It might happen in the dairy aisle. It might happen in the meat department.

Chances are it’ll happen in the frozen food section as your three-year-old makes his 42nd request for a frozen treat with more grams of sugar than any three-year-old should eat in a week.

But make no mistake, it will happen. Your child will melt down in the grocery store as you are desperately trying to maintain your sanity and get this precious chore done. And there are only a few things that can help you: a sense of humor, a saint’s patience, and a figurative hammer in your back pocket.

You know how you make one of those lists before you go to the store? When grocery shopping with children, you’ll need a second list. A list of items to take that will cover just about any possible scenario, melt down, argument, or crisis that might pop up. Consider it your parenting utility belt.

The foundation for this survival guide begins at home, well before you walk out the door for your grocery store excursion. There are items to gather and conversations to be had. And like any good survival guide, you need to make sure that the items you need are on hand, plentiful, and that you’re not afraid to use them, no matter the circumstances.

1. Prepare Your Child

The first step is to tell your child that you’ll be heading to the store soon. This plants the seed in their young mind of what’s to come. You can remind them of the behavior expectations and remind them that if they behave, good things might come to them.

2. Show Up Armed With Distractions

Gather snacks, cups, a few toys, a book or two, and anything else that can get you out of a tight spot. A crucial fail here and you could be down for the count.

3. Hold Onto Happy Thoughts

On your journey to the store, keep things light and positive. If you sense a growing unease, remind your child of how they can help you in the store and how you’ll get done as quickly as humanly possible.

4. Look for Signs That Trouble's Comin'

Like a suspicious police officer on the look out for malevolent behavior, a parent must be vigilant at all times in the grocery store for signs that your child is growing bored, weary, or feisty. Like heavy winds and a drop in pressure, these are the warning signs that a storm is approaching.

5. When the Inevitable Meltdown Comes, React Patiently and Calmly

Losing your mind while your child is losing theirs is a major survival guide no-no.

6. When the Storm Comes in, Be Ready

Items might be thrown. Angry words might be said. Fists might fly and tears may be shed. You must prepare for any eventuality. React appropriately. Just like you wouldn’t chase a fly with a shovel, you probably wouldn’t put a child in time out in the grocery store on their first offense. Think through your possible reactions and punishments ahead of time. The silent treatment, a loss of reward, and a stern talking-to might be what’s necessary in this moment.

7. Prepare to Bargain

By now you’ve learned that one of the survival methods is the carrot and stick. In other words, you’ve got to have something to bargain with. Does the store give free cookies to kids? Did you promise your child a special treat if they behave? ALWAYS hold this bargaining chip until the end of your trip. That way, you can use it again and again to (hopefully) reinforce good behavior. Once the meltdown begins, whip out that hammer and start using it.

8. Have a Sense of Humor

Ever been on safari when all eyes are trained on the animal? When your child has a meltdown, you’re the animal. All eyes in the grocery store will be set on you and your child as customers and employees watch you handle and navigate this common, combustible situation. Try to have a sense of humor about it instead of being embarrassed or stressed. Every parent in that store has probably dealt with a similar crisis. They probably aren’t judging you; they’re just rubbernecking.

9. Hopefully the Bargaining Or the Punishment Worked

If not, you may need to resort to the final act in the survival guide — full scale retreat. If the situation is so dire and so frightening, your only option might be to run away, child included. Grocery shopping might have to occur on another day at another time, and depending on how nasty the meltdown, in another zip code.

What are your grocery store survival tips? 

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