SHOPPING FOR REWARDS

Shopping with the kids can sometimes be a bit of trial for parents, especially when children become bored and irritable. Preschool-aged children may end up whining, touching things without permission, running wild in the aisles and getting lost, or demanding something be bought for them.

Of course, it isn’t that easy for children. Many shops seem to ensure your child will become over excited by the bewildering array of color, lights, and attractive items placed right at their own eye level. However, so long as you don’t expect your young child to be patient for too long, you should be able to help them learn how to behave responsibly when you are shopping with them.

To make a start, plan a series of short practice shopping trips spending only about five minutes in a shop. Before you leave home tell your child where you will be going, what you will be buying and when you will be back home. Decide on a few appropriate shopping behavior rules and discuss them with your child. These rules might include: “Stay close to Mom or Dad”; “Do as you are asked”; “Walk down the aisles”; “Speak in a pleasant voice”; or “Ask before you touch.”

As soon as you arrive at the shops involve your child in what you are doing. Talk to them about the decisions you are making. Children who are involved in a shopping trip are less likely to misbehave. If your child does not follow the rules you have set, calmly remind them and tell them what you would like to see them doing instead, for example — “Sarah, stop stamping your feet. Walk quietly.”

If you are having persistent problems that are making shopping difficult, it might be best to try a more intensive approach. This makes use of a number of stamps or stickers that your child can earn toward a special reward at the end of the shopping trip such as a snack or a coin-operated ride.

First, decide how many stamps or stickers your child must earn by following the rules to get a reward and what that reward will be. You will also need to tell your child the consequences of not following the rules. It’s probably best to use quiet time for this purpose — telling your child to stand quietly in the aisle for about 30 seconds before resuming shopping.

As your child follows the rules for a specified time, for example every two minutes or for every aisle passed, praise and reward them. If you use a small self-inking stamp you can easily stamp the back of their hand at the agreed times. If you are using stickers you will need to prepare a sheet of paper onto which the stickers go before leaving for the store.

When your child is reaching the special reward easily, start to phase out the rewards by making them harder to achieve. Continue to use consequences consistently if your child misbehaves or breaks a rule. If they do not reach the goal by the end of the shopping trip do not give them the reward. You should not however criticize them or take away any stamps they have earned.

If all this sounds a bit over the top, remember that it will be well worth the extra effort to teach your child such a new skill when you both can later enjoy your shopping. And using rewards to help achieve goals is a natural part of everyday society — we all prefer praise to criticism and usually do our best when we feel that our efforts will be rewarded.

Parenting Tip

Keeping you child interested and active while shopping can help prevent misbehavior. Try to get your child to find some items on the shelves, check prices, pass things to you, put them in the buggy, or spot different colors, shapes and sizes of items.

 
Dr. Matthew Sanders is a clinical psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia and founder of the Triple P - Positive Parenting Program.