From strop to shop – five ‘no tears’ tips for shopping with a toddler

Do you dread the inevitable toddler tantrum when shopping with your child? Read five ‘no tears’ tips for a more pleasant experience for everyone. 

Have you ever felt like screaming yourself as your toddler throws a fit on a supermarket floor? Coping with public tantrums is just one of many tests of your patience as a paren – and sometimes it’s enough to make you think twice about heading out with your child at all.

New research of of 2,000 UK parents commissioned by NewRiver, one of the UK’s largest shopping centre owner/managers, reveals that:

  • 38% of parents claim their child has thrown a tantrum while shopping.
  • 43% say they’d rather avoid a trip to the shops with the kids.
  • 25% admit to using sweets and bribery to get their child to behave when shopping.
  • 32% of mums and 22% of dads say they’ve felt judged in a shop when their kid started playing up.
  • 42% of dads said they  have judged another parent whose child was misbehaving.

Why DO children have tantrums in shops?

So what can we do to try and make shopping a more pleasant experience for everyone? Child psychologist Dr Sam Wass, who appears in Channel 4’s The Secret Life of Four Year Olds series, explains the reasons behind shopping centre temper tantrums:

“Most children throw tantrums at some point – but, of all the times when they might misbehave, shopping is one of the most common.

From a scientific point of view, we understand quite well why this is. Children tend to be more up and down in their moods than adults are – and are more affected by moving from a calm environment to a stressful one. Shops tend to be full of unfamiliar people and can be quite an unstructured and unpredictable experience. Children can feel they have no control over what happens next which can cause anxiety.”

However, she cautions against bribing your child into good behaviour:

“…using sweets and other bribery tactics… can be quite counter-productive. The more presents you buy for children, the more presents or treats they will ask for. This might calm a child in the short term – but in the long term it can lead to further oppositional behaviours and naughtiness. Instead of costly gifts, try turning to buying healthy snacks which are still considered a ‘treat’ for the child.”

Five ‘no tears’ tips for shopping with a toddler

Bribes aside, there some things you can do to create a more enjoyable family shopping experience. Dr Sam Wass has worked with NewRiver to provide five tips to help you manage the structure of shopping and minimise stress for kids:

  1. Set a time limit – time is a difficult concept for children to grasp so giving your child a clock or timer to look at would be a good way of helping them feel in control of the situation. Agree a time limit for being in the shop, encouraging them to watch it countdown.
  2. Create a shopping checklist – make the experience interactive and agree a shopping checklist which children can help to tick off, understanding that once the list is complete it’s time to go home. Ask them to help find the items they like: ‘Oh look, we’re in the cereal aisle, please can you find me the Ready Brek.’
  3. Plan breaks – plan regular breaks in between shops with intervals of play or refreshments to keep children stimulated and give structure to the trip.
  4. Make them wait for rewards – if you do want to buy a present for a child, it’s better not to give them the treat the moment they ask for it. Learning to wait is an important life skill for children to develop. Rewards for good behaviour are most effective when they are predictable, consistent – and when the child can see them coming in advance.
  5. Watch out for warning signs – look for early warning signs of an outburst (agitation, hunger, tiredness or stress) and try to pre-empt the problem with a break, or a healthy snack. Be aware that your mood affect your child’s mood: shouting at an already anxious child is likely to make them behave worse, not better.

To make shopping even easier for mums and dads (and enjoyable for everyone) NewRiver is also developing a Kids Club and, with the help of Dr Sam Wass, they’re planning a series of initiatives to help parents. This includes training local security teams in ‘tantrum taming’ and introducing treasure trails, free play areas and activities for children in their food courts.

You can locate your nearest New River shopping centre on their website