It’s school holidays here in beautiful BrisVegas. The local shopping centre is full of tired, frustrated parents and their equally tired, bored offspring. For the next two weeks, a visit to the shops will be an exercise in anger-management and impulse control, and so I’ll do my best to avoid the place as much as possible.
It’s not the children who annoy me. Far from it. It’s usually the parents who get my slapping muscles a-twitching.
Let’s try an exercise in role-reversal.
You there. You in the pretty dress and high heels. You’re coming shopping. I’m going to strap you into a metal trolley so you can’t touch anything or wander off on your own. You just sit quietly for the next two hours while I try to find something to wear this weekend. Don’t talk. Don’t touch. Don’t look at anything. Don’t try to stand up. Don’t complain. Don’t tell me you’re hungry, or tired, or thirsty, or bored. No, you can’t have a toy, or a book, or a snack. Just sit there quietly for two hours and do nothing.
And you, Sir. You in the striped shirt and polished leather shoes. You’re coming grocery shopping with me. Don’t wander off. Don’t touch anything. Don’t ask if you can buy anything. Don’t try to hold my hand, you’ll just be in my way. No, you can’t look at anything. No, you can’t touch anything. No, you can’t buy anything. Just walk behnd me quietly for two hours. No complaining!
Most women wouldn’t dream of taking their husband clothes shopping with them. After 15 minutes, the man would be bored and wander off to look at something electronic. (In fact, most women would do they same if they didn’t have a personal investment in the shopping.) But those same women expect their two year old to sit quietly and do nothing for hours on end without complaint.
Children are people too.
So, here’s the thing. It’s okay to feel frustrated with your children when they’re not behaving. We’ve all been there. It’s okay to be annoyed that you have no choice but to take your children shopping with you. We’ve all been there, too. It’s okay to discipline your children in public, or to cut your shopping trip short because you just can’t take it anymore. I know I’ve done both of those things (more than once).
Shopping with kids isn’t always easy, and school holidays are even worse. But here’s some handy hints to make the process slightly less painful on everyone’s part.
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Do choose the right time. If possible, make sure you’re home in time for Junior’s nap. If this isn’t possible, make sure you’ve got a plan for Junior to be able to nap while you’re shopping. A tired child is an annoying child.
Do feed your child. Make sure Junior’s had a good meal before you go out, and take plenty of snacks and drinks with you. A hungry child is an annoying child.
Do include your child. Let Junior put the groceries into the trolley, or hold on to the shopping list, or point out products you have at home. Ask Junior to read the labels, or count the number of products, or tell you the colour of the packets. Make up songs about what you’re buying, or ask Junior to memorise the things you need to buy. Get Junior as involved as possible for his/her age. A bored child is an annoying child.
Do set realistic expectations for behaviour and follow through on consequences. The younger your child, the more immediate the consequences (good or bad) should be. Telling a 2-year-old that he can go to the playground if he behaves for six hours is akin to telling an adult that he can have a beer if he behaves for six weeks. Neither is going to work. For a young child, try: “Now remember not to touch the shelves. If you can remember to keep your hands to yourself, I’ll let you hold the shopping list.” If Junior touches the shelves, take the shopping list away. Then: “It’s so important not to touch the shelves, isn’t it? If you can walk down this whole aisle without touching anything, I’ll give you another chance to hold the shopping list.” Whatever your reward or punishment, always follow through. An undisciplined chid is an annoying child.
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Don’t ignore your 5-year-old for ten minutes while he tries to get your attention, slowly progressing from “excuse me, Mum” to incoherent babbling and pulling on your arm. Really don’t then slap him across the head hard enough for him to fall screaming to the ground, and then turn your back on him and keep talking to the salesperson as though nothing happened.
Don’t stop in the middle of the supermarket to scream in your 2-year-old’s face, “I told you to stop talking to me! Now shut the f*ck up or I’m going to f*cking leave you here!”
Don’t tell your 3-year-old that she’s stupid, and then turn and walk away from her quickly so she has to run to keep up. Really don’t then stop suddenly so she runs into your legs and falls over, then scream down at her, “Stop trying to touch me! Just stay away from me!” and storm off, leaving your daughter crying hysterically and struggling to get back to her feet and run after you.
Don’t leave your 18-month-old unbuckled in a trolley, and then ignore him while you busily scratch your instant lotto ticket and he tries to climb out of his seat. Really don’t wait for the baby to fall four feet on to the ground, and then pick him up, slap him across the legs, and plonk him back into his seat (still not buckling him in) and ignore his cries while you get back to your tickets.
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If you can follow this simple advice, not only will you and your children get along a little better, I’ll be able to go shopping without feeling the need to take justice into my own hands.