“No! Not a shoe store!!!”

“No! Not a shoe store!!!”

Shopping can bring out the best or worst in anybody, especially children. When you need to take your kids on lengthy shopping trips, remember their three basic needs:

Experience, Power and Connection

EXPERIENCE: Make sure your children bring something they CAN DO to keep their minds, fingers and bodies engaged in the car, in the store, and in lines. Small boredom-breaking fanny-packs or back-packs kids can carry with little action figures, cars, drawing materials, small books, etc. that won't ruin your day if they get lost, are perfect for bringing inside stores. Tying little toys into a large handkerchief or bandanna can provide a makeshift play-mat for a clean, clearly defined play area and make clean-up instant when it's time to go. You might even suggest they bring extras items to leave on mall benches for other kids whose parents aren't so thoughtful. Electronic games/phones/i-gadgets are great for the car or whenever you feel your children can successfully keep track of them. Then when they do, remember to point out the STRENGTH: responsible!

POWER: Include your children in planning the shopping trip, especially if it involves multiple stops. When my girls were little, three stops was the max; the fourth, no matter how short, was no fun for anybody. In your plans, make sure to include at least one kids'-choice store or department and get the "worst"  store out of the way first, when everybody is fresh. Is it clothes? Shoes? Your children will know. In a pinch, offer choices or start games - "Do you want to walk into this store with baby steps or giant steps?" "I spy a red bow on pair of shoes in this aisle," etc. or use the all purpose CAN DO: "Must be something you can do to make this store visit more fun." Then all you need to do is say "OK," or "Try again," until they come up with an idea that works for you.

CONNECTION: A 90-second connection can help children handle any tough moment. Connection is the most important need of all, and SAYing WHAT YOU SEE is always the best place to start. Imagine how 90 seconds of connection could have changed the following situations:

A little boy about 4-5 years old was leaving a department store with his mother. He was fine until he realized she was heading right back into another store. His wail, "No! Not a shoe store!!! I wanted to..." was interrupted with a sharp reprimand, "Stop your fussing. We're going in here, and I don't want to hear another thing out of you." Predictably his resistance escalated to the point where the exasperated mother was resorting to threats, "You keep that up, and I'll take you straight home and make you take a nap!"

A preteen shopping with her grandmother in a discount store responded to her grandmother's clothing suggestions with disdain, "That looks stupid! Why would you think I would like that? I don't like anything here." The grandmother muttered, "You're just spoiled," gathered some items and made her try them on. Predictably, the scene in the dressing room wasn't any better.

Instead, a 90-second connection with the little boy starting with what he wanted would've sounded like:

SWYS: "You thought we were done with boring stores; and now here's another one! There was some place else you wanted to go."
Child: "I wanted to go to the toy store!"
SWYS: "Of course you did! That's a fun store, and this one only has shoes. You've been so patient, and here I am wanting you to wait even longer without even giving you a warning. No wonder you are upset!"
CAN DO: "Hmm. We can go to the toy store next (or name another specific time). Meanwhile, even though this won't be as fun as a toy store, there must be something you can do to make this place more fun." (Examples: try on huge shoes or boots, make faces in the mirror, break out the back-pack...)

A 90-second connection with the preteen starting with what she wished would've sounded like:

SWYS: "You don't like anything here. Sounds like you wish we could shop at a different store."
Preteen: "Yea! [Hip Store] has the newest clothes. Everybody at school is wearing them."
SWYS: "No wonder you're put out. That's clearly the only store that counts, and you're stuck here, shopping with me. And I keep showing you things you don't like hoping you will like them. That's got to be hard for you."
CAN DO: "Hmm. Well, all I can offer you today is this store. You can decide if you want to try to shop while we're here or not." (Or say whatever you are willing to offer. For instance, if  [Hip Store] is OK with you but the prices are not, you can suggest she earn and save her own money to make up the difference.)

When you bring along toys, include the children in planning, and provide a 90-second connection as needed, you just might find that shopping can bring out the best in you and your children.

Happy shopping!


  1. Leigh Oberholzer |

    Hey Sandy! How refreshing to read this. I just got into work after a rough morning with Ben and Joe. It’s a comfort to be reminded of “do-overs” and “can-dos”. I hope you are having a nice holiday season. hugs to you and Eva, Leigh

  2. Leigh,

    Thanks for the comment and for mentioning “do-overs.” I didn’t think to say it, but 90-second connections like those above can make great “do-overs” for rekindling connection with your children when you are too far gone to say what you see on the spot. (We all have our reactive moments!) Even though it may look like they are pouting and shutting you out, your children are waiting eagerly for your understanding.

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