Behavior in Public: Stores

Behavior in Stores2

Children need guidance to know how to behave. They learn what to do where, and with whom while observing the people around them and by direct instruction. Children learn that grandma expects better manners than cousin does. They adjust behavior accordingly.


Children learn at an early age what they can get away with in public.

A father walked through a Toys R Us® store with his three-year-old daughter. He planned to purchase diapers for his newborn son. He brought his daughter shopping to give Mom a much needed break. The daughter sat in the cart and looked at all the colorful toys. She wanted a My Little Pony® in the worst way.

The daughter reached her hands toward the ponies on a shelf. Her father told her “no” and pushed the cart farther down the aisle, still looking for diapers.

She screamed at her father, “I want pony. I want pony.” His face reddened while other shoppers stared at him and his daughter. She continued screaming.

Dad, embarrassed and unable to deal with screaming, turned the cart around, grabbed a My Little Pony®, and gave it to his daughter. “Here, is that better? Now be quiet.”

Daughter, happy with the pony, was quiet for the rest of the trip.

I had a similar experience with one of my children in a Sears® store.

With a limited budget I could afford only what I needed. My two-year-old daughter sat in the shopping cart and looked at the toys as we passed them.

“Winnie Poo, Winnie Poo,” she yelled as we passed the bright yellow bear.

“Sorry, we can’t buy Winnie the Pooh. Mommy doesn’t have enough money.”

“Winnie Poo, Winnie Poo,” she screamed, arms reaching toward the bear.

People all over the store stared at us. I chose to ignore them, but it was not easy. Seeing that she was not going to stop yelling for Pooh bear I had to decide whether to let her have the bear or pick her up and leave the store. I opted to leave without purchasing anything.

My daughter cried while I lifted her out of the cart. She flailed her arms and legs. It became necessary to hold her at my side encircled by my arm, the football hold. Her arms and legs hit the air instead of me or anyone that may have come near. No one came close.

“We’re going home,” I told her.

Shoppers stared after us. It didn’t matter.

I worried that, if I’d given in and bought the bear, it would be the beginning of a bad trend. If I gave in, anytime she wanted something and didn’t get it, she’d scream knowing from experience screaming gets what you want.

It was her only tantrum out in public.

Before my children were old enough to enjoy shopping I devised a method to ensure good shopping behavior. If they were patient while shopping, we might go to the Cinnabon ® in the mall. I didn’t want them to think they would always get a treat, which is why I used the word “might.” Around every third shopping trip we stopped at Cinnabon® and get a small treat. To make sure it worked, the first time they were good at the mall we went for a treat to reinforce good behavior.

Some children are easily sensory overloaded, making long shopping trips seem perilous to them and a tantrum risk. Too many people. Too much emotion. They feel stuck in a whirlwind of sights and sounds, yelling to get out.

Consider the following:

  1. Make the trips short.
  2. Give a 5 or 10 minute warning before leaving home.
  3. Inform the child in advance of the plan for the outing.
  4. Have the child use the bathroom before leaving the house.
  5. Bring a snack.

These suggestions are helpful for all children, but are particularly important for children who are learning social skills or have sensory issues.

Next week there will be a performance by Sock Puppet Tim. Here’s the link Come and cheer him on! Let Tim know how he’s doing in the comment section of YouTube.


Join me the following week for Behavior in Public: Restaurants. Learn how to have happier family outings.

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