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‘Tis the season to hit the stores and find special gifts for friends and family. As parents, we know it’s far easier — and faster — to leave the kids at home and do the holiday shopping alone. Yet that isn’t always feasible, and sometimes we end up with the kids tugging at our coattails as we traipse through a mall or venture across town to the one place that has exactly what grandma asked for. How can we make the most of shopping with the kids, and prevent the whole family from ending up cranky and tired? Here are a few tips from parents who have been there, done that.

Empower kids with a real job

No one likes to stand around feeling useless. Little kids are no exception. As you browse the aisles with your kids, give them an actual task or responsibility. For instance, if you need a gift for their teachers, give your kids a budget and have them pick something out. Alternatively, put them in charge of the gift list and ask them to track your progress as you shop.

If your kids are older, consider sending them off to one store to pick out a gift, while you tackle another one. This divide-and-conquer approach can have you all back home in no time.

Pack a bag of activities

Some stores have corners (and even activities) for kids, but if you’re going to one that doesn’t, bring along a bag of activities to occupy the kids. Unless you have headphones, avoid electronic games that make noise (and will annoy other customers and sales clerks). Consider small things that are lightweight and easy to carry — a deck of cards, a book, a puzzle, or even homework. Often, kids are the best judge of what will pass the time, so let them pack the bag and decide what to bring themselves.

Feed them

Fighting holiday crowds on an empty stomach isn’t a good idea, and may well lead to a meltdown in aisle seven. Avoid that by fueling your kids before (and possibly during and after) you go. Also, consider timing your shopping trip to fall right after breakfast or lunch — and don’t push your luck. If your kids complain that they’re starving and tired of walking, make a pit stop to grab a nourishing snack

Provide incentives

Everyone needs incentives, and they can come in handy on holiday shopping trips with the kids. Keep in mind that incentives differ from bribes (“Stop whining, and you can have this piece of chocolate”). While bribes manipulate kids into doing what parents want, incentives reward a true mark of achievement that kids take pride in attaining. The trick is to set up the incentive ahead of time, instead of on the spot, when the negative behavior is already at play.

So before you even hit the stores, figure out something that will motivate your child — and lay out the ground rules for what he or she needs to do to achieve it. Also acknowledge that the day might not be ideal, but that you really appreciate their cooperation, look forward to spending time together, and need their expertise and guidance as you buy gifts.

Be prepared

When you know exactly what you need to buy and where you can buy it, you can get in and get out — and get on to something your kids enjoy more. How can you know what you want before you even see what’s out there? Spend an evening browsing catalogs and looking at gift ideas online, and put together not only a list but also an agenda: first we’ll go here to buy A, B, and C; next we’ll go there to tackle D and E; then we’ll call it a day — and make a beeline to the nearest park!

Know of other good strategies to make holiday shopping with the family go smoothly, or have a funny story about hitting the stores with your kids? Share them with us on Facebook.


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