One of my nightmares when my children were young was having to go shopping--or anywhere actually--during the Evil 5 O'Clock Hour. You know, that time of day when your sweet child transforms into a crazy person.
She goes hysterical at the drop of a hat. Melts down at every turn. And God forbid you have to bring this ticking time bomb to the grocery store.
I know you'd rather hibernate at home, but let's get real: No matter how well we plan, we've all entered the treacherous waters of approaching the dinner hour with not a single crumb in the house, or having just used the last diaper in the pack.
Thankfully, over the years I've learned some tricks for surviving this stressful ordeal, which I am happy to share with you.
1. Establish a Mood of Cooperation
Surprisingly, sometimes it's your child who can make the impending shopping trip okay after all. Even a preschooler can think of what would make it easier for her to go to the store...
Would he like to leave now or in 10 minutes? Would he like to wear his Superman cape to the store? Would he like to use the regular cart so he can be close to you, or would he rather "drive" the cart that looks like a car?
Give your child some choice about how and when the trip is going to take place, and you establish a mood of cooperation (and prevent meltdowns from occurring in the first place).
2. Invite the Tantrum Before Leaving Home
If the above tip doesn't work, and the mere mention of having to go to the store sets your child off, you can be pretty sure you are headed towards a tantrum. Wouldn't you rather have the tantrum in the privacy of your own home rather than in the middle of Aisle 6?
It's pretty easy to push a child over the edge. With a cranky child, just hold a limit. It doesn't matter what.
You could insist that it is time to put the trucks away or put on shoes. When your son starts to howl, kindly but firmly start putting the trucks away. If he grabs the trucks or hits you, hold him so that he cannot hurt you, and keep putting them away.
The tantrum will escalate. Good! This means he is letting off the tensions of the day. When the tantrum passes-however long it lasts-it will be like the sun has come out from behind the clouds, and you will be able to leave for the store.
3. Set Expectations On the Way
On your way to the store, be proactive and help your child regulate his expectations by letting her know exactly what kind of trip this is going to be.
"We are only getting a few things. (Could you hold the list for me, sweetie?) We aren't getting anything that isn't on the list. (No raspberries, dinosaur pasta or "special treat" cereal today.) But we are getting apples. (Do you want red or green?)"
Tell her where you are going to go first, next and last.
If you want, go ahead and bribe her. I would tell my child, "If you are helpful and keep your bottom down the whole trip, you may get a sprinkle cookie for after dinner."
Just one word of caution: if she is not cooperative, she cannot get the cookie, and that means you may well be asking for another tantrum.
4. Make Shopping an Adventure
Once you get to the store, be cheerfully confident that the trip is going to be fun. Your child will feed off your positive energy.
Start singing and skipping through the parking lot. (Don't fear embarrassment. If it makes the trip go off without a hitch, dignity be damned!)
Try singing, "We're going to the store/We're going to the store/Hi Ho the Merry-o/We're going to the store!" If it is working, add more verses: "We'll buy the apples first, we'll buy the apples first, etc."
As you are singing, you won't have to stop to have conversations about which cart to use or where to sit. You'll just swing him into the seat in time to the music before he has the chance to protest.
Once inside, let your imagination soar! Would he like to go on a treasure hunt for ingredients to break a sorcerer's spell? Would she like to be a princess on parade, giving everyone the royal wave? Is he sailing his schooner across the high seas?
5. Administer a Strong Dose of Empathy (Laced with Redirection)
You know as well as I do that a grocery store deliberately places toys and yummy snacks right where a child is most likely to see them. It's like running the gauntlet. So, when your child cries out for the bubbles, it's time to bring out your bottle of empathy...
Just say (as if you had no control over it), "Aw, too bad it is not on the list!"
And then as you push by the bubbles, add in your most energized voice, "I love bubbles! They're so much fun!! I like the way they shimmer with different colors!! Don't you think bubbles are just the prettiest?"
With any luck, your daughter will get excited just talking about bubbles. Before she remembers she wanted to buy them, you will be aisles away and looking for the next item on the list.
When All Else Fails
Will these tips work every time? Of course, not! Some days, the tears just need to fall.
In these cases, the only thing left to do is snatch that essential item on your list and make a dash for the door!