How to prepare a child for shopping

Shopping has become a family activity these days. Let us see how we can prepare children for shopping and what problems we might face if we don’t.

In this fast-paced life of ours, we usually only have a vague idea of what we want to buy and go to the shop taking our children along. It’s usually a supermarket where we adults pick and collect seemingly random things in the shopping cart or the basket. What the child sees is that he can also take whatever he wants. If, after picking up an item, he likes another one, he picks that up too. And when we refuse to buy those, it would be a huge disappointment. It would also seem very unfair since that’s exactly what we adults did – we get to keep the items that we liked and picked.

When this happens, the child does not learn to plan and act. It is a very important skill that has to be developed in their childhood. When he sees us plan, create a shopping list and buy only the things on that list, the child learns that very skill. While preparing that list we can ask him if he needs anything and would like to add it to the list so that he can buy them while shopping. You will be surprised to find that they’d buy only the things on the list. If we ourselves push the shopping cart and pick things up at random, the child would want to do the same.

To turn this around, we can prepare the list a day before and also include things that the child needs and asks for. It is always best to avoid purchasing items that are not in the list. But, under unavoidable circumstances, if you have to, letting the child know that you missed to write it and specifying the purpose of the item you are buying will help the child understand that every item purchased has a specific utility and purpose.

When we do not prepare children for shopping, they feel treated unfairly and express their disappointment as tantrums and public breakdowns that we’ll have to deal with. If we give in to their tantrum and let them purchase the items they picked, we’ll be validating and reinforcing their behaviour as a means to achieve what they want. At the same time, it’s best not to try to explain that throwing a tantrum is not acceptable when it’s happening but help them reflect on their behaviour at a later point in time. If the child is stubborn to get an extra item even after being given the opportunity to add items to the list before the visit, they will be able to recognise that when we talk about it later and make the best of the choice they were given.

As adults, it does us good to observe and reflect on our purchasing habits.

A bit of neat planning and not buying things without purpose helps our children stay away from patterns of Impulsive Buying and help them grow into responsible adults themselves.

Do let me know your thoughts on this and your experience of shopping with children. If there is anything specific you’d like to discuss or have clarified, please ask away in the comments section below.

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Vidya Shankar

Vidya Shankar

Vidya Shankar is a Child Rights Practitioner and Montessori Specialist with the TN Commission for Protection of Child Rights. Her role as a founder and mentor of the guides team at CFLS, besides being the main guide for Cascade adolescents has made possible the collaboration with Relief Foundation’s rural Montessori centres for mutual benefit and growth.