According to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), consumers make purchases at shopping centers an average of 7.5 times per month. Shoppers also spend an average of 54 minutes in brick-and-mortar stores. That means that in any given month, you might be shopping with your children for nearly an hour on seven different occasions. That may spark dread – or fierce determination – in parents gearing up for another round of shopping.
We’re confident you haven’t made it this far as a parent without a few tricks up your sleeve to tackle the grocery store and weekly errands in a calm and collected style. But what about clothes shopping? It’s true that clothes shopping with your kids isn’t for the faint of heart. But it doesn’t have to cost you your sanity, either.
So the next time your little diva announces she hasn’t got a thing to wear in her closet and you realize she’s right, brace yourself. You can do this. With nerves of steel, some preparation, and extra caffeination, we know you can turn your next shopping trip with kids in tow into a success. Here are 10 of our own sanity-saving tips for clothes shopping with kids.
1. Set the Ground Rules
Tell your kids exactly what to expect before you head out for those 54 minutes of clothes shopping that ICSC cited. Create a list of what items are needed, and what you’ll buy. But perhaps just as importantly, focus on what you won’t buy. Include anything on your list from toys to that ridiculous kid-sized car in a window display that’s tempting you to drop a few hundred dollars to stop your kid’s meltdown.
Set iron-clad ground rules and stick to them, and explain any consequences. For example, tell your kids if they have a meltdown or repeatedly demand items not on the list that you will leave the mall without buying anything at all. The more your children see that your shopping agenda is absolute and unwavering despite their demands, the less likely they are to push the boundaries for next time.
2. Avoid Temptation Overload
Stop and ask yourself if your shopping trip is even realistic for your child to accompany you on, or if it’s temptation overload just waiting to spiral into the most epic meltdown you have ever borne witness to. If it’s the latter, consider going when your child is at school, at a playdate, or with a relative. Not all kids need to learn to behave while shopping; you just need to learn to shop without them until they get a little older.
Choose shopping locations that are deemed kid-safe and parent-approved. For example, toy stores masquerading as clothing stores probably aren’t the best place to take your child and expect a wave of calm. Pick a store your child will consider boring, like an out-of-the-way clothing warehouse with no toys at all. Then stock up so you won’t need to return until next season.
3. Make it Fun
Suffice it to say, not every kid enjoys clothes shopping. They quickly burn out on browsing woodland animal shirts and pint-sized royalty-inspired dresses and want to do something else. And that means the whining about the injustice of boredom comes next.
Schedule in some fun on your next shopping trip to rejuvenate your kids. Some malls have indoor play areas where kids can run and unwind. Bring a pack of crayons, paper, stickers, and small toy cars so your child can have a relaxing break in the middle of shopping. The more fun you infuse into your trip, the more likely your kids are to let you shop in peace.
4. Readjust Your Expectations
What exactly are you trying to accomplish while clothes shopping with your kids? You may need a reality check if it’s to outfit their entire wardrobe for the next four seasons. Instead, focus on the absolute priorities and wardrobe essentials first, and lower your expectations for everything else. The upside is that anything else you get accomplished will feel like an unexpected bonus round. And everyone loves feeling like they’ve come away from shopping a winner.
Remember to also adjust your expectations for your child’s behavior. If they’re prone to meltdowns and sensory overload, then you should be prepared for such behavior and stay committed to remaining calm and rolling with the punches. Then remember that you can’t expect to be a wonder parent while under shopping duress. A few hours of shopping with cranky kids is likely to turn you into an impatient mom with mascara streaks where you rubbed your face in frustration and anxiety. Give yourself a break.
5. Come Ridiculously Overprepared
Shopping with kids is no time to forget the extra snacks and diapers. Come ridiculously overprepared with extra contraband snacks you rarely let them get their hands on, extra diapers, a change of clothes, gadgets, and toys.
You need anything and everything in your arsenal that’s ever worked to entertain or calm your kids down. For starters, pack something special you haven’t let them play with in a while, like pipe cleaners or activity books they can doodle on while you shop.
6. Recruit Reinforcements
There’s no hard-and-fast rule that you can’t join forces with another mom to hit the shopping plaza. If all else fails, you’ll have someone to commiserate with when your child throws a pink yogurt cup across a rack of white clothes.
Team up and compare notes on what you want to shop for first. Figure out a strategy for who goes where, when to split up, and even who takes all the kids to unwind with some fun while the other sneaks off for a hurried game of “Will This Almost Fit Me?”
Your kids are likely to see the outing as an adventure with a buddy, and will entertain each other. Just remember to team up with families with similar or complementary temperaments. The last thing you want is to have to integrate a completely opposite set of clothes shopping preferences and methods with your own.
7. Plan for a Break
Shopping for clothes can be a fun adventure, but also completely draining for kids and grown-ups alike. Kids need breaks from the overstimulation of shopping plazas and malls. Find a quiet corner to either stretch out in and look at a book, or find a table for lunch or a quick snack.
Let your kids unwind, and look the other way once in awhile. They don’t need to be policed over every little thing they do, and they’ll want to blow off steam after some time debating about the need for multiple pairs of toddler jeans and corduroy pants.
8. Go on a Weekday Morning
Time your shopping trip to perfection and avoid the eager crowds. That means skipping Saturday afternoon sales and instead showing up the moment the store doors open for business. Try a weekday morning, or better yet, call ahead and ask when the quietest time to shop is. Your kids will be calmer without all the extra people pushing by, and you’ll get more accomplished faster than you thought possible.
It’s also wise to scrutinize the mall hours. Many shopping plazas open their main doors hours earlier than the stores actually open. Employees mill in, senior citizens start walking laps around the building, and the odd straggler comes in for the seemingly-always-open Starbucks. While peaceful, you could be looking at hours to kill before ever grabbing that pair of light-up sneakers off the shelf.
9. Bring the Really Big Stroller
Pick your shopping battleground equipment carefully. After all, a dainty umbrella stroller isn’t sturdy enough for some serious clothes shopping.
Instead, bring out the big guns. You know what we mean. You need that really, really big stroller that resembles a baby Winnebago complete with toys, cushy seat, blankets, safety straps, snacks and snack tray, and diapers to deal with an adventure at the mall. Tighten the straps, and choose a shopping time that stretches into naptime for a few hours of reprieve. If all else fails, at least you know your child is a captive audience.
10. Go Online
Not all shopping needs to be done at a brick-and-mortar location with copious amounts of sensory overload and kid distractions. Instead, curl up on the couch and go online in the safety of your own home.
If your kids are old enough, get them involved by showing them pre-vetted items that you’re willing to pony up for. And if your kids can’t deal with the screen time, or you can’t deal with them near your screen, then we say find a hiding spot where you can shop in peace. The soft glow created by your laptop or tablet in the back of the closet as you shop is always satisfying.
What are your top tips for saving your sanity while clothes shopping with kids? Let us know by leaving a comment below: