Now What Do I Say??? At the Grocery Store


Last week we wrote about kid’s behavior at the store. Today I’m posting some ideas for conversations you could have with your child in the store. The dialogs you will have with your child will never be verbatim, but hopefully these scenarios will give you ideas about teaching your child something new and hopefully avoiding a tantrum.

Toddler: (sitting in the cart) “Stop, I want to see that” (or just pointing and hollering or crying depending on the age.

 Mom: “What is it you see?” Go over and get the item and show it to your child. If they want to hold it, tell them, “Be careful, because it doesn’t belong to us”. “Does this look fun to take home?”  (Discuss what is being looked at, what it does, how fun it would be to have one, etc.). Most likely the conversation will eventually turn to the fact that the child wants to take it home.

Child: “I want this”.

Mom: ”Let’s look and see how much it costs”. (Show them the price tag and explain that a price tag shows how much money one has to pay to be able to take the item home) “Do you have any money?”

 Child: “No, do you have money?”

Mom: “I have money for food for our family and to buy your clothes and shoes, but I don’t have lots of extra money to buy all the toys and candy we want. Be careful to not tell the child you have no money because they will wonder why you can buy food if you don’t have any money. Also, when kids get a little older, if they’ve heard over and over, “We don’t have any money”, they can worry that there is not enough money to buy food, or the necessities of life.

I grew up in a family that had very limited money. But, ironically, I never worried. I don’t ever remember being concerned that we would run out of food. I even had the impression that my mom could get me anything that I really needed.  It’s all in the way we verbalize things for our children.

There isn’t always time to stop and look at every thing your child would like to see.  Sometimes it’s okay to say, “We’ve looked at a few really fun things today, but we’re out of time and need to go home”. Remember too, that kids like to have some advanced warning. If you’ve used as much time as you can looking and dreaming tell your child, “You can look close at one more thing, then we’ll have to see the other things another day”.

Also, remember it’s fun to dream and healthy to teach your child to use their imagination. While at the store you could have a conversation like this –

Parent: “What would you do if you owned this whole store?” 

Or, “If I could have anything it this whole store for free I would get…  What would you get?”











What to do…

Grocery-Store-TantrumsWe’ve all been there. Standing in the check out line at the grocery store when a child (yours or someone else’s) starts crying or throwing a fit because they want something. All those candy bars and gum within reach, right at the place where you have to wait for the cashier!  It can be very embarrassing. But how do we avoid it?

First step Preventative

  • Before you go to the store make sure your child is not hungry, thirsty or tired. If they are, you are asking for trouble.
  • Take snacks (even if they aren’t hungry when you leave the house you’ll be ready when they are).
  • Establish expectations
  • Talk to your child about what you are going to buy at the store. Maybe show them your shopping list. If they have a little money, or if you plan to buy them a little treat, let them make their own shopping list (they can draw pictures if they can’t write yet)

Warning – even thought you had that great talk before you left home, sometimes seeing so may desirable things at the store may still get the best of that cute little person of yours and there may still be a tantrum. Just remember, learning is a process and changes often take some time but if you’re consistent it will happen.

At the store-

  • Use, “I understand” phrases. For example if they see something they think they just cannot live without, say, “I understand that it looks so delicious (or fun to play with, etc) but that’s not on our list today”, or “we can’t buy it today”.
  • Let them dream. I think every child, at some point, is going to see something they want at the store. Even I do, don’t you?  The difference is that we know that things cost money and that we can’t have everything we see. And that’s what we need to teach our children. But remember, even though we don’t buy everything we see that we want, we sometimes like to pick things up and look at them and dream about having them. When we can we should offer that same courtesy to our small children. Sometimes we think if we let them get close to an item they want (that we’re not going to buy) or hold it, that we have to buy it for them. But they can look and dream and not always buy.

Today while shopping at Joanns I was inspired by a young mom and her child. I’m guessing the daughter was about 3 years old and they were looking in the cake decorating section of the store. The little girl wanted something and the conversation went something like this:

Child: “Mom I wanna have this” (she was holding something that was pretty to her but it was not something she needed or would even know how to use).

Mom: “Oh, it’s nice”

Child: “I’m going to put it in the basket”

Mom: “You can put it in the basket for a little while but were not going to buy it today. You can just hold it for a while, then we’ll put it back”.

The little girl put the item in the basket like she was pretend shopping. Later it went back on the shelf.

If, after you have the pre-shopping talk, make a list, use “I understand” phrases, and try to talk them through their feelings and your child STILL throws a fit, you have some choices:

Stop. Stop walking, stop looking at things on the shelf, put down what ever you are holding, smile and look your child in the eyes.  Give them 100% of your kind attention. If they are calm enough to let you touch them take their face in you hands, stroke their cheeks and do some verbal reflecting.  Ask, “What do you need?”, or “Are you feeling sad?”  After they tell you what they’re thinking, you can tell them how you feel and what you would like to have happen.

If your child is out of control and can’t be reasoned with you could park your cart by customer service, tell them you’ll be right back and ask them not to put the things away and take your child outside for a few minutes to cool down, or re-set. Have a little Time In together.

And, last but not least, remember that if your child learns that you are not going to buy them everything they want, buy them something every time you go to the store, or buy them something to keep them quiet, they’ll learn that throwing a tantrum is  a waste of time and won’t do them any good.

“You’re Not my Friend Anymore”


One parent asked, “What do you say when your child tells you, ‘You’re not my friend anymore’”.

Read between the lines. What is your child really saying? They are probably feeling disappointed or angry because they can’t have something they want or do what they want.

If they had the vocabulary or ability they could say, “I’m feeling disappointed because you won’t let me eat cookies before dinner.” Or, “I’m frustrated that my brother played with my toy without asking”. But what child says that? None I’ve ever known. That’s because they haven’t learned how to identify a feeling, label it and express it correctly. Since they can’t identify and label the underlying cause of their frustration, they just use some words they suspect will give them some power or let someone know things are not going their way.  And they are usually right, it’s hard for a parent to not react when their child tells them, “I hate you, I want to go live with grandma”.

Becky Bailey in her book, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline writes “Children are not born knowing how to handle emotions, so they often rely on unproductive strategies. ”  She suggests – and I agree – that it’s a good idea to verbally reflect back what your child might be feeling and not rely too much on your child’s words because they can be misleading.

A few suggestions of some common reflection responses she gives are:

Child’s words                            Parental Reflections

“You’re stupid”                        “You seem frustrated with me”

“I hate you”                               “You seem angry with me”

“He’s a jerk”                              “You seem irritated with your brother”

For me this technique felt awkward at first. But as I practiced it became more natural to do. And if you get in the habit of reflecting your child’s feelings, your child will learn the names of different feelings they are experiencing and how to express them appropriately.  I agree with Bailey who says, “When [a parent] reflects the feelings behind [their child’s] behavior, [the parent] opens the communications channels between herself and her child”. After you’ve stated (reflected) how you think your child is feeling the hope is that they will continue talking and give you some more information about what’s going on it that little mind of theirs. Then you can use the experience to help them know how to better handle a similar situation in the future.

I know life can get busy and sometimes we don’t have the time or emotional energy to analyze what’s happening and reflect. So occasionally you can just smile and answer, “I’m sorry because you’re still my friend”.