It can be a lot of fun to share the magic of the holiday season with children, but it is not always as enjoyable to bring them along when you need to get things done. The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to help encourage good behavior from children during holiday errands.

  1. Plan ahead! Try to schedule shopping outings at times that don’t interfere with normal meal and nap times and give yourself plenty of time to get everything done. It’s also a good idea to have nutritious snacks, drinks and comfort items available. Planning ahead can reduce stress on shopping days.
  2. Prepare children for the trip. Let them know how many stops you need to make, what kinds of stores you will be visiting, how long you think it will take and what rules they will need to follow during the outing. Consider having a “rehearsal” to allow children to practice correct behaviors. You can do this by setting up a pretend store in your home, or by taking a trip to a small shop nearby and following the same rules they will be expected to follow on the big shopping day.
  3. While shopping, engage your children in interesting activities. Activities do not have to cost money or involve extra stuff. Conversations with you are often the most interesting activity of all. Consider asking your child what they are looking forward to most about the upcoming holiday season or use your surroundings to find topics of conversation. Notice what catches your child’s attention and remark on it.

    Small exchanges like these can increase your child’s interest and keep them engaged in the trip. Other activities will vary depending on the age and interests of your children, but can include playing games like “I Spy,” having the children be in charge of keeping track of your shopping list, looking for prices, putting items into the cart or pushing the cart.

  4. Consider what rewards and consequences may be during your shopping trip. The promise of a small treat, or a stop at the park on the way home may encourage positive behavior. You may also consider having several small rewards such as stickers or a trip to look at the toy aisle built into your shopping trip so children receive frequent feedback about positive behavior. Positive attention and praise can also be a valuable reward. When you are praising a child, make sure to tell them exactly what it is that they are doing well so they can repeat that behavior again.

If a child is having trouble following the rules and directions, a consequence may be in order. Often, the lack of a reward is consequence enough, but a child who is acting out may need you to help them take a break so they can calm down. It is important to look at this break as a time to recharge and reset for both of you and to do what you need to do to stay calm so you can model regulation for your child.

After the break, try to get back to normal as soon as possible and look for the things your child is doing well. Increasing the amount of positive attention you give can help head off further problem behaviors. Rewards and consequences work especially well when you review them in advance with children and follow through with what you say you are going to do.