Running errands with kids – top tips

This post is the first in our new series of top tips and useful information, and has been written by Lindsay, who you’ll usually find blogging over at Grey Street. Check back here on Wednesday where you’ll be able to read a bit more about Lindsay and her blog. But for now, here are her 5 top tips for taking kids out (and she should know because she works with children, is an adoptive mom and step-mom too)…

I have been lucky to work with and have access to a great number of resources and information that has crossed over from my work life with children with disabilities to my home life. Many of the things I have learnt and teach others at work, I have found useful in my own life with my own kids with disabilities. I hope these ideas help to make outings a little easier for you, and if you have additional ideas or want more info please share in the comments so others can try your tips too!


Be proactive
Know what you are going for and think of your game plan before you even put your shoes on. Have a list to keep you on track; whether it is a grocery list or a list of stops/errands you need to make, or some kind of system that works for you to keep you on track. Plan for whatever you know may come up with your child – if you need a snack in your bag, a drink in your car, a favourite toy to hold, change of underwear…whatever it is you need to set your child up for success and give you less stress makes it worth spending a few extra minutes planning ahead.

Make your expectations known
Let your child know your plan and how you expect him or her to behave. For some kids they need this chat before you leave the house, for others they need it right before they go into the store. Be clear, concise and use simple language. State your expectations, and the consequences for not following them. The end. If you need to, use some kind of visual (prepared before hand). For example a picture list of rules to follow, or, a first/then chart etc. Not understanding and choosing not to behave are two different things. Make sure you adjust your expectations and tailor them to your child’s ability and what they can handle, not what you think they should handle.

Be prepared to leave
Yep, walk away from that full cart of groceries in the middle of the store and out the door. Your expectations for your child’s behaviour should not change just because you are in public. If you let them get away with things at the store that you don’t at home, they will know it and they will play you for a fool every. single. time. If you follow through with your rules/expectations in public just as you do at home they will learn very quickly that you are not afraid or embarrassed to let them run amuck in public with you.

Public time out
I know, it’s terrible. It sucks having all those judging eyes staring at you while you are a hot mess and your cheeks are getting redder by the second. I’ve been there. I have timed Jonathan out at the zoo, in the park, at the grocery store in the middle of the aisle (so he couldn’t reach the shelf to pull things down), at preschool in front of parents and staff….and he’s learning…slowly! Was it easy? No. Is it getting easier? Yes! Are they becoming less frequent? YES!!

If you hold strong to your expectations in public, just as you would at home, then you should only have to go through this for a little while before your child learns you aren’t going to back down just because strangers are staring at mum or dad with daggers of pity.

This is true for whatever technique you use; don’t be afraid to consequence your child just as you would at home no matter how much of a crazy person they have become or how much they start screaming and kicking and punching you (umm, not my child of course…ok maybe it was).

In the long run things will get worse if you back down in public, so forget what the others are thinking, ignore the stares and don’t be afraid to stick to your guns in public.

There is a thin line between bribery and an incentive although the difference is huge in terms of teaching positive behaviour. A bribe is something you offer after the behaviour has already started (“If you stop screaming I’ll give you a cookie/buy you the toy/stand on my head” etc.) An incentive is something you set up before the behaviour has started  (“If you don’t scream in the store, I will give you a cookie/buy you a toy/stand on my head”). See the difference? See how offering an incentive is planning ahead and being proactive…just sayin’…

Sometimes kids need an incentive for positive behaviour because behaving to please you isn’t yet intrinsic in them. They may not be able to behave just for the simple pleasure of your thanks and praise, they may need something more at first. The idea is to offer this up front and use it a few times paired with your high praises and then quickly fade back the material thing (cookie, toy or whatever) and they still look for your praise and learn that happy high-fivin’ mom or dad is pretty darn fantastic.

Set them up for success
If your child has a really hard time running errands, or with a particular store etc. then don’t stress them (or yourself!) out any more than you already are. Start small and work your way up. Follow the tips above but shorten your ‘to do’ list. Only go for one errand/trip, or stop at the grocery store for 2 things and slowly build up to more.

At first it’s a pain the hieny because it means more work for you for having to go out again later when you have somebody else looking after your little. But, if your child is huffin’ and puffin’ all the way through and you dread doing grocery shopping more than the dentist, then you’re already putting in double the work anyway! You can’t avoid running errands altogether because then they will never learn, but make it easier on them and yourself.

Above all, remember to breath. And, to have patience, they are just learning and still figuring out the ways of the world. Don’t expect perfect; have realistic expectations according to their age and their individual abilities. Remember that they are often just excited (or overstimulated) and trying to process so much information that it’s hard to listen and follow the rules all the time. Happy outings!!

Big thanks to Lindsay for sharing this. If you have any top tips or areas of specialism that you’d like to write about, then contact us here. We’re looking for all sorts of information – your top tip lists, how to’s, or anything you think would be useful to others involved in adoption. Or if there is something you’d like to see here, then let us know…




2 thoughts on “Running errands with kids – top tips

  1. Bonzo

    Great list – sounds like me in my old days of teaching ‘parenting sessions’. I had my own lovely bunch of staring eyes today as my lovely very nearly 6 year old tantrummed like a 2 year old (only louder and longer), whilst I ignored him and put him in a quiet place for thinking. (it was quiet before he arrived!). I could sense the eyes of the mother along from me, wondering what ‘his problem was’ – meanwhile I continued chatting to my friend!

  2. Fiona Ferguson

    Great list , brought lots of memories back . I so agree that you must carry out the same boundaries and rules out of the house as it is vital that the children know where they stand . I can not tell you how many times I went home with no shopping and other parents staring at me as I borrowed a chair in a shop and gave my children time out . well done.


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