This might come as a shock to some moms, but I actually enjoy running errands with my kids. I mean, let’s be real, I’m never going to turn down an opportunity to go grocery shopping by myself, but being that some amount of errands – shopping, doctor visits, bank trips, etc. – are going to happen with my kids alongside, I’m going to take whatever steps are required to make it a pleasant experience.
The key to making errands enjoyable is to run them with kids who know how to behave while running errands. (No surprise there). As with anything, preparation, expectations, and practice is key.
Here are a few things I’ve done that I believe contribute to a positive errand running experience:
TALK ABOUT EXPECTATIONS BEFOREHAND
The car ride to the destination is the perfect place to talk about expectations of behavior because you have yourself a captive audience. Our conversation usually goes something like this:
How are we going to act in the store today?
What does ‘good’ mean?
Staying by the cart.
Not touching anything unless you ask us to.
Using our indoor voices!
What about whining?
How are we going to act at the doctor’s office?
What does ‘good’ mean?
No talking when the doctor is in the room.
Yes. Unless he asks you a direct question. Then you can answer. But otherwise, no talking when he’s in the room so I can listen to what he’s telling me. What else?
Keep our bottoms on the chairs.
When mama says no, she means no!
And NO WHINING!
MAKE THEM WALK
As soon as my two older kids could steadily walk, I made them walk. I plan to do the same with my twins. The reason for this is two-fold. First, exercise is good for kids. It is physically beneficial for them to walk around the mall instead of riding in a stroller or cart. It gets them in good walking shape so when we want to walk to the park or go on a family hike they aren’t complaining about tired legs. Second, the only way to teach a kid to stay by the cart and not touch everything on the shelves is to put it to practice. Keeping a two year old in the cart stunts their development of self-control and hinders their understanding of good errand behavior.
GIVE THEM JOBS
I dream of the day I can give my oldest the list and have her call out and cross off the items while the younger three fill the cart with whatever she dictates. Maybe I’ll sit in the car and catnap while they get the shopping done. Until then, I delegate as much as is reasonable with a two and a four year old. Usually they trade off retrieving each item on the list.
Vera, can you get the oatmeal please?
Abel, while she’s doing that, can you find the box of cheerios?
Vera, will you open the eggs and make sure none are cracked?
Abel, can you pick out the milk with the red label?
Kids like helping, but this is only a secondary benefit to giving them jobs. The main purpose is to keep them busy so they don’t start poking the raw chicken or getting on each other’s nerves.
Kids can pick out and bag fruits and vegetables, they can put items in the cart, they can move cans that have been shelved incorrectly into the right spot, they can hold open freezer doors for you, they can push the cart, they can entertain crying babies, they can load items onto the conveyor belt and they can bag groceries, among many other things.
MAKE IT FUN
Kids that are having fun are less prone to get into trouble. In addition to finding jobs for them to do, look for ways to make the trip more fun. My kids like to play I-Spy, so we do that to kill time in a waiting room or in line at the store. I look for things they can count or words and colors they can find. We look at the people around us and try to guess things like where they came from or where they are going, whether or not they have children and if so how old they are, and what they might be cooking with the food in their cart. We have races (who can spot an American flag the fastest? who can find 3 orange things first?). We observe what’s going on around us and look for odd or interesting things. We talk about what they want to be when they grow up and why.
None of that may sound fun to you, but the point is to find whatever it is that is fun and intentionally do it. Make a point to make errands enjoyable and the kids won’t feel like they’re just being dragged along from place to place.
ASSESS THEIR PERFORMANCE
We set ourselves up for a good experience by talking about expectations of behavior beforehand and we conclude the trip by reflecting on their performance. I don’t spend a lot of time doing this – sometimes it’s just one little comment like “thank you for being so well behaved at the doctor’s office. I especially liked how you sat in the chair quietly while the doctor was talking to me.” Still, I think it’s worthwhile to say something (either positive or negative) about how they behaved in relation to my expectations.
>It was really great how you stayed by the cart in the parking lot, but next time remember that you also need to stay next to it while we are shopping.
>You guys were so helpful! Thank you for only touching the items I specifically asked for.
>Wow, that was a rough experience. Next time let’s focus on showing self-control and obeying the very first time.
You get the idea. It’s like a miniature review. It encourages them to know that I notice their good behavior and it prevents negative behaviors from sliding by without being addressed.
Errands Really CAN Be Fun
Not every errand goes smoothly. Sometimes my two year old swipes a stalk of celery and whacks a baby over the head with it, sending the baby into a fit. While I’m busy soothing the baby that same two year old accidentally knocks down a whole stack of blueberry pints that open upon hitting the floor and when I tell my four year old not to eat them she sits herself down in the middle of the aisle as some sort of stubborn protest.
And every time it happens, I leave the store thinking, I HAVE GOT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO NEVER LET THAT HAPPEN AGAIN. Humiliation is a powerful motivator. Using the strategies above, those everything-gone-wrong type of errands are few and far between. Running errands, even with four littles, can actually be FUN.