Keep Tots Happy & Safe During Shopping
Holiday shopping can be stressful enough without worrying about your children wandering off or melting down. Foul weather, over-taxed gift budgets and a mission to find the latest toy selections drain a parent's resistance. Keeping children — especially toddlers — happy and safe while holiday shopping can be daunting.
Other than shopping early or solely online, there isn't much you can do about not finding a parking spot or waiting in long register lines during the busy holiday shopping season. But you can take steps to prevent your children from being bored or, worse, lost when accompanying you on a shopping quest. With so much to think about and do during the busy holiday season, these tips can help give you and your toddler a little peace of mind.
Plan ahead before hitting the mall
Holiday shopping with kids can be the ultimate scary experience. According to Wander Wear Inc., a company dedicated to the prevention of lost children, seven out of 10 children get lost at least once, and 90 percent of families will lose a child in a public place. "Over 750 kids are reported lost each year at one Boston-area mall," says Alyssa Dver, a family safety expert and CEO of Wander Wear.
The good news is that there are some simple things you can do to make shopping with your kids safer and, therefore, a little saner.
Dressing a toddler in his "special mall shirt" every time you go shopping creates the consistency to help you describe him or his clothing to store personnel if he does wander away. "Carrying a recent photo that has pertinent info printed on the back is also very helpful," Dver says. Listing your child's age, weight, height, eye color and distinguishing marks provides the information mall security needs to help you find him. "Parents are often so hysterically terrified that they are unable to clearly communicate details vital toward finding their child," Dver notes.
When faced with the fear of being lost, many children do not always easily remember their home phone number or your mobile phone number. "Make sure kids have your cell phone number on them in a visible, secure place to make it easy for someone to contact you in case they do stray from you," Dver says. Children as young as 2 can identify a mother. "Teach children to seek out another mommy if they are lost as part of the practice of reminding them to not wander off," she adds.
Relieve boredom by engaging kids
"No matter how many gifts I'm trying to track down, I always allot time for my sons to relax," says Liz Burton of McKinney, Texas, a mother of three boys all under the age of 6. Whether it's to eat a snack, admire the decorations in the store windows or romp at the mall playground, giving kids the chance to act like kids — not fellow shoppers — releases pent-up energy and promotes a cooperative attitude. "I try to give them brief breaks every 60 to 90 minutes. Even five minutes to run around free from the confines of the stroller stretches their legs and keeps everyone sane," Burton adds.
Make a game out of trying to find the items you're shopping for. "We go on a scavenger hunt and look for gifts for family members," says Lisa Jaeger of Baldwinsville, N.Y. Involving children of all ages in the thrill of the quest gives them ownership of the mission as well as the gift when it is given.
Using the time spent throughout the mall or waiting in line as an opportunity to teach children keeps their young minds active and their busy bodies focused on a specific goal. Your toddler can practice his colors by spotting all the red sweaters in the store, and preschoolers can learn letters and sound recognition by knowing sweater starts with "s." Review numbers by counting the number of people in line. "Anything that occupies their thoughts for a while keeps them happy," adds Jaeger, the mother of two sons.
Finding a quiet spot to take a moment and catch your breath, give your tot a hug, or even flip through his favorite picture book provides both of you necessary respite from the overstimulating crowds. Remember that family and loved ones are a major part of sharing the holidays, and take the time to enjoy a bit of shopping with your toddler to help keep the focus on the spirit of the season and not on the number of people in line at the customer service department searching for shirt boxes.
Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer who frequently covers family, lifestyle and health topics.