‘Tis the season to be jolly. Unfortunately, holiday shopping can be stressful. Add kids to the mix and it can border on nightmarish. Actually, that can be the case with any type of shopping with kids. Obviously, this problem can be solved by leaving the kids at home in the first place. However, that’s not always an option. When you can’t avoid bringing your kids shopping with you, having a game plan can make the excursion much more tolerable.

The following are some tips for maintaining your sanity—and even staying jolly—while holiday shopping with kids.

Bring the Big Purse (or Backpack)

Young kids are needy and have short attention spans. If you’re planning an extended shopping excursion, such as visiting multiple stores in a shopping mall, bring some props with you! Are there special treats (like lollipops) you allow your kids to have from time to time? Pack them and give them out to curb any potential meltdowns. Make sure to also bring some picture books or a few toys to keep kids occupied in checkout lines and dressing rooms. The more items, the better. Each time you pull something out, it should keep them occupied for a few minutes, at least.

Give Them a Task

Kids love to be helpful. Before you take your kids grocery shopping, make them each a list of a few simple items they are responsible for locating (e.g., apples, eggs, milk, etc.) Alternatively, print out a shopping bingo card or something similar. If that in itself is not enough to keep their attention, consider rewarding them in a small way—such as giving them a quarter for each item they find and allowing them to spend their “earnings” in the store.

Make a Game of It

Play a game like I Spy with your kids or make up your own games on the fly (“Let’s see how many square tiles we can manage to step on in a straight line without running into someone else!”) Better yet, if you have more than one child with you, think of a fun game and encourage them to play it with each other.

Add Small, Fun Rewards

Shopping malls aren’t just packed with shops, they’re also packed with kiosks selling candy, fast-food restaurants, video arcades, coin-operated ride-on toys and, during the holiday season, and mall Santas and elves. While you may prefer to get in and out as quickly as possible, when you’re shopping with kids, keep them happy by saying “yes” to some of these kid-friendly offerings.

Allow Your Child to Bring a Friend

It may sound counter intuitive to voluntarily increase the number of children you’re bringing along but, for older kids, it can actually help. If your child’s main complaint while shopping is that they’re bored, a well-mannered friend will give your child someone to talk to.

Give Your Children a Little Money

Especially if you’re out holiday shopping, why not give your children some money they can use to purchase gifts for their siblings, cousins, grandparents, etc.? There are plenty of inexpensive, gift-worthy items to be had in most stores, and you may be pleasantly surprised or amused by what your children pick out for their loved ones! Allowing your children to shop for others will keep them occupied, and teach them the joy of giving!

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