It’s inevitable. You’re going to have to go to the mall, and you’re going to have to take your toddler with you. No matter how good your intentions were to get all your shopping done early, we are well into December, and you aren’t even close to being done.
Where did the time go? Same place it goes every year. You just don’t have time to squeeze the holiday season into your already hectic routine. Buying online is wonderful, but there are some things you need to research, compare and try on.
Maybe you will be lucky and have a go-getter toddler who likes to hit the mall. But the sad reality is your toddler probably wants to go shopping about as much as you want to take them. Take a deep breath, and plan ahead as much as possible.
Make a list, even though you know you won’t stick to it. Things change, and you never really know what you are going to see at the mall. Put on your running shoes and follow some of these ideas, so your Christmas shopping with your toddler partner will be as low-stress as possible.
Early Bird Gets Done First
Plan, plan, plan. Get out early and avoid the crowds. Don’t go out on Black Friday or other busy shopping days. The closer to Christmas you get, the more miserable, procrastinating people will be there with you. The more people there are, the more annoyed you will become by long lines, loud chatter and a lack of elbow room.
On a typical weekday, crowds seem to surge around noon. But even on the weekend, an early start will make for a shorter trip. You’ll have more personal space, less noise and shorter waits in line.
Don’t Shop Hungry
Make sure you and your toddler eat before you head out. Otherwise, you’ll just end up wasting time and money at the food court. You’re supposed to be shopping, not going out to eat. Pack snacks for your toddler, like Cheerios or veggie puffs — something healthy that doesn’t need refrigeration.
Since you’re heading out early, you shouldn’t have to contend with conflicting nap times, but of course, that’s something you want to avoid. You know your child best, but not too many parents boast of a crabby, hungry toddler who is fun to be with.
Keep Your Child Entertained
I know. It’s hard enough trying to figure out what to buy for your beloved family and friends. But you have to keep the kid happy, too. The more occupied they are, the less likely they are to have an embarrassing public meltdown.
Have something special in your bag of tricks. Bring a toy they like that you aren’t afraid to lose, in case they happen to drop it while you are distracted by your shopping. Have a few little things you can swap out when they get bored.
Rattles work great —and you can annoy the other shoppers while you’re at it. You can also use puffballs, dolls or figurines, toy cars — really, anything you think will hold their attention for at least a few minutes at a time, so you can focus on your shopping.
Buy Natural Toys
If you are trying to shop for your toddler on the sly, opt for natural toys. Natural toys stimulate growth, and they never go out of style. They are going to want expensive electronic gadgets when they get older, so enjoy the years of them playing with natural toys as long as they last.
You know your child. It’s up to you to figure out if you can buy toys for them without them realizing it. Distracting them while placing an item under the cart is a good idea. The other thing you can do is give them something cheap off the shelves, like a book or toy, to amuse them while you shop. Just be prepared to buy the item — they’re going to want it, and they also may chew on it or otherwise damage it.
So while you are navigating through the robots, video games and everything else electronic, keep an eye out for some of these classic natural toys.
- Wooden blocks: You played with wooden blocks, your parents played with wooden blocks and so on back through the generations. They are simple but useful, nontoxic and durable. They help develop motor skills, hand-eye coordination and they’re just plain old fun. Playing with blocks can help your child learn to play alone or to develop social skills by sharing with friends.
- Puppets/stuffed animals: Puppets help your child express their imaginations and act out real-life situations. They may have full-length conversations between one puppet and another using different voices. You can grab a puppet and play with them, too, for as long as you can endure it.
- Books: Get kids interested in reading as early as possible. Reading to your children aloud will help them learn to read later in life. Even infants can enjoy colorful, textured books. Look for washable cloth books, because before they read them, they will chew on them. They will have their favorite stories or characters and will look forward to reading time every day.
Puppets come in many shapes and sizes, from tiny finger puppets to life-sized models. What’s most important is that your child interacts with the puppet and entertains themselves and the family.
Stuffed animals might be a better choice for younger children. They can assume the same role as a puppet, but might be softer and cuddlier for babies and young toddlers. They will let you know which ones they like.
Avoid the Mall Play Area
Every mall has a play area, and every kid wants to go there. The play area is a Petri dish for every virus and disease known to science, and probably some new ones. Unless you want foot-and-mouth disease for Christmas, keep your toddler well away from there. Don’t even let them see it.
Plus, you are on a mission — not there to play. Once you let Junior on the playground, how soon do you think they will want to leave? You’ll be there all day, with little or nothing to show for it except the flu. Bad parents leave their kids there and hope you will take care of them. If you are there, you will.
The harsh reality is, even when you shop alone, things don’t always go as planned. You find the perfect gift for your mother…but they don’t have her size. The perfect gift for your husband is out of stock in every store you visit. Expect some disappointments and some setbacks, but also be proud of yourself for subjecting yourself to crowded Christmas shopping with a toddler, knowing all the horrible possible outcomes. If your toddler did well at the mall, be sure to thank them and get them a little treat. When they take their nap, you can give yourself the treat of relaxing with a glass of wine or some hot tea and an hour or two of quiet alone time. After all, you have to gear up for your next struggle: wrapping all these gifts with a toddler in the house.