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How to Control your Child in a Supermarket Environment

Control is such a domineering word. Children do not need “control” as much as they need psychological understanding. Children go through stages of development. One needs to take the time to understand that, though the child is theirs, that child is, and always will be, an individual. Individuals differ greatly from one to another, as do children.

To help maintain an equalibrium in the supermarket environment, there are steps that you can take to make your life easier:

You live with you child. Take a moment to discover what times of day his mood is more amenable. Does he have a spurt of energy at 10:00 A.M and like to run or be more active? Does he get a bit “grouchy” just before lunch or just after? Is he ready to snuggle and passively explore about 11:00 A.M. Watch his traits as they show themselves. Then pick a time when you feel he is in a quieter, less exploitative mood and plan your supermarket outing around that time.

Do not take your hungry child to the supermarket! You know, from your own experience, that when you are hungry you want more from the market. Give him a light snack before you leave and, perhaps, even pack a small “baggie” of cheerios or other easy treat to take along.

If your child is young enough, keep him in the cart. Even up to 3 or 4 years old, maintaining him in a cart is easier than letting him run free. When he is old enough to do so, ask him to “help” you push the cart.

Advise your child of appropriate age of what will and will not be tolerated at the supermarket. Make those statements clear and let him know that, if he wishes to accompany you, he will follow those rules. Remember that kids do make errors in judgement at any age. Let him be reminded, gently, when he is breaking a rule. Also, make it clear that you can, and will, leave the store if he allows himself to get totally out of hand. If he is pushing the cart with you and decides he needs to run, handle the situation with calm aplomb! Do not lower yourself to scream and raise your voice. (He might actually be wanting you to do that). Walk to him, get down to eye to eye level, and tell him straightforwardly, that if he runs again you and he are leaving. The groceries can wait. Take his hand, put it back on the cart, and tell him the decision is his. Does he wish to continue, or shall you both leave – Now? Chances are very good that he may decide to follow the rules, since you have stated clearly and calmly. However, you should prepare yourself to do exactly as you threatened should he decide to test you. If he does not wish to cooperate, take his hand, advise the clerk that you are sorry but you need to leave now, take him to the car, strap him in his seat, and go home. He will scream, rant, rave, cry and generally be a nuisance all the way home. Do not rise to this bait. Ignore his temper tantrum, take him home and put him to bed. Tell him, calmly if possible, that you will talk about this with him when he settles down.

If you have had to leave the store due to your child’s not conforming to the rules make it a point to let him know that he will not go with you on the next trip. Tell him he will stay with dad (or mom), grandma, or a sitter. Tell him the truth; that you need to get groceries and he has proved to you that he may not be ready to go with you to do that. Most young people really enjoy the supermarket outing. By leaving him home this one time, you are showing him that his behavior has made this decision for you. Let him know that, though he is not going this time, you may give him another chance to prove himself later in the week. Then, when you do take him again, remind him that he did not like missing out on the outing and, if he wishes to go again, he must curb himself and follow your guidelines. It usually does not take too long for the young person to understand you do mean what you say.

Having a child in the supermarket is a good time to reinforce social manners. You can ask him, depending on his age, of course, to pick out the kind of cereal he wants. Be sure to say “please” and “thank you” to him. He will know that you value his aid and respect his decision. Things like, “excuse me” when passing in front of someone else browsing the shelves, will also reinforce manners. The little things, like being polite, saying proper words of etiquette, and showing respect for other patrons by not raising ones voice or running down the aisles, are very good teaching tools for our young people.

One thing we should all remember when taking children of any age to the store is that we most likely WILL spend just a bit more. If your child has been well-behaved, polite, and acted as he should, perhaps a small token reward would not be remiss. (Especially if he does not ask for one!) Toys from the supermarket are not the best type of reward. Perhaps a doughnut, a special ice cream treat, or a bakery cookie will be enough to let him know how proud you are of him. Even if a small reward is given, don’t forget to tell him in plain terms, also, that you really ARE proud of him, what a big help he was, and how much you enjoyed supermarket shopping with him.

Turning the “control” issue of children in supermarkets into a pleasant interlude where you can bond with your child, reinforce his manners, and spend a pleasant hour or so interacting, is what is important. If he cannot follow the rules, or if YOU cannot remain calm and refrain from chastising him in public in a loud way, then perhaps it is best just not to take the child along. If you raise your voice, promise retribution over an over again that you NEVER follow up on, you are only reinforcing a disrespect not only of you but from you for your child. Control is not the issue. Common sense, being the adult, and teaching everyday life skills are the issues.

You can have a great time at the store with your child. Silly word games as you move around, ideas from him for supper menus or things for his lunch, just talking and interacting, are all ways that you and your child get to know each other. If you just want a puppet to do everything you say, when you say it, and how you want them to do it, you should buy a doll.

Children are real people – If you treat him as a person your child will learn to treat others with respect also.