Grocery Store Troubles

Dear Sara,

I have two girls ages three and five. They are really acting out when I take them to the grocery store and I don’t always have someone to leave them with. They are begging for everything they see and pitching a fit when they don’t get it. I would like to take them to the store in peace. Any suggestions?
-Rose Ann

Dear Rose Ann,

If you have given in to their temper tantrums and bought them what they wanted, you have rewarded their bad behavior. Kids learn fast. Your first step might be to have a talk with them before grocery time and let them know what you expect from them. Let them know that if they behave, they can have one prize for a reward. If they have a temper tantrum there will be no reward and a 15 minute time out when you get home. If you waver from this even one time, they will continue to harass you because this has worked for them in the past.


  1. No bribes for good behavior. When behavior is bad, they miss a program or don’t get some special thing that they want and time out is always good.. At the store ignore the bad behavior. Don’t acknowledge their tantrums. People will tsk, the kids will see this. Now once they are good acknowledge the good, praise it to the ends of the earth. Bring snacks like Cheerios or something small that they have to keep eating. Can’t argue and fuss if eating. I had 3 under 5, so I have the experience. Also before naps and during lunch or if someone is sick, are not the times to go shopping. Good luck ,but the time passes and you actually miss those times.

  2. Not sure kids should get a reward for good behavior. That’s to be expected. But they definitely should have consequences for bad behavior! They need to be removed from the store, first of all and get a good “talking to.” Explain that every time they misbehave, they will be removed until they agree to behave better.

  3. Hi Rose Ann,

    You have described a common plight among parents. The grocery store is a veritable feast of tempting treats for young children who tend to want what they see. I agree with Sara, that consistency and routine are key, when possible. Try to avoid shopping when children are tired or hungry. Of course it’s is not always possible. Sometimes it is helpful to involve your child in making the shopping list. Or just talk through it with them as you are preparing it: “Hmm, let’s see, we need bread, milk, Honey Crisp apples, dog food, and paper towels. Can you think of anything else we need?” Then when you’re at the store and your child sees a lollipop that she just has to have, you say. Let me check the list, lollipops aren’t on the list.

    I respectfully disagree with Sara about offering a reward for good behavior. Rewards provide external motivation and while they might render good results for the short term, they tend to teach children to expect a reward for completing everyday tasks. Ideally we teach ( and model) that it’s important to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

    Wishing you Peace in Aisle 14 :) Best,

    Kathy Matay
    The Parent Encouragement Program

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