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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

It is impossible to grocery shop with my 22-month-old. She wants to grab for everything and struggles to get out of the cart...help!! What can I do?

Q: It is impossible to grocery shop with my 22-month-old. She wants to grab for everything and struggles to get out of the cart...help!!  What can I do?
One option it to simply leave her home. But for most of us, this is simply not possible. Fortunately, the grocery store can be a very rich learning experience for your child.  That’s why in many children’s museums, preschool classrooms and child care centers you see a pretend grocery store as one of the learning centers.

A: Start with some preventative measures you can take to minimize the need for lots of “NO!”s.

First, try to do your bigger shopping trips without her, if possible. While you’re out loading up on groceries this can be an opportunity for her to have special, one-on-one time with your partner, grandparents, or other family or close friends. Or switch off on babysitting with a friend who has children the same age as yours. You can watch her kids while she shops, and vice versa.


Have your child choose one or two toys or books she can take with her to distract her while you shop. Talk with her about what she’s “reading” or doing while you shop.

Bring a few snacks. Just like for us adults, it is hard for children to resist wanting to eat all the yummy food staring at them aisle after aisle. Or, let her choose one item from the shelves that doesn’t have to be washed or weighed that she can eat while shopping.

Here are some strategies you can use to make grocery shopping fun for your child (while also helping her learn as you go):


When she’s reaching out to grab, if it’s something she can’t damage (like a box of rice), hand it to her. Talk to her about what it is, what it’s used for, the color of the box, etc.

Engage her in counting the number of potatoes, cucumbers, and apples that you are picking and hold the bag while she puts them in. The more you actively include her, the more she will learn and the less she will likely fuss.

Talk to her about all the colors you see and ask her what colors she recognizes. Teach her about big and small as you compare the size of the oranges. She can learn about high and low, and up and down as you point out where different items are on the shelves.

If you are up for it, let your child out of the cart and get her engaged in some games. (If she’s having fun, she is less likely to run wild!) Ask her to find something on the shelf that you have at home. Have her find her favorite cereal or the one with the sun on the box. See if she can find your brand of milk. These are great ways to build memory skills and to build self-confidence as she finds the right object.

Have her help you place the items on the conveyer belt with lots of supervision of course. Count the items together.

Take every opportunity to comment on how helpful she is being. Kids love to contribute. It makes them feel important and builds self-esteem.  

Shopping this way does require a lot of energy and patience, and may make your trip to the store longer. But keep in mind that research shows that when children learn concepts through everyday, hands-on experiences, they are able to understand the concepts more easily and the learning is more meaningful.

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