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Stored to Death

© Sergey Rogovets |  Dreamstime.com

A mainstay in my daughter’s stuffed animal collection is “Blue Elephant,” so named for the blue “fur” that sticks out around his clothing. Blue Elephant was waiting for her in the crib when she came home from the hospital because our then-16-month-old son had picked it out for her. Well, that wasn’t his intention, but that was the result.

I had taken my son shopping to the mall and ducked into JC Penney as our trip was winding down. Seeing the signs for a “baby sale,” I hurriedly pushed him through the racks of Carter’s outfits and accessories. As I paused in front of a shelf of stuffed animals, my son reached out, plucked the blue elephant off the bottom shelf and stuck its trunk into his mouth.

The salespeople were not watching, but I thought that after its “tasting,” the animal was too gross to put back on the shelf. So Blue Elephant came home with us and became my son’s gift to the new baby.

Luckily, that shopping incident only set me back about $12 and the animal was put to good use. Since then I’ve tried to become more aware of the dos and many don’ts of shopping with young children.

Some ironclad rules:
• Don’t go shopping with a tired child.
• Don’t go shopping with a hungry child (unless a snack or a meal is your first stop).
• Don’t go shopping with children if you can go by yourself.
(OK, that last one doesn’t really apply, but when that opportunity presents itself, make sure to grab it.)

Asked for advice about shopping with children, Becca Rice of Oswego remarked, “We always get to the line in the grocery store and there are 20 (extra) items and I don’t know how they got there.” They are the selections of her 4-year-old son, Keegan, who likes to stand inside the cart during the shopping trip. She buys some of his choices and so doesn’t need to use any distractions in the store. “He likes to shop.”

I like to shop, too, so after having children, I could either give up shopping or find a way to manage it with children in tow. Following the following recommendations can give you enough time to accomplish at least the minimum amount of shopping.

Make it fun.
Shopping fits under the heading of “errands,” so why do we expect kids to enjoy it? Instead look for aspects of shopping they will enjoy. At the grocery store, my kids and I would search for the shopping cart of their choice on each visit: Fire truck? Bench seating? Regular? Let them choose. They also insisted on taking turns putting each item in the cart, and pushing the cart, and riding on some unexpected piece of the cart. Remember, we’re trying to make this fun.

Make it social. I used to pick up one or both children around 3:30 p.m. from their daycare or preschool. Once a week we would make our trek to Wegmans in DeWitt and begin with snack time. They would select a pizza bialy or a salt bagel, some chocolate milk, and a free cookie from “the cookie man” in the bakery aisle. They’d climb up on the big barstool chairs, munch on their snack, and learn the art of people-watching. Nearly every visit, we’d spot someone we knew, say hi or chat.

When they had eaten, we’d begin the actual shopping process and at least they couldn’t complain about being hungry. More than taking care of snack time, I felt that I was teaching them to take time for a cup of tea with a friend. They learned how to behave in public and when eating out. The environment was not nearly as strict as a restaurant, but it was a lesson in not running around and causing havoc with other people or the store.

Make it educational.
Not only can children learn about healthy choices (graham crackers) vs. unhealthy ones (chocolate chip cookies), they also can practice math, reading and being a good consumer by helping with the grocery shopping. My kids still enjoy weighing the fresh fruits and vegetables on the scales in the supermarket; they like to choose the flavor of Pop Tarts (speaking of unhealthy choices); and they like to select some items for their lunches at school (applesauce cups or pudding cups; carrots or celery; strawberries or blueberries).

Just as eating out in a restaurant follows a script, so does shopping. And children need to learn how it’s done. If the store offers samples, it’s a good opportunity for children to try a new fruit, cheese or vegetable, too. My son, now 10, still does not believe he used to eat a tomato when riding in the grocery store cart. (He prefers ketchup these days.)

Make it short.
My sisters and I could shop all day, and we have. But my kids are onto me. They ask ahead of time just how many stores I plan to visit. Then they try to hold me to that. I know that two stores, maybe three, is about their limit. I also emphasize one store for them, one store for me; repeat. They like going to a store with DS video games to check out, then they need to not complain while going through a bath store with me.

Of course, their favorite store is Toys “R” Us. I refuse to go—except around their birthdays. I did sign up for coupons, so each child gets a coupon for use at birthday time. But I make my husband take a turn, so I only have to go once a year. The indecision, the roaming of every aisle, the comparisons, the requests for more; I suppose it could be me in Chico’s, but it’s not. I think it’s the kids’ revenge, in more ways than one.

Eileen Gilligan, a mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York