Four Practical Tips on How to “Cart-Train” Your Baby/Toddler
I look forward to grocery shopping with my two-year-old every weekend. This mundane chore somehow became quite a special activity for us both! I am sometimes reminded that not all parents and their young children find grocery shopping as pleasurable. After all, trying to contain wiggly toddlers in a restrictive cart hardly seems like fun.
Here is my take on how to raise a good shopping buddy:
1. Start Young and Start Right
A good age to instill good shopping habits is between 9-12 months. Your child should be sitting confidently without support by then and can understand simple directions. Ideally, sitting nicely in a shopping cart seat should be the ONLY way they know how to grocery shop (instead of running around, expecting walk breaks, or standing inside the cart). Older children typically have habits that are harder to break.
2. Be on Time
The goal for your child is to remain in her cart during the ENTIRE duration of your shopping trip. We want her to be successful, and it’s your job to make that happen! In the beginning, I suggest bringing your child only for those “Oops, I forgot the milk!” or the “Let’s swing by to see what’s on sale!” shopping trips instead of the real deal. Start with 10 minutes, then gradually increase the time to 15, 20, 30 minutes, according to your child’s comfort level. Try to make it past the cashier before you have to pick up or walk your child! Get your child used to your expectation: When we shop, you sit nicely in the cart.
3. Treats, Please
In the beginning, always carry no-fuss snacks like teething rice crackers on your shopping trips. When you sense your child starting to get a little antsy, break off a small piece and reward her saying, “Great job for sitting so nicely!” Remember to do this every so often, before she has any chance to throw a tantrum. After making it past the cashier, you can reward your toddler with a more enticing treat like a juice box or fruit pouch. Present it with praise saying, “We are all done! Thanks for being so patient. You are such a good shopping buddy and I love hanging out with you!”
4. Create Wonder and Invite Participation
Now, this is where the true magic happens. Grocery stores are bright, colorful places filled with all kinds of wonderful things. Your child is seeing many of these for the very first time. I’d often pick up a fruit, hand it to my toddler, and describe it. “This is an apple. Isn’t it heavy? It’s red and very smooth. Can you drop it into this bag for me?” We’d talk our way through the fruit and vegetable aisle as I pick out next week’s produce. Invite your child to smell the freshly baked bread and feel the chilled milk cartons in the cold goods section. My son especially looks forward to the live seafood in Asian grocery stores. He would stare in awe at the crabs and lobsters crawling in their tanks and then help me decide what fish we should buy for dinner. There are so many teaching opportunities for language, science, math, culture, etc. Grocery shopping should really be a fun, immersive experience for the child! After all, your child is also getting one-on-one attention from her favorite person in the world.
Follow these tips and your child will have learned how to sit back, engage, and enjoy the ride. Before you know it, grocery shopping can be a pleasurable experience for you too!