise them as they love to be helpful and feel part of the shopping trip. Then praise them for their independence and help.
* Avoid the crowds.
Shopping just before dinner, when shops are crowded, and parents and children are tired and hungry, can be very stressful. Try shopping in the morning or early afternoon on weekdays, or move dinner up and shop during the quiet early-evening time between 6 and 7 pm. When you avoid the stress of crowded shops, busy car parks and long check-out lines, you have more energy and patience.
* Be prepared for the challenging check out.
With colourful, enticing sweets and treats on display be ready as these can throw your little one into a temper tantrum as you are both probably tired out and fed up waiting and they will become demanding and fractious. Be prepared and bring a favourite healthful snack from home which is an easy alternative to keeping them content.
* If you reach your limit…
If you reach the limit of your patience and energy, try to remain calm, centred and grounded and press your internal “pause button” and dig deep to find your positive ways of handling anger and fatigue. You might try saying, “I’m starting to lose my patience. I think I need a break from shopping for a bit. Let’s go outside for a few minutes so we can both get some fresh air” Even a few moments of fresh air away from the crowds can make a big difference for both of you
* If your children reach their limit…
If, your toddler has simply reached the end of their tether – respect that. Shopping can wait; an exhausted, hungry, or overly-excited child can’t!
Remember that all children behave as well as they are treated. A child who is regularly given your time, undivided attention, patience, and understanding will have more tolerance for a shopping trip – and any other challenging situation – than the child who must face stressful situations without your understanding and emotional support.
* Look for ways to positively praise your toddler for their good behaviour.
* And remember to make sure you have had enough to eat and drink before you go out to keep your energy up!
* You get what you focus on…………. If you think the shopping trip will be stressful, frustrating and tiring ….. guess what …. it will be….. . so get playful and creative yourself and remember to do this before you go out.
Imagine the trip going really well …. see what you see , hear what you hear and feel how good you feel when the trip has gone really well. Turn the pictures up brighter and bring them closer to you and relax.
Toddlers will pick up on your mood so make sure you’re in a good mood first and they will follow you example.
* Another tip is to remember a time when a shopping trip has gone really well and to go back and remember it in great detail. See the things you did and remember the things you said and how you said them. Remember the frame of mind you were in and remember how you felt and then simply copy what you did that day as it clearly worked!
So now enjoy you can really enjoy retail therapy!
Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert, Broadcaster, Speaker and Author of the Amazon best selling book “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the famous black and yellow series and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She has just launched her 1st Parenting Made Easy app for iPhones and iPads.