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How to Shop With Children: My Three Rules

When you’re shopping with five small children, the trip can often be deemed successful if you leave with the bare essentials on your list, nothing in the store gets broken, there are no potty accidents on aisle five, and nobody gets injured in the parking lot on the way to a car. (Thanks again, Stranger Who Saved the Day, for the bandages from the glove box of your NRA tagged pick-up when Micah’s pinky fingernail was ripped clean off, in the pouring rain, by the wheel of a shopping cart.)

Just because you can’t predict what’s going to happen with all of the variables present (um, that’s a euphemism for children), it doesn’t mean that you can’t try to have some semblance of order.

Here are my three shopping rules:

1. Reverse single file. This means to form a line behind the parent-in-the-lead in reverse age order. This way, the oldest child (my Thomas is eight) can help keep an eye on the middle children and is bringing up the rear so that we don’t have any stragglers. Especially on smaller aisles here in Japan, where two people are the equivalent of a road block, in this formation we can maneuver quickly and without crashing into any old ladies. If someone wants to look at something, they can ask me and we’ll go over and look together. If Tom is with me, especially in very crowded places, one of us will lead and the other will bring up the rear. ( You might laugh and call me militant, but have you ever lost a four year old on the subway in Tokyo? Yeah. Thought so.)

2. Hands behind your back or in your pockets. I inherited this rule from my father. He is a woodworking artisan. When my siblings and I were young, my dad used to take us with him to art shows and antique stores while he met customers and solicited new business. He knew the shop owners and, as long as we promised to obey this rule, they’d let us into their stores even when there were “No Children Under Age Thirteen Allowed” signs posted. (Oh yes, these signs do exist!) This rule works just as well in an aisle of glass jarred condiments as it does in a curio shop. If one of my children would like to touch something, they can ask me for help and we can look at it together … after I peek at the price tag first!

3. Ninja Stealth Mode. My kids came up with this name. It means to be quiet in the store, and to walk in a way that no one can hear you. This is the shopping version of The Quiet Game. If you aim for total silence, you’ll probably end up with “indoor voices”, which works just fine. (The children are convinced that no one can see or hear them while they’re in Ninja Stealth Mode. If you tell them otherwise, I’ll have to kill you.)

Being respectful of the store and other customers is something many adults have never learned. It’s important to teach children how to behave when they are young so that when they’re old, they’re only playing Monkey in the Middle if they can afford to buy every item on the aisle!

Humor aside, please don’t drag your children along on “shop until you drop” excursions or be insensitive to your children’s basic needs while you’re out and about. If a long days of errands simply cannot be avoided, be sure to plan for snack and potty breaks. You may be able to survive 10 stores in a row without emptying your bladder or stopping at the vending machine for some juice re-hydration, but your dear children cannot. In one of my posts about biting, I addressed how unmet physical needs can contribute to bad behavior. The same ideas apply here.

By the way, there will be times that you’ll follow all the rules and you’ll momentarily lose a child or someone will steal a pack of orange Tic-Tacs. These incidents make for tender teaching moments for the whole family … not to mention great blog fodder. Remember: God is merciful, and He’s still in charge even when you kid yourself and think you have it all together, but don’t.

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