Monday, April 11, 2011

On the Cutting Room Floor: Shopping with Kids

From time to time, someone will ask me what I do to keep the kids calm and happy while I'm going shopping. I've been meaning to write a post answering this question, and as some of you noticed the kiddos in the background of my last couple of fitting room review posts, I thought this was as good a time as any to do it. First of all, I'm not always successful. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the timing is just wrong and an otherwise playful, cooperative, and happy Kate and/or Rowan will just be too tired or too hungry or too cranky to handle a shopping trip. I've had to cut shopping trips short, so don't be too stressed if this happens to you. Also, kids are different, so what works with Kate & Rowan may not work with your little people. You know your children best - think over what will best appeal to them, and use those things instead.

That being said, I rarely get time to shop by myself - non-work hours are almost always time spent with the kids, so if I've developed a handful of strategies that seem to work well for us. 

This is what a lot of my photos look like, before I crop them to post on the blog. Yes, Rowan is making faces at me (he's trying to make me laugh, mid-photo). I have to admit, that when I first started blogging, I was worried that people would find the photos with the kids hovering in the background annoying, or unbecoming of a proper style blog. And maybe it is, but overall, you've all been nothing but kind about Kate & Rowan's "guest appearances" and I'm grateful for the forbearance and goodwill you've shown us.

So, here are my tips for preventing melt-downs at the mall:

Tip #1: I've noticed that when they're together, it helps because they entertain each other a bit. If you've only got one, this won't be of much help for you. (Sorry!)

Tip #2: Feed them. Hungry kids = cranky kids, and cranky kids = miserable shopping experience. Lately, I've been timing our trips around a meal - lunch or dinner, and we'll grab the kids' favorite foods from the mall's food court as an extra treat (corn dog for Rowan from Hot Dog on a Stick, and a Rubio's fish taco for Kate). It's best to feed them before taking them into a clothing store fitting room environment. Incidentally, this can work with husbands and other friends of the male persuasion as well, though you might need to offer better fare. For instance, a trip to the Carlsbad Anthro always coincides with a visit to The Counter for yummy burgers.

Tip #3: Make it fun! I try to make them feel like it's a fun thing to go into a fitting room. In fact, if we visit the Fashion Valley Anthropologie, and I don't go into the fitting room, Rowan will ask me why. He feels like it's a little club house or something, haha. The wonderful staff at the Fashion Valley Anthro always put us in the same large corner room (the one they usually reserve for people with strollers or wheelchairs) and the kids love it. Of course, that means the two of them can get a little noisy, so I'm forever shushing them - so much laughing and playful shrieking going on (sorry to all the other Fashion Valley Anthro customers!). If it gets to be too much, I cut it short, because the last thing I want is for my family to become a nuisance. 

Tip #4: Create special shared experiences (rituals/traditions). Anyway, if the fitting room is "fun," there will be a whole lot less resistance from the kids to you spending some time in it. I've created small, really easy "games" (almost like rituals) that we do - peek-a-boo from the various corners of the room, impromptu "shows"from the bench or seat in the room (they'll get up and dance or do a "ta-da" pose, with their hands in the air, and I act suitably delighted and impressed). Good times. (Note: my kids are still pretty young - I don't know how well this will work with older children, but they say kids thrive on routine. Keep that in mind.)

Tip #5: Be prepared. I bring along snacks and drinks (can't emphasize enough that keeping them fed and well hydrated is super important to maintaining a good attitude), some games & activities (coloring pages, a handful of colored pencils, my smart phone apps, etc) and a favorite toy or two. I also intersperse visits to "my" stores with visits to "their" stores - the Disney store or the Apple store (so they can mess around with the kid computers or the iPads), the small toy store, pet store (to look at the animals) or book store. These visits are usually not for buying - just for looking, and they know that ahead of time. Also, I'll sometimes throw in a stop for a treat like ice cream or a small handful of Reese's Pieces or M&M's from the candy store. If there's a play area at the mall (Westfield malls are particularly good for this), I'll usually let them stop for a few minutes to play there too. It's a small thing, but it keeps them looking forward to coming back (and it's free!).

Tip #6: Let them know the plan. One of the things I've noticed works well with Rowan, is letting him know what I've got planned. On our way to the mall, or when we get there, I'll go over my schedule and stops for the trip. It lets him know what to expect and also allows him an opportunity to make his own suggestions (nearly always a stop at the Disney Store or Geppeto's - a local toy store chain - to browse). 

And whenever time and weather permits, we'll end a trip to the mall with a trip to the park. This way they can run and shout to their hearts' content. And it's only fair - they come with me to my favorite playground, and I'll come along with them, to theirs. ^_-

So to those of you who have kids, how do you entertain them on shopping trips? Add your tips and tricks in the comments below!


  1. I second the food. I usually let my daughter (same age as Kate) out of her stroller and I let her have her snack while I am trying something on. One of the Antrho stores by me has a table in the dressing room area with one of the Doodle books and crayons. This definitely helps with my older children!

  2. You are a very wise lady, Carol! I don't have kids, but I'll keep your post in mind for when I do! Thanks for the tips; they're spot-on!

  3. Holy smokes your kids are adorable!!

    I'm not a parent, but I really admire your parenting skills! I hope to emulate them one day - I love that you are so respectful of other people, and that your kids seem so happy in all the photos :)

  4. you guys are so awesome it hurts. so sweet!

  5. Adorable kids!!! Adorable pictures with them in the background.

  6. My local Anthro has a small bin of the cutest wooden blocks (and maybe a My Little Pony or two). :)
    I appreciate it SO much because it allows me to try on a few things before my 2-year-old twins get restless.
    They're also entertained for a few minutes by making faces/ dancing in front of the mirrors.
    I did have to make a hasty retreat once when one my girls started FLIPPING OUT in the dressing room. She was throwing an epic tantrum, and it was so embarrassing! I'm always very aware of other shoppers, and I know I would have been annoyed pre-kids. You never know what you're going to get! Cute kids...LOVE their names!

  7. Your kids are so cute! I will take your advice as my little one gets older (she is just 14 months). We were placed in the corner dressing room at the Fashion Valley Anthro on Saturday and she was squeeking and squacking and throwing a few tantrums when I wouldn't let her chew on a price tag and/or my sunglasses. I'm sure it will get easier when I can 'reason' with her and follow your suggestions. Thanks for the advice!!

  8. I don't have any kids yet Carol, but I smiled when i read this post. Your kids are so cute, and no, definitely not annoying. I love that second picture - they look sooooo cute in the background!
    You mentioned that hungry kids=cranky kids...but this should also apply to our partners :-) my hubby gets agitated when he tags along with me on an empty stomach. Me thinks I should carry a snack in my purse from now on...

  9. I SPY! We play tons of it in fitting rooms. I'm sure it's distracting for people trying on clothes in adjacent rooms, but my kids love it and it keeps them entertained. I also play math games with my older son who is 7. "If Mommy wants to buy this skirt and this top and the prices are $40 and $56, how much would both cost?" Stuff like that.

  10. Hi Carol,
    I don't have kids...but good post! I will file this away when I have my own munchkins.

    And I LOVE seeing Rowan & Kate in your pictures. They are the most adorable little kids ever. :-)

  11. love love love seeing your kids in your pictures... Just like i love spying bloggers pets in the background of shots.....your children, They are CUTE beyond words !!!

  12. Not a parent yet, but gotta keep these tips in mind. What a brilliant mama you are!

  13. I have 4 little ones, and if I can't get my shopping trip in on the weekend when dad is home, I try to go during the day so I only have 1 or 2 with me (depending on preschool). I try to get there right when the store is opening because my kids are happier and easier early in the day. Plus, the salespeople aren't frazzled yet. I also tell them in advance what we're doing so they know what to expect and always bring snacks and drinks. I've also seen SA's at one local store give kids markers so they can color on the dressing room mirrors. I've never tried it, but I know my kids would LOVE that. There's definitely more planning involved but that's the stage of life I'm in so I try to make it as painless as possible for everyone (including the other shoppers)! Great post and ideas!

  14. I avoid it as much as I can and buy most things on line. Returning is faster in most of the place and nordstrom has the best returning procedure. If I have to return anthro items, I would leave them at home because it takes forever.

  15. Oh! Your children are so lovely -- that shot of Kate at the park is going to have me smiling all afternoon. I personally enjoy their guest appearances, and think it very interesting that you've chosen to incorporate the shopping time into their larger rituals of family-and-play times. That seems like it's working!


  16. This is so great, Carol! It looks like Kate and Rowan enjoy each other's company and can play together on the side very well. I hope my kids will not be little screamers. Cause that would not be good. I'll have to bookmark this post!

  17. Fab tips for happy kiddos! Sometimes I almost tear up thinking of the days when I could wear my now four year old in a carrier or keep her in her stroller... the good old days. Like Inkmark, I'm at least 80% online for clothes shopping, especially since the closest Anthro's over an hour away and no matter how happy she is a day trip is just too, too much. Unfortunately, her fave dressing room game is waiting until I'm at my nude-est, opening the door wide, and running like a bat out of hell. Yes, online is the way to go for us!

  18. Hi Carol,

    As a somewhat new reader to your blog (I have visited a total of less than 10 times, I think) I have to say that through your pictures and writing, you really shine as a great mom.  I was taken aback to read in a more recent post that you were so glad everyone tolerated seeing Rowan and Kate on your blog.  Why wouldn't we?  First of all, they are the most adorable children and so photogenic!  Secondly, they are part of you and your life and as I can see here, very much a part of your shopping trips and fitting room reviews.  Silly to think they would in any way jeopardize your validity as a style blogger!  Your outfits speak for themselves!  Anyways, I really just wanted to comment how pure and kind of a person you seem to be.  Your well-behaved, sweet children are a product of you and how your personality filters into how you raise them.  I am not a mother nor do I know very much about children, but if I were to have kids one day, I'd want them to be just like yours!  I also hope that I would be as kind and loving of a mother as you are.  Your style is fabulous, but it's your personality that keeps me coming back.  Keep up the wonderful work.

    - K

  19. carol_prettythingsJune 11, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    Aw, K! This is possibly one of the nicest comments I've ever received - on or offline! I'm afraid I probably don't live up entirely to your expectations of me as a mom and human being in general (I'm as flawed as the next person), but I'll promise to work harder and be more like the person you described here. ^_^ Thanks so much for your kindness and for reading along with us. We (and I especially) appreciate it.