I confess that once mine hit school age, if I could grocery shop at 8:30 in the morning, after they were all safely at school, I did. It was so much faster. And so much less "Mom, will you buy me. . . ?"
Alas, that was only possible nine months of the year and only once child number four hit kindergarten. Before that, and every summer until they were old enough to stay home alone, grocery shopping meant having a child or two or three or four in tow. (While I might occasionally take an 'extra' child who wasn't birthed by me to the sports game of one of mine, or even a doctor or dentist appointment of one of mine, I drew the line at hauling other people's kids through the grocery store.)
Here are some tips and techniques for getting out alive, with your groceries and your children.
1. Feed them first. Never take a kid into the store hungry. They are easily enough swayed by the power of suggestion--seeing all the goodies in the aisles. Taking them in hungry is just asking for trouble.
2. Don't go at nap time, or immediately after school, if you can help it. A tired child is like a time bomb. It's going to go off, and you know what happens after that isn't going to be pretty.
3. Other than samples offered by grocery store staff, do not let your child eat while shopping. Some people seem to have no problem opening a bag of chips or cookies and letting their kid stuff face (or stuffing their own face) while strolling through the store. In my book, you don't eat it until after you have paid for it. It's just not done. Besides, if you followed the first tip, you aren't hungry and neither are your kids, so there is no reason to open and eat something before it has gone through the check out line.
4. Do not buy your kid something every time they walk into a store. It just teaches them that they are entitled to a new object simply because they walked through the front door. Also teaches them to start whining for whatever thing they want this time as soon as you pull into the parking lot. How peaceful do you think that shopping trip is going to be?
5. Insist on indoor manners. Low voices. No running. Hands to themselves. In fact, hands in laps for those young enough to ride in the cart, and hands either on the side of the cart, or folded in front of them for those old enough to walk through the store. For those children prone to wandering, insist they have one hand in contact with the cart at all times.
6. Enlist their help. Ask them to help you pick out produce and then show them how; shopping can be an educational experience! Besides, you want your kids to be able to both feed themselves well and get the most for their money when they are grown up, right? Likewise, you can have older kids run price comparisons between the same item of two different brands. Or a name brand item on sale versus the store brand at regular prices. Gives them something to focus on instead of being bored while shopping, and it strengthens their math skills. You sneaky parent, you!
7. If you have kids old enough to be out of your sight in the store for five or ten minutes, break them into groups, and give each group a handful of items to go find and retrieve for you. It's a grocery store scavenger hunt! Plus, talk about multiplying your time--now you can get two or three times as many items selected checked off your list in the same amount of time it would take you to do it all yourself.
8. Speaking of list, shop with a list! This makes it so much easier to turn down requests for impulse items by the kids. You can say, gently but firmly "Today we are only buying what is on the list, and that isn't on it. Sorry." This is also a sneaky learning experience for them: they learn the importance of planning ahead, shopping with a list, and prioritizing need versus impulsive want. Trust me, if you do this enough, they pick up on it and it becomes ingrained. You are shaping their future shopping habits.
9. Last but not least, in fact, it should be number one rule for taking kids shopping: don't be afraid to discipline them in public! If they are acting up, let them know their behavior is unacceptable, and make sure there is an immediate consequence for it. Two hours later when you get back home is much too late. You missed the discipline impact zone. The sooner after the offense the disciplinary action takes place, the more effective a lesson it is. Ask my sons about what happens when middle school boys mouth off to their mama in the grocery store. They will tell you that a boy who gets too big for his britches, thinking he's too manly to have to listen his mother, thinking he can talk back, ends up having to hold her hand and 'keep her safe' during the rest of the shopping excursion, since he's such a big tough guy. This is one of those 'you will only have to do it once' kind of disciplines. Likewise, if your troupe of children (or even just one child) is just being utterly unbearable and naughty in the store, don't be afraid to leave the store, without your cart of food, without going through the checkout line.
Yes, leave the groceries there, and take the child straight home to bed. Total shock value of seeing that cart of food left behind is a pretty good reinforcer for You Must Behave In The Store. I did feel bad for the store employee that ended up having to empty my cart and return all those items to their proper shelf spaces, but again, this is something I only had to do once. The kids got the message loud and clear, and were never that bad in the store again. Did I have to resort to spanking or physical punishment? Nope. Just a bit of embarrassment and the kid figured it out.
I'm sure somewhere out in Internet Land someone will read this and just be totally put off by the way I raised my kids. I mean, embarrassing them in public, that's the same as bullying, right? Weren't their little psyches smashed? No. Shaped, not smashed. If you look at my adult offspring, you'll find well adjusted, hardworking individuals who know the world does not revolve around them and that there are unwritten rules to life, rules that need to be followed for the world to function smoothly.