How to Stop Supermarket Store Meltdowns

Fortunately, with a little advance planning and preparation, people will be staring at your toddler because he’s so well-behaved instead of gawking at him for tipping over the candy display in aisle four because he wants candy now.

The key to avoiding a grocery store meltdown is to prepare to prevent one. Taking overtired, hungry toddlers to the grocery store is setting him up for a meltdown. Grocery stores are stimulating places. There’s so much to touch, see and hear and it can be really hard for toddlers to keep their hands to themselves – even when they are at the top of their game. Developmentally, toddlers are at a stage where exploration is how they learn and experience their world. They want to see, touch and hear everything. Timing your trip to the store when your toddler is well-rested and well-fed will reduce the likelihood of a meltdown.

The next most important thing you can do to prevent a grocery store meltdown is to lay out the expectations you have for your child in advance. “We are going into the grocery store. We are getting dinner foods. We are not getting candy. I need you to walk beside me and not touch items on the shelves.” Only when your children know your expectations can they live up to them. Telling your child to be good isn’t good enough. Providing clear and concrete expectations will help your child understand what you expect him to do while in the store.

Telling your toddler what he can do is just as important as telling him what he can’t do. “While we’re at the store I need you to drive the car.” “I need you to look for carrots.” “I’ll need you to help carry the box of crackers.” Assigning your toddler manageable tasks will help him be invested in ensuring the trip is a success.

Offering a motivator is another way you can decrease the likelihood of a meltdown.  Offering up an “If you don’t touch things on the shelves, when we are finished shopping we will stop at the playground for a bit” will go a long way in facilitating cooperation. Consider your toddler’s currency. What does he love most? Playing outside? Getting a special treat? Spending one-on-one time with you? Figure out what motivates him most and offer a motivator that speaks to his head and heart.

Following through is key to sending the message you mean what you say and you say what you mean. If you offer your child a motivator, be prepared to deliver. If you threaten to leave your cart and walk out the grocery store if he touches something on the shelf one more time, be prepared to pick him up and  head out. Empty threats won’t fool your child. Once he knows you won’t follow through be prepared to be tested.

Going to the grocery store doesn’t have to be a horrendous experience. In fact, it can be pretty stress-free if you set yourself and your toddler up for success. And if you find it’s not, there’s always Peapod or your local online grocery delivery service.

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