Get Ready for Shopping Season (with the Kids)

Get Ready for Shopping Season (with the Kids)

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Whether your child is a toddler, a teen or somewhere in between, the magic of Santa is all in the surprise waiting under the tree Christmas morning. The actual surprising? Well, that’s the tricky part.

Playing Santa while shopping with kids of any age is an exercise in stealth, patience and creativity that’s almost as hard as trying to find a place to stash the gifts once you get home (one hint: it’s nearly impossible to hide a light-sensitive talking baby anywhere in your closet without her piping up ‘Peek-a-boo!’ anytime you open the door). So how do you attempt to shop for kids, finding that perfect gift to wrap up for them for Christmas — all while they’re with you?

As a mom who’s been there and done that, I’ve got a few ideas to get you started.

Play Zone Defense

This approach works if you have older children, a friend or a spouse along with you for the ride. You can have your accomplice take the younger kids down one aisle while you shop in another. For tweens and teens, let them browse the store on their own. Explain to them you’ll meet back at the front after 20 minutes, or whatever time you decide. While they’re away, you can shop.

Scout First, Buy Later

You may need several trips — and some time online — to find your kids’ gifts. After all, hiding the new Lego Millennium Falcon set under your arm while in the store so your child can’t see it is next to impossible (and yes, that’s on my 12-year-old’s list this year). Go through the store with your child to gauge her interest in the gift ideas you’ve been considering. If she doesn’t seem to even give a second glance to the Guardians of the Galaxy Groot Bobble Head, you can cross that one off the list and see what she really likes.

Enlist Sibling Help

Siblings are quite possibly the best sources of gift ideas for kids. No siblings? Sometimes grandma can kindly interrogate the grandkids for their wish lists. My girls like to play “gift detective” and investigate in the store for ideas. This works well, especially with stocking stuffers. I’ll give my kids cash, say $10 or less for little gifts, and let the girls purchase and keep them hidden until they put them into each other’s stockings on Christmas Eve. That way not only are my kids surprised by their gifts, I am, too!

Go for a Stealth Checkout

The trickiest part of the shopping experience is the checkout. Just how do you keep a wiggly preschooler from seeing the latest Disney princess going down the conveyor belt? And how do you hide the new headphones for your curious teen? Sometimes, I’ll cover the gifts both in the cart and on the belt with my coat. This can raise some eyebrows from the checker, but I try to tip him off that my kids are with me and the gifts are a surprise.

Then again, this is the one time it’s actually helpful to have the candy haul right next to the register — while purchasing the gift, have your child pick out his favorite candy bar or a pack of gum to have on the way home. (Hopefully he’s not a quick decider!)

Wrap to Surprise

There are those moments when you’re just not going to be able to avoid your child seeing her gift pre-Christmas. Let’s say you encounter a deal on a Minion-themed pajama set your child has been pining for and you’ve got a cart full of groceries and no time or sanity to keep it hidden or come back later. My advice? Get it. Later, wrap it in a package that will keep your child guessing — roll them up so they look too small to be the pajamas, or tuck them away in an oversized box that looks way too big to be the prized PJs.

Sanity Savers when Shopping for Kids

Before you leave, let your kids know the general schedule. For example, tell them, “First, we’re going to this department store, then to the toy store and we’ll finish up at another department store. Three stops, okay?” Then stick to your plan!

Set a time limit

You don’t have to plan down to the last minute, but again, a general idea will go a long way toward letting your kids know that they won’t be shopping forever. Often, if kids know the schedule and the timing, they’re more willing to tag along without too much complaining.

Eat before you go

Kids shopping + empty tummies = a bad combo. A hungry mom accompanying them is even worse. Plan on eating a meal or a substantial snack before you hit the store and stock your purse with granola bars and even a few sweet extras. I like caramel candies — bad for their teeth, but great for keeping their mouths busy.

Don’t just shop

Many stores have places to take a break between buying. For example, in Chagrin Falls, you can walk along the park trail. At the Aurora Farms Premium Outlets, there’s a lake along with benches outside where you can sit and take a break.

About the author

I’m a freelance writer, recipe developer, and—most importantly—mother of three. My work has appeared in KIWI, Parenting, Parents, Relish, USAA Magazine,,, and Yahoo Shine!. I’m currently a contributing editor for MetroParent magazine, the regional parenting publication of the greater Detroit area.

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