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How to Handle Meltdowns in Public: The Grocery Store

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Handling the Grocery Store Meltdown

Every parent dreads the frustration and embarrassment of a grocery store meltdown; your child completely losing control and throwing themselves on the floor, kicking, screaming, and making a scene.

This article explores some of the ways that you can avoid this scenario, as well as what to do if it happens to you.

Plan Ahead

The best possible solution to the grocery store meltdown is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Planning your trip ahead of time will mean less time in the store and less opportunity for your child to have a meltdown.

  • Know your store and create your shopping list in sequential order. Choose which side of the store you want to start with and write out your shopping list according to where everything is as you move from one aisle to the next until you reach the other side of the store.
  • Decide which brand of each product you’re going to purchase before going to the store. Most stores have an online list of their products so you can plan ahead which products you want and even see what’s on sale. Detail your shopping list accordingly. Remember, the less time you spend in the store, the less likely your child will be to have a meltdown!
  • Plan your shopping trip around your child’s schedule. For example, 30 minutes before your child’s usual nap-time or meal time is probably not the best time to go. A tired or hungry child + the grocery store = a meltdown.

    Likewise, going shopping after a play date or other fun activity that is not part of your normal routine creates an over-stimulated child that is also more likely to have a meltdown.

Prepare Your Child

Have a conversation with your child in the car and let your child know what to expect and what you expect. For example, when my son was young, I would inform him that he shouldn’t ask me for anything in the store on certain trips.

Other times I would tell him he could ask for one small thing. I would also tell him if this was going to be a short trip in which I was buying just a few items or if we would be in the store for longer, filling a cart.

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In the Store

  • Be true to your word. If you told your child it would be a short trip, make sure you don’t delay by adding items to your cart that weren’t on your list.
  • Pay attention to them while you're shopping. Engaging them in conversation or a fun game like "I Spy" will prevent your child from getting bored.
  • If your child has been particularly well behaved, consider allowing them to pick out a small reward at the checkout. This will make it more likely that they will behave just as well during future visits to the store.

    The key to this is to make it random and unexpected. Acknowledge your child's good behavior every time, but only offer a reward sometimes. This way they do not come to expect the reward and will be more likely to behave well every time.

Happy Shopping!

What about you? What are some of the successful strategies you've used to get your shopping down without your child having a meltdown. Let me know in the comments below!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Bridget on July 25, 2018:

I utilize a number of these tactics while taking my energetic toddler on errands and they work like a charm. On the weekend, at breakfast, we “plan our day” where i tell what we are doing that day. This way, she has a plan for what is happening and what’s expected of her and also what she can expect from me.

Mary Richards on July 24, 2018:

Wow, this is great advice! I don’t have children of my own, but I have been grocery shopping with my niece and nephews many times, and I always dread the ‘will you buy me this’ over and over. I love the idea of telling them beforehand that they can pick out one thing. Thanks!

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