Yesterday, I posted this picture to Instagram of me and my crew in an aisle full of breakables at Home Goods with a caption that went something like, “Some might call me brave. Some crazy. But we all know what Nola thinks.” (She’s the one sitting down in the basket).
I’ve noticed that every time I post a picture of me with my kiddos out and about, the response is almost always, “Holy cow! I only have one, and I feel like I’m going to lose my mind!” or “Going anywhere with my four feels like torture.”
And I get that. I do.
My kids are NOT calm, quiet little beings. They are–ahem–FULL of personality and energy. Which can translate to some pretty disastrous outings.
But here’s the thing: we live 30 minutes from a town of any appreciable size, and I’m not one for: a) making multiple trips just to avoid having the “inconvenience” of kids with me (okay, there are no quotations necessary; it is inconvenient. I’m just loathe to use that word in relation to my children) or b) shopping at 10 PM just so I can go alone. (Although, I know plenty of mamas that are down with both of these things, and if that works for you, rock on!)
Plus, since I teach fitness classes in said 30-minute-away town, I like to combine my trips as much as possible, which means that I’m often spending several hours at a time out and about with 6 kids in tow.
Sounds exhausting, yes?
MOST of the time, though, it’s really not that bad. Certainly, we have our share of bad attitudes (mine’s usually the worst), toddler meltdowns, diaper blowouts, and the other usual casualties of hauling small children out in public and then requiring them to behave while doing boring things like grocery shopping or returns.
But we also have–dare I say it–fun during our outings. (I can hardly believe I just typed that). I’ve been dragging kids along with me on errands for 9 years now, so I thought I might share my best tips for making the experience as manageable and even marginally pleasant as possible.
Feel free to skip them if you’ve already got your routine down pat, but if they can help even one person, I figure it’s worth posting.
I don’t always remember to do this, but when I do say a quick prayer in the car before we head out on our missions, things always seem to go more smoothly, if for no other reason than that my attitude tends to be better.
It also helps hold me accountable, since my kids have just heard me asking the Lord to give us “patience and kindness.”
2. Convey Clear Expectations
So, you’ve prayed about “patience and kindness” and all that, but kids can always use a little positive reinforcement and specific instruction, so I like to take a second in the car to remind my kids to “be a blessing” everywhere we go and let them know how they can do that (i.e. opening doors for the stroller or other people, carrying packages into the post office, entertaining their little sisters, etc.).
Note: I know how tempting it is to threaten your kids within an inch of their lives with exactly how. much. trouble they’ll be in if they misbehave. I’ve done it plenty of times. But you know what? Kids respond so much better to praise than threats. So, I try to remind my kids of the logical consequences if they act wild and then follow it up with, “But I know you guys will do great because y’all are awesome, and I’ve seen how good you are at being a blessing to others.” (They ALWAYS beam and nod enthusiastically when I say that…which always makes me feel ashamed that I don’t say it more often).
OH, and this is a somewhat recent development for us, but in the past year or so, my three oldest (ages 4-9) have definitely developed strong cases of the “Gimmes” anytime we go anywhere with toys. Or gum. Or drinks. Or…anything. At first, it was a bit of a shock for me because I’m not in the habit of buying my kids “bribes” just to go shopping with me, and I wanted my kids to just quit being such materialistic hedonists, for the love! But then, I came back to planet earth and remembered that I’m mothering little sinners just like me, and I like to buy new things too.
So, I’ve explained to them that, unless I’ve told them ahead of time that this is a day when they are allowed to buy something with their allowances, then they shouldn’t even ask. Does it work perfectly? Nope. They still badger sometimes. But it has definitely curbed the constant requests for “Just this little thing, Mama,” or “ONE pack of gum, plllleeeeeease?”
3. Give Them an Itinerary
My older kids loooooooove it when I tell them exactly how many errands we’re going to do and in what order.
I, on the other hand, despise it.
Because if, as often happens, we need to change up our game plan, at least one of them will inevitably say, “But, Mama, I thought you said THREE errands in THIS order!” (Insert: sudden spike in my blood pressure).
Even so, things usually go better when they have an idea of how long they’ll need to “keep it together” and in what kinds of environments.
So, I usually say something like: “We have two errands to run–the post office and the grocery store–before the gym. IF we have time. If we don’t, please don’t correct Mama or worry about it. We’ll get them done another time.” (Because, yes, children sometimes complain, even when you do fewer errands than you warned them about).
4. Channel Your Inner Boy Scout
Seriously, the difference between a failed errand and a successful one can usually be traced back to how prepared I was.
Oh, good grief, Abbie. Are you seriously suggesting that I make a game plan for a trip to Walmart? That’s way too much work.
Not quite. But if you know you’ll need to do multiple errands in a row–especially with really little kids–having an arsenal of distractions and time-stretchers is pretty key to not losing your ever-loving mind.
I haven’t taken regular trips to Goodwill in a while, but I did take 5 kids with me pretty frequently when the twins were younger. And I knew we were going to be there for a minimum of 2 hours each time, so I would plan ahead with levels of distractions.
For example, I’d make sure to stash the following in my purse:
I really think the key to keeping your toddler from losing it during a longish errand is degrees of distractions.
Here’s what I mean: when you first enter a store, a little kid will probably be interested in surveying his surroundings and might not need anything else to keep him happy. This could last anywhere from 5-30 minutes, but I usually get about 15, if I’m lucky.
When the natives start getting restless, I’ll pull out a snack like pretzels or graham crackers. This buys me another 10-15 minutes.
And then, of course, when they’re done with their snack, they’ll be thirsty, so I whip out the juice cups. We don’t drink much juice at home, so even watered down grape juice seems like a big treat and keeps them occupied for a while.
Usually, by this point, they’re pretty content to go back to observing for a while since their bellies are full and happy.
When, as inevitably happens, the whining starts up, I’ll pull out their favorite portable toy, which almost always swings their moods back in the right direction.
Fruit snacks are a big treat around our house and take a while to chew through, so they might make an appearance if necessary somewhere around this point.
Depending on how much time we’ve got left and how desperate the situation is looking, I’ll pull out the big guns. SUCKERS. You can do organic or sugar-free or whatever you need to to assuage your mama-guilt, but honestly, we eat these SO rarely that I’m okay with my kids having a Dum-Dum every once in a blue moon.
Of course, the genius of suckers is that they take a long time to eat.
Last AND least, if we absolutely have to stretch it just a liiiiiiiiiittle bit longer, I’ll pull out my phone and let them zone out to Peppa Pig or play a couple of rounds of Angry Birds. I’m not a fan of using portable screens to subdue my children, so this is definitely a last–but sometimes necessary–resort for me.
While this may sound more complicated than it’s worth, I promise that the whole process is much more organic (while still intentional) than it sounds. The main thing I’ve discovered is that spooling out the treats and distractions buys you SO much more “happy time” than simply loading your toddler up with his favorite eats, drinks, toys, and games all at once. He has no idea how to pace himself and will usually spend about a minute on each and then throw them all out of the stroller and be ready to roam.
5. Reward Them When They Do Well
I’m a BIG proponent of teaching kids to do right because it IS right, not because they expect something in return. Even so, it’s always a good idea to show your kids how much you appreciate their help and good attitudes, instead of simply taking both for granted.
If we’ve had a week full of errands and “boring” outings, and the kids have been helpful and patient, then I try to plan a trip to the park or the pool or Sonic as a reward for being awesome.
Sure, we do those things anyway, but I try to point out the reason for a particular treat so that my kids know that their sweetness was noticed.
Perfect example: in the pic at the beginning of the post, we had already been inside a T. J. Maxx/Home Goods combo store for an hour, but my kids were still hanging in there because a) they’ve had a LOT of practice with this at this point and b) they knew our next stop was Pet Smart to check out all the fun animals IF they made good choices.
Did I have to remind them of this fact a time or two? Yes, but only a time or two. Which is fine by me. I’m not expecting perfection. Just progress.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, we have an errand to run (and a picnic afterwards to pack for).
Any tips you’d like to add? I definitely don’t claim to have it all figured out, but I can honestly say that the things in this post have saved many a trip out in public with my children and that–while I would prefer to grocery shop at my leisure any day of the week–I don’t dread going out with my children and genuinely enjoy seeing them grow in responsibility and kindness towards their siblings and others. They’re pretty rad little humans, if I do say so myself.