Even though I spent most of my married life as a solo parent, I am now truly a single parent, which means that more often than I’d like, I need to leave my house to run errands with all my four children.
I do my best to avoid this at all costs, but lately, with work and school and after-school activities and my own alone weekends away, I’m left to my weekends with the kids to get stuff done.
And that means taking them with me.
I find that my experiences out and about with them ebb and flow, with awesome outings and then the terrible ones where you feel like you’ve just handed out a lifetime pack of birth control to every single person in the store just by being there with your kids.
But lately I’ve become a bit of a master of it, probably because I need them to keep their crap together in order for me to keep my crap together, and really, we’re not going to be able to survive if I can’t leave my house with them.
Of course, writing this means that the next time I go out with them all hell will break loose, but I’m willing to risk it to help you become a master yourself, whether you’ve got just one child or four (or more) like me.
1. Timing is everything.
I have learned the very hard way that time of day really matters. If I go right after school or, on one of my not-so brilliant days, over dinner time, you have a little to no chance of succeeding. There will be breakdowns because little people are tired or hungry or both. Just imagine yourself when you’re tired and hungry and how much you really don’t want to be wandering around Target looking for a toothbrush holder and you’ll have a bit of empathy. And yes, I realize you can’t always plan ahead, but if you can, then be sure to pick a time where your kids are at their best. For me, it’s late morning or after dinner.
2. Give a good pep talk.
Before I leave the house, I sit all my kids down and give them the rundown as to what we’re going to be doing and what I expect of them. Let them know where you are going and what you are planning on doing, but also make sure they understand how you hope they will act. Will they be able to buy a toy? Will they be able to buy a snack? Address all those issues before you go.
Then, tell your kids that they’re awesome and that you know they can do it. And yes, I do offer them a small, cheap incentive (a small toy, a lollipop, a special treat after we’re done) or some extra marbles to earn as a reward after the trip because, well, it works.
3. Be prepared. With snacks. And more snacks.
If your kids are like mine, they are bears on an empty stomach, so I make sure to either feed my kids ahead of time, or bring a lot of food with me. If we’re going out to eat, then I make sure to do that before I go anywhere else because we’re all just much more pleasant with a full belly. And even though you might think your kids have eaten enough, they always seem to get hungry when we’re out, so I pack them anyway. Or better, I make them pack snacks for themselves so there’s no whining or arguing when they disapprove of what I brought for them.
4. Make it fun.
When I’m out with my kids, I do my best to make the outing as interesting as possible, even if it’s boring as hell. We do everything from photo scavenger hunts where the older kids team up with the little kids and take photos of certain items (I usually do the Alphabet Game), or we do a little race to see who can find an item first. I’ll even sometimes just task the bigger kids to go find me the items on my list.
And if we’re at a restaurant, I play old school games, like “I Spy,” or I just ask them to tell me one funny (or awful, or awesome) thing about their day.
Yes, this can involve some seemingly “inappropriate” store behaviors like being a little loud or letting them go off on their own, but my kids are well versed in store behavior (see #2 above) so that it rarely gets out of hand. In fact, I have people stopping me to tell me how adorable my kids are, which is better than the alternative.
5. Catch them being good.
If you want your kids to be cooperative while you’re out, it’s super important to catch them when they’re being awesome. And not just when you reminded them or told them to do so. You need to be the sneaky good behavior detective and sniff it out during your trip. Maybe they’re just sitting nicely while you’re checking the calorie count on that cake. Or maybe they got through the check-out line without grabbing at the 400 candy bars. Whatever it is, no matter how small it is, compliment them! And be specific about what they did instead of the ubiquitous and pretty ineffective “GOOD JOB!”. Try something like “I really like how you’re sitting so nicely in the cart” or “I love how you kept your hands to yourself in the check-out line.” You’re reinforcing their good behavior in a way that will encourage them to keep doing it.
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