Kids and Errands

Today I had to go out and get my car tag renewed. As usual I had a few kids in tow. Shortly after we got into line, a mother entered with 2 small kids.

The younger, a little boy of about 3 or 4, quickly began making his presence known. He was very loud. And he began running around in the small space between the line of customers and the high counters. While this kid didn’t really bother me, I wondered how long it would be before he overturned something, bumped into someone or fell (which would lead to louder protests).

It made me aware of the little tricks I’d developed over the years to help my kids learn how to behave when I run errands.

While I don’t mean this as a criticism of the other mother, I like it when my children don’t bring about that collective “oh no” look of stress that often crosses people’s faces when a young kid or two (or 3 or more!) enters a space usually reserved for adult, businesslike activities.

I don’t want MY kids eliciting that look from the people around them.

My children often get complimented when I take them on errands. For instance, at the grocery store where I shop, the cashiers recognize my kids and will sometimes mention to onlookers that they’re “the best kids who shop here”. It’s a tiny bit embarassing, but don’t think that I don’t feel proud!

So here are my tips for running errands with kids and getting appropriate behavior.

Remind them of your expectations.

I let my kids know what my expectations are before I enter a space. For example, the other week when we went on a field trip to the History Center, I took the kids aside for a little “pep talk” before we walked in. I reminded them that we represented: Christians, homeschoolers, and large families – as well as OUR family, and that our behavior would cause people to draw conclusions about all of those groups.

With younger kids (like 7 and under), name very specific behaviors that are Ok or not. “I want you to walk, don’t run. Talk with a quiet voice _like this_. Stay where you can see me at all times.”

Engage and entertain.

With my older kids, I’ll often remind them to bring along a book if I know there will be some waiting involved in the errand. With younger kids, I like to give them my attention when I can, knowing that at some point in the transaction I’ll be focused on the business at hand. This helps prevent acting up behavior from a little one. With the older ones, I sometimes have to remind them that “I need to do business with this adult for a moment but you can tell me about that later“.

(Of course, there have been moments when an older kid who should know better was chattering away constantly at me when I had asked for quiet, and that request came out more like “I can’t hear myself think for your nonstop chattering, please be quiet until we get to the car!” I’m not perfect. :)

For instance today when Sadie started getting a little rambunctious waiting in line, I engaged her in a game of I Spy.

Another good game for a kid her age is to ask them to find all the objects in the room that begin with “A”, moving through the alphabet (teaching colors and letters at the same time!).

Sometimes I let Sadie play a little tic tac toe game on my phone, but one exception to the entertainment thing is this:

I don’t allow my big kids to play their Nintendo DSi while we are around other people. It irritates me when I see kids bumping into things or being completely unhelpful or unfriendly to their parents and others because their face is in a screen.

Of course I have to set the example here by staying off my phone while in public places. The other day my stepdaughter was injured because a fellow skater tripped over her at the skating rink … because she was skating while texting. If my nose is in my phone, I can’t give my kids the attention they need either.

When I’m shopping the boys are usually pushing the buggy or helping me retrieve groceries, and the girls are often doing the same. Part of the reason my kids have the reputation they do at the store is because they are truly helpful to me – and sometimes others. I consider it part of my job as a parent to teach my kids to be helpful to people around them, not just entertained all the time.


Of course, I don’t and can’t reward my kids every single time I leave the house, but occasionally the kids are treated to a hot cocoa at Starbucks or something because their behavior was particularly good when I took them somewhere.

I know there is the whole “punished by rewards” thing, but my heavenly Father promises me a reward eventually so it must not be too bad. ;) Seriously, I don’t give out coins or stickers for every instance of behavior that I consider proper, but I do like to treat my kids from time to time.

The reward can also be verbal. I took the girls aside when we left the tag office today and put my arms around them and told them how much I appreciated their being so patient and sweet while I took care of this (boring) errand.


Of course, not every errand has gone well all the time. While I’ve never experienced a kid having a tantrum in the grocery store, I have certainly had a whiny/grumbly/impatient kid, particularly when an errand was ill-timed (when someone was hungry or tired or coming down with something).

When that happens I try to remind myself that this is a season of life that will end, and when it does and my kids have grown into large beings with size 12 feet and hairy legs (it’s starting!) they won’t even want to run errands with mom anymore. My oldest is already there and usually stays home. And sometimes I miss him!

What do you do to teach your kids good behavior when on outings and errands?



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