As parents of infants and/or toddlers, you know that once your child is physically capable of sitting in the front of the shopping cart, it’s a game changer when it comes to shopping with your child in tow. It might not be a milestone for the baby book, but most parents can recall the first time they went shopping and their child wasn’t either strapped to them or strapped into their car seat.

However, that sweet spot of having your child contained and your hands free to shop is short lived. Eventually, your toddler gets too big for the cart. Or, worse, you have to shop somewhere that doesn’t offer carts—ack!

Either way, at some point we get to teach our children to behave appropriately in public. Shopping is an unavoidable part of life and, believe it or not, can really be fun with a curious toddler by your side. Here are some strategies for creating fun and peaceful shopping trips.

Set up for Success

Plan your shopping trip when you and your child are well rested, fed, and up for an adventure. Go when you have plenty of time to use teachable moments and can enjoy seeing the world through your child’s eyes.

Shop Till You Drop

When it comes to shopping with preschoolers, normal child behavior that can lead to parental frustration can include:

  • Your child’s curious hands want to touch everything.
  • Your child not staying with you/running up ahead.
  • Your child’s upset reaction when you set a limit.
  • Your child yelling or being noisy after you’ve asked them to use a quiet voice.

It’s normal for toddlers and preschoolers to get tired and irritated easily, especially in situations where they are bored or expected to be calm and patient for an extended period of time. Many parents have found that doing a series of “trial run” shopping trips where you and your child spend under 10 minutes in the store and work your way toward larger trips is a successful way to teach acceptable shopping behavior.

Establish two or three “shopping rules” your child can easily follow and go over them before each shopping trip:

  • Stay close to Mom or Dad. (Hold hands in the store)
  • Use your walking legs. (Feet)
  • Ask before you touch. (Hands to yourself)
  • Use a quiet, indoor voice.

If you decide to offer a reward for following your shopping rules, mention it just after you go over the rules: “Peter, if you can follow our shopping rules while at the store, we can play at the park when we are through shopping.”

Shopping Strategies

If you can keep boredom at bay, your preschooler is less likely to engage in disruptive behavior while at the store. In addition to establishing some shopping rules or offering a reward, there are other strategies you can try that will keep your preschooler active, including:

  • “I Spy” games.
  • Holding the grocery list.
  • Helping you find items or making simple choices: “Should we get red apples or yellow apples?
  • Getting non-breakable items from the shelves for you.
  • Handing items to the child to put in the cart.
  • Finding different colors, shapes, and sizes: “Carmen, can you spot all the red fruits?”

Temptations abound at most stores. Even the most basic grocery store has small toys and candies at eye level for little shoppers—be prepared to have to set a limit several times throughout your shopping trip. Some parents like to include in their pre-shopping pep talk, a discussion of what to expect at the store: “Alison, we are going to the store to get milk and cereal. We are not going to be picking out toys or treats today, but we can get a new book from the library later today if you can follow our shopping rules.”

Super Shopper!

Remember to notice when your preschooler is following your shopping rules. “Justin, you are doing a wonderful job staying with me while we shop. You are being a big help keeping our grocery list safe in your hand.”

If your kiddo needs a little more incentive to follow your shopping rules, try a reward system that offers a stamp or sticker for following the rules. Set a goal in mind, such as 5 stickers to earn the reward. Then, offer a stamp or sticker for every aisle your child walks by your side or doesn’t grab things without asking.

In general, most preschoolers love to be helpful, as well as do “grownup” things. Shopping with preschoolers has its challenges, but it’s also a teaching opportunity and a chance to bond with your child over every day routines.. And with practice, you might find yourself in the company of a very helpful shopping partner!


This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website ( or contact us at

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