You’ve had a long day at the office. Your kids have had a long day at school. You miss each other. But, sitting down to dinner seems a long way off. You have to shop for food and other necessities on the way home. You race to pick them up from afterschool programs, sports, and activities. They have stories to tell. You have a headache. Is it any wonder that they are acting up, whining and asking for every sweet treat in the store?
I witnessed just this type of routine at approximately 5:40pm last evening. The “I-look-like-I-can’t-control-my-kids” guilt plastered on the face of a young mother in the Shaw’s parking lot. She got the baby out of the car seat, grabbed the toddler’s shirt collar so he wouldn’t run into the parking lot, and simultaneously wiping what appeared to be a juice spill on her school-aged child’s white shirt. Who could blame her for snapping at them inside when they handed her candy and sugary snacks while she was taking a call on her cell phone.
Aahh. The cell phone. It could have been a call from the pediatrician. It could have been her husband saying he had to work late. It could have been important. When kids act out at the end of the day, all they need to calm them down is a set of expectations and your undivided attention. The whole trip might take 30 minutes. In that case, the pediatrician’s office, which is already closed, would leave a message. So would Dad. But, the joyful experience of reconnecting with the kids might just make a difference in the whole evening.
I challenged 36 parents in my last PTA workshop to leave their cell phones in the car during grocery shopping trips with their children. Instead, I gave them these ideas to help make the experience peaceful and teachable:
Set expectations: On the drive, tell the children you will be shopping together for a short time before you get home.
Invent simple games that tie in with their learning. For instance, ‘who can pick and orange or yellow fruit for tomorrow’s breakfast?” Older kids can devise their own games, like a scavenger hunt for snacks with no high fructose corn syrup.
Reward positive behavior. Tell the kids ahead of time that if they are patient and calm during the shopping trip, they can each pick out a healthy snack at the end. Sometimes, let them choose the dinner or the dessert!
Squat occasionally to their eye level. Advertisers know this trick. They prey on kids and parents by placing colorful, character-sponsored items in low shelves, within reach of tiny fingers. Avoid blaming children for this situation. If they ask for an item you don’t want to buy, simply squat down and say something like, “I know you love, Elmo. But, today we’re going to see him at home. We’re going to buy the green or purple box instead. You can pick the color.” By acknowledging the difficulty, parents show kids respect. That said, you may choose to buy the Elmo version once or twice!
Here are some results families reported:
“I was so shocked at how fast this method worked! It was hard to leave my phone in the car, but the kids responded well! When I get home I have to make dinner, clean house, supervise homework, and prepare for the next day. So, I’ve started to treasure the shopping days as a time we can reconnect.”
Mary Lou M.
“I actually had no idea how quick my 10 year old was getting in math. I have him track our purchases now as part of the shopping experience. He says he’s the “family accountant” and helps us look for deals.”
“It took a few tries before this really worked. But, I stuck it out, talked to the kids, and left our devices in the car. Now it’s a breeze. They know we will play the color game, read words on signs together, and pick out a treat at the end. I actually think other parents are envious and wondering how I do it.”
“When we allow children time to play and think they add new social, emotional, and intellectual knowledge and skills to what they already know,” says Dr. Diane Levin, author of Beyond Remote Controlled Childhood. “Time away from electronic screens bolsters their sense of self-confidence and their problem-solving skills.” Imagine. All this learning from one half hour in the grocery store… and a great start to the family evening!