Tired of Grocery Store Tantrums? Read These MUST HAVE Tips!

It’s a common scene in the checkout aisle: a tired-looking parent is hurriedly putting the grocery items on the conveyor belt.

A baby sits in the front of the cart clutching a teething toy.

A three year old stamps her feet impatiently and then inspects the candy bars at eye level.

It begins with a tiny whine but quickly turns into an attention-getting wail. Two options are quickly obvious to the parent: buy the candy bar or endure an embarrassing meltdown in public.

Fortunately, there is a way to avoid grocery store tantrums:

  • Role-play at home

  • Give Reminders first

  • Be Responsive to Their Wishes

  • Set Realistic Expectations

Role play Grocery Shopping at home

A little preparation goes a long way. Here’s how.

  1. On a table or on a rug, have your child help you set up some objects to “buy.” Get a piece of paper and only write down a few of the objects on the list.

  2. Get a basket to gather the items you need to “buy.” Then, pretend you are going shopping. Show your child the list and read the first item on the list. Select that item.

  3. Intentionally reach for an item that you know is not on the list and stop yourself before putting it in your basket, reminding yourself that you aren’t going to buy it at this time.

  4. When you are finished with your pretend shopping, return the items to the rug and help your child make a list for his/her own basket.


“I’m going to go grocery shopping, but first I need a list….Okay, I’ve got my list! Now I’ll shop. First I need… Oh look at this! Wait - it’s not on the list. Maybe I’ll put this on my list for next week, but I’m not buying it today. Let me look at the list again. I need….”

Give a Behavior reminder First

Before you actually enter any store, remind your child what the expectations are for shopping. Do this by taking the time to bend down to your child’s level, make eye contact, and speak clearly and calmly. Tell your child exactly what you will do in the store together.  


“We’re going to go into the grocery store now. You will get to sit in the cart, and we will do our shopping together. Do you remember how we played grocery shopping yesterday? Well, here’s our REAL list! I’m going to need your help. We only need things that are on the list… Can you help me stick to the list?”  


“Remember that when we go into the grocery store, we will walk, not run. We don’t want to bump into anyone and hurt them! We will choose the items on our list, and we’ll be done soon. Then, we’ll be ready to take you to the playground this afternoon.”

Be Responsive to their Wishes

Grocery stores are designed for one thing in mind -- to get you to buy what’s on the shelves! Everyone can be susceptible to the desires for wanting to buy what isn’t needed. Your child may want something that is definitely NOT on the list, and if you say “no” and argue as to why it’s a “no," you may be in for a meltdown.

The trick here is to respond and respect your child’s wishes as valid, human feelings that are worthy of your attention. Be prepared to listen, answer empathetically (yet firmly!) and move on.


“I see that you really want to buy this, but it’s not on our list for today. Would you like for us to consider putting it on a list for next time?”  


“I know how you feel! You really want this. I wish we could buy it! I want it too!” 

Set Realistic Expectations

What grocery store will be easiest for you and your child to navigate? Is it the tiny, local shop on the corner with fewer purchasing choices? Or is it the big superstore with wide aisles? If you go shopping at 8:00am on a weekday, will it be less crowded? Or is the better time on a weekend in the evening?

If you can pinpoint the right store and the best times for doing your shopping, it could be worth the effort.

Young children have limited attention spans and limited tolerance for overwhelming situations. Consider bringing a toy to fiddle with in the cart or snack to eat while shopping. Don’t forget that even with very small children, taking the time to smell the oranges that you are buying can engage their short-lived interest a little longer.

For older children, consider giving them a list of their own to help shop with, or send them on mini-errands to pick up items. Most children love helping out when the work is purposeful. If you can involve them in the planning and in their own behavioral expectations, you'll have even more success!


“Oooh, look how red and smooth the apples are this week! Would you like to feel how smooth it is?”


“The next thing on my list is bread. What’s the next thing on your list?”  

Now, Make an Action Plan

Do you see a common theme here running throughout all of these suggestions? Having an overall plan and including your child in the responsibilities involved with shopping will help you get through your shopping experience in the smoothest way possible!  

Start now by writing down the answers to these questions on a pad of paper and make your plan now.

  1. Where do you commonly go shopping? List all the stores.

  2. Which stores seem to be easiest for your children to navigate? List the top 2.

  3. Which stores seem to be the hardest for your children to handle? List the worst 2.

  4. What are your expectations for your children in the store -- Sit in the cart? Walk beside you? Snack while shopping? Make sure YOU are clear on these answers before talking to your children.

  5. Have you role-played shopping? If not, put it on your to-do list now.

  6. Practice your language. Your child wants to buy a candy bar. You've decided it's not on your list. What are you going to say?

Happy shopping! 

Grocery Shopping With Kids PIN 2.jpg