At the end of aisle four, between a display of canned pineapple and a two-for-one sale on chewy granola bars, a three-year-old writhed on the floor. When his mother tried to scoop him up and deposit him in the cart, his legs went rigid and he emitted a piercing siren of a shriek. I recognized his moves because I’d seen them before, displayed by other three-year-olds, at the end of other aisles. But this time was different. This time, the three-year-old was mine.

It felt like a parental rite of passage, that wave of rage, embarrassment, and panic washing over me. Was someone going to report me if I tried to wrestle him into the cart? Could I leave a full load of groceries in the middle of the store as I hauled my broken cherub back to the car? What about the rest of the errands I needed to run? How did we even get here? What did I do wrong?

We have all had those days where there’s no obvious fun to be had. Forms need to be signed at the bank. There are prescriptions waiting at the pharmacy and last week’s new clothes need to be exchanged for another size. The fridge is nearly empty, and the dog is out of food. The list keeps getting longer and longer, and a full day of errands stretches out before us.

I’m happy to give my kids the world, but it doesn’t always revolve around them. Now, when we head out for a day of errands, I make it easy on myself and the kids with a few simple tricks to streamline the process and sweeten the deal for everyone involved.

illustration of car driving on road for errands with kids


Lulakids seatbelt bloc for kids and carseat clips

Parent Co. partnered with LulaKids because they believe in bringing kids along for the ride.


Clear expectations

Before we leave, I make sure my kiddos know what they can expect from the day and what I expect from them. I outline what errands we’re going to run, and I let them know if there will be an opportunity for a break or a fun stop along the way.

I’m also careful to always include a disclaimer. My favorites are “unless the plans change” and “if we have time.” This gives me an out if the day goes south and I need to scrap the plans.

I also make sure to remind my precious little heathens of what behavior I expect on-the-go. It’s easy to forget that my three-year-old doesn’t connect the dots between our last grocery trip and this one, so I find myself repeating, like a broken record, “You may choose one snack at the grocery store, but you must stay seated in the cart the entire time we’re there.” I also remind them of how we walk in the parking lot (together, slowly), how we act in gift stores (control our bodies and our voices), and how we act while waiting in line (inside voices, look with your eyes, not your hands).

Sometimes, we even practice the routines ahead of time. My boys think it’s an awesome game to “pretend” that they’re waiting in line at the post office or loading up the conveyor belt at the grocery store. Once I even made them shuffle in and out of the minivan 10 times in a row without killing one another. While these role playing games are indeed fun, they actually serve a much bigger purpose, too. They’re practice for the real thing.  

→ How to implement at home

  • Outline the errands you’re planning for the day.
  • Describe when or if there will be an opportunity for a break or fun stop.
  • Describe the behavior you expect along the way, being as specific as possible. Depending on their age, you may need to remind them before each individual stop.
  • Practice routines ahead of time, like waiting in line or getting in and out of the car. Make it a role-play game!

illustration of car on road

Strategize

Getting in and out of the car a thousand times is always a hassle, especially in the winter. Because kids shouldn’t wear bulky coats in their carseats, we tend to dress in thin layers. I especially like fleece for colder days. A fleece jacket is usually enough to keep the kids warm to and from the car, and I give them each a blanket to stay cozy in their carseats.    

I’m also big on simplifying the carseat maneuvers. At three and five, both my kids can buckle themselves in—a high priority for me. Sure, it takes them a little longer than it would take me, but it’s a huge timesaver overall to let them buckle themselves while I’m loading groceries into the trunk. By using a clip to keep the straps organized and out of the way, I could easily get them in and out as babies, and they can easily get themselves in and out now.  

→ How to implement at home

  • Dress your children in thin layers to keep them comfortable.
  • Use fleece coats and blankets in the car during winter.
  • Make car seats easier by using clips to organize the straps.

Plan around their schedule

As inconvenient as it may be, I can’t explain away a nap with my need to get to the post office before it closes, so I plan around my kids’ schedules. We can push the timing a bit more than I could when they were babies, but I still have to expect that they’re going to be hungry at snack time and tired after lunch.

By anticipating and acknowledging these very real, physical needs, I stay one step ahead. Kids who are fed and rested will always be a thousand times better setup for success than those who are tired and hungry.

→ How to implement at home

  • Plan around your child’s needs, taking naps and mealtimes into account.
  • If you know you’ll be cutting it close, bring along naptime comfort items such as lovies or milk, just in case.
  • Keep water and snacks handy around mealtimes.

illustration of a city with errands to be done

Give them some control

Most of the errands that need doing are non-negotiable, but that doesn’t mean the kids have to be subject to my every whim. I try to let them take some ownership of the day by giving them responsibility for a few simple decisions.

Should we go to the bank first or the pharmacy? What music should we listen to in the car?

Should we take the route past the train station or through the tunnel? These options don’t really impact my productivity, but they give the kids a sense of ownership and control over an otherwise non-kid-centric day. When they feel like they have some control, the day usually goes more smoothly.

→ How to implement at home

  • Let kids have some ownership over the day by making them responsible for simple decisions.
  • Some examples include letting them choose your route, the order of your errands, or the soundtrack in the car.  

 

illustration of car on road

The all important ditch bag

My husband is a tugboat captain. As a family, we spend a lot of time on boats. Our ditch bag is a nautical concept—it’s the bag you’re supposed to grab if the ship sinks. On a boat, it would include things like an emergency locator beacon and MREs. In the minivan, it’s a little different.

Our ditch bag has all the essentials for a kid emergency on-the-go. If this minivan starts to sink, this is what we need to get our heads back above water: wipes, a change of clothes for each kid, some crackers and applesauce, a first aid kit, and a water bottle. When the kids were younger, we kept a portable potty back there, too. And now, buried deep in the bag, well hidden from little eyes, I keep my ace card: two lollipops.

I’m not big into food bribery, but on a day filled with errands, I sometimes need a card to trump all meltdowns, a go-to, long-lasting, all-consuming hole-in-one. Lollipops are a rare treat in our family, and if they mean the difference between sneaking in that one last errand with relatively content kids versus heading home early in a car full of tears, I’ll gladly choose the sugar on a stick every time.

→ How to implement at home

  • Keep an emergency bag in the car so you’re always prepared.
  • Consider stocking it with: wipes, a change of clothes for each child, nonperishable snacks, a basic first aid kit, portable potty, juice boxes or water, and possibly a treat in case you need to resort to bribery.

A day of back-to-back errands with the kids isn’t fun for anyone. Please introduce me to the mother who wakes up thinking, “Gee, I can’t wait to bring my kids to seven different stores full of breakables this morning!” But sometimes, it has to happen. On those days, strategizing to simplify wherever possible and keep the kids comfortable—both physically and emotionally—goes a long way toward setting everyone up for success.

It may not always be pretty, but if you can make it home before the ship sinks, you’re doing something right.


LulaKids logo, carseat and buckle assistant for kids and parents

Parent Co. partnered with LulaKids because they believe in bringing kids along for the ride.