Coping with children

GOING SHOPPING with children can be a nightmare. Imagine this scene: You have stopped at the department store in between your busy schedule , to pick up something real quick. Your little child is in tow. Before you could make up your mind on your selection, you are distracted either by the wandering little one, or the small hands are tugging you real hard to get your immediate attention. Ignoring only results in persistent nagging, high-pitched complaints, or howls. He has spied that wonderful toy or a candy bar and he must have it right now, no matter what. Your voice is slowly rising in frustration, anger. First you plead, try to reason, and calm him down, but to no avail. You grit your teeth and stomp out of the store - steam coming out of your ears, or succumb to buying something just to appease the little whiner.

Most parents would empathise with the scene above. We all have personally experienced our little darlings driving us, literally around the bend. Shopping with children is a tiring experience. They are least interested in what you want to do and even a five-minute wait is enough to get them fidgety and cranky.

Not everyone has the option of leaving the child behind at home. Taking them shopping is pretty unavoidable, so you may as well learn how to cope!

The idea is not to give in or storm out or never venture into a store ever again with your child. Moreover, how can your child learn what is appropriate behaviour if you don't take him out and give him the exposure? Here are some tips. First of all, be alert to their needs: are they tired, hungry, overexcited by the noise and crowd, or simply in need of attention? A well-fed, well-rested child is much less agitated which also means, you are asking for trouble if you drag them shopping after they have had a full day in school.

Remember that they have their limits, meaning, "time" limits. The longer you take, the worse your nightmare.

Plan ahead what you are going to get, get it and leave. Don't get carried away by inspirational shopping. He is like a ticking time bomb ready to go off any moment. The underlying principle here is - your child is bored with your activity.

Establish some ground rules beforehand about touching, or picking up things. Most department stores are not childproof; fragile items could be displayed where little hands can grab them. It is your responsibility to make sure that displayed items can only be looked at. Children are naturally curious. If they want to examine an attractive item and if that item is hardy, help them to hold it safely, or better you hold it for them, or let them know that it can be viewed but not touched. Even if an item cannot be purchased, share the child's enthusiasm and interest in it. Make them know that you are paying attention to them.

Running around, hiding under garment racks, darting in and around aisles where other shoppers are dodging them means you have lost control over the situation. Make him aware that he is in the company of a lot of strangers. This could also be part of your ground rules. If this behaviour still continues, ask yourself if you have overstayed your shopping "time" limit.

Whenever possible, let your child know where you are taking him and for what purpose. That way he is informed and prepared. Try and involve him, as much as possible in choosing the article or helping you decide. That gives him a sense of involvement so that he is not looking for the first chance to dart away from you to entertain himself while you are occupied.

Don't be afraid to say a firm "no". Discipline can be achieved without scolding or hitting. Of course, that also depends on whether you have allowed your child a free reign at home where you tolerate any indiscipline in behaviour. If that is the case, your child doesn't know the difference; he is going to continue the same behaviour irrespective of the situation. You will do yourself, and the general public a favour by keeping your child at home.

Give him something to look forward to. Follow up these shopping sprees with a stop at the ice cream shop or a romp in the children's play area. Make this a treat and reward for cooperation and good behaviour.

Finally, don't cram in hundred and one things in your child. Your expectations of exemplary behaviour from your child, and tolerance from other shoppers are extremely unreasonable to say the least, if you do so. Happy shopping to you!


(The writer is the director of ProEt Centre for International Protocol and Etiquette. e-mail:; )

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