Running Errands with a Toddler in Tow

Ways to keep your kids calm, happy, and hissy-fit-free as you check off your to-do list

You do the steering. "Parents need to be what I call the ‘Captain of the Ship’ for their child, and sail around storms rather than scramble to figure out how to handle one when it’s already begun," says Susan Stiffelman, author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and a mom of one in Malibu, California. "Don’t take a tired toddler on ‘just one more errand’ if your instincts tell you she’s going to crumble. Keep your eye on the horizon and steer accordingly."

Give info up front. "I have three toddlers, and although I try to avoid running errands with all of them in tow, sometimes it just has to happen," says Jessica Watson, a mom of five in Lake Orion, Michigan. "I outline expectations in a way my kids can understand before we step foot out of the house—I tell them where we’re going, what we’re doing, and that they’re going to sit in the cart, hold Mommy’s hand, or sit in the stroller." Helping kids anticipate transitions is a very effective tactic, says Eileen Escarce, Ph.D., a psychologist and family coach in Santa Monica, California: "Knowing what’s happening next makes kids feel calm."

Use the drive-through option. "Consider using a drive-through wherever you can—to pick up prescriptions, dry cleaning, dinner, and so on," says Denise Fields, co-author of Toddler 411. "Getting in and out of the car more than three times with a toddler is asking for trouble."

Ask for help. "Some grocery stores will pass balloons out to kids, if you ask," says Brittany Tuttle, a mom of two in Longmont, Colorado. "Those balloons have saved my day more than once."

Have a plan in place. "I have a plan of attack for the grocery store, which includes snagging every freebie we can get—cheese at the deli counter, a cookie at the bakery—and a visit to the lobster tank," says Meagan Vanover, a mom of two in New Haven, Michigan. "We also use the self-checkout, so my kids can help scan items and shoot them down the ‘runway.’ We allow one special treat per store, usually cool fruit snacks or granola bars, but that can be revoked if they don’t stay in the cart. I stick to the system, and it works!"