Store Checkout Routines: Share your Toddler Tips

A store’s checkout line is a special parenting zone. We stand still for a few minutes, sometimes too many minutes. We
develop and evolve rituals to keep our kids engaged.

Putting my daughter in a shopping cart is easy enough. We started by playing remote peek-a-boo from across the counter, and later we could simply make faces. Today, at almost 4-years-old, the events
naturally transpiring around her are interesting enough to keep her attention.

Standing with us in the checkout line is another matter. As soon as
was feasible, we let her foist bread and small non-fragile boxes onto the conveyor
belt. Upon departure, we offered her the tantalizing excitement of carrying the

At her third birthday we gave her a wallet, initially to carry her library card. With our guidance
she paid for small items with coins, or a quickly produced bill from Papa’s wallet.
Larger purchases required her own credit card. Now almost a year later, she has
lost interest in her wallet, so I carry her plastic for her.

Behold my daughter’s latest credit card.

A red plastic card that resembles a credit card. It is labeled : TV converter box coupon program. $40 towards the purchase of an eligible converter box. The card contains the seal of the US Department of Commerce.

We’ve used many cards obtained from junk mail in the past
year, but they have one unifying quality — cheapness. They are made from
thick paper or flimsy plastic.

When the opportunity arose six months ago, I applied
for a $40 coupon from the US government. This is the same US government rolling in so much surplus cash it’s giving $40-off coupons to its residents to buy converter boxes for adapting their analog TVs to receive digital broadcast signals. (Come February 17, 2009 analog signals won’t be broadcast. If you have a cable box or satellite TV, you may already have a converter.)

I applied for two coupons through the government’s
converter box website for our two TVs, but in the intervening time we stopped
using one TV and use the other one mostly for DVDs. What can I say? Our effort to not make TV a driving force in our daughter’s life ended up affecting us too.

It turns out these "coupons" are hard plastic
cards, replete with embossed numbers (only the last four digits differ on my
two cards). There is also a hokey engraved 3-D silver hologram that displays the word
"security" in a circle above a field of $ signs. Thank you Department
of Commerce for the best damn fake credit card my daughter has ever had. And
it’s bright red, too.

Using the card is simple. After I swipe my legitimate credit
card through a store’s card reader and confirm my purchase, I quickly pick up
Little Miss and help her slide her own card through the reader. Her invalid
card doesn’t interfere with my valid transaction, so no harm done. Whether she knows it’s all for show, or not, doesn’t matter. She has fun doing it.

Now, I have to wonder, what checkout rituals does your family have for
keeping kid(s) engaged?


15 Responses to “Store Checkout Routines: Share your Toddler Tips”

  1. JMo says:

    Very cool idea! Another one to put in the mental filing cabinet.

    My guy is about 18-months so he is usually in the cart during checkout. At the grocery store, they have balloons by the checkout so we look at those – so much fun to examine your reflection in a shiny balloon. At the big box stores I’ll offer one of the many books that I carry in my purse/diaper bag or let him hold something really cool, like the lanyard with my building access key for work. I will have to think of something new when he learns that he can throw it though.

    March 11th, 2008 at 6:00 am

  2. Tiffany says:

    My son just loves to hold the groceries- usually the bread. If I try to shop without buying bread, he reminds me that he wants bread (whether we need it or not). Now, he just turned two, so sometimes our bread comes out a little squished, but as long as I let him hold the bread (and often other fragile items like chips…) he’s happy- until the checker has to scan the items. Then it’s a quick grab and hand back and a happy boy. He just wants to be part of the process, so as long as he gets to have some of the groceries, he’s happy.

    March 11th, 2008 at 6:38 am

  3. AnjieNet says:

    My 4 year old daughter likes to swipe a card too. She has been swiping our debit cards since she was about 2. I don’t think she knows our pin codes, let’s hope not! She does still enjoy holding the receipt too. Especially at the wholesale store where she gets a “smiley” on the receipt and on her hand. She also likes holding her own bag. If we buy a new book we’ll get it put into a bag of her own to carry out to the car.

    March 11th, 2008 at 8:46 am

  4. K G S says:

    My daughter just turned 2 and has recently gotten into “reading” our shopping list in line. I love to hear her call out a series of randomly selected letters and then triumphantly announce what they “spell,” it’s fun to see what words she’ll pick. She also enjoys the enormous responsibility of handing our cloth grocery bags to the bagger.

    March 11th, 2008 at 11:00 am

  5. Sandy W. says:

    My 4 yr old son has high-functioning autism. He absolutely hates the fluorescent lighting in most stores and doesn’t sit still well. But one thing we found he loves is taking pictures with a digital camera. So, we got him one called Kidizoom that is nearly indestructible (in case he drops it, which he often does). We have reserved the use of the camera for shopping trips only, to keep it a special treat. Now he strolls happily through stores taking pictures and videos of things. He really likes the function of the camera where he can put pigs noses on people while he takes the picture. But our rule is that he can only take pictures of Mommy and Daddy, so as not to offend the other customers in the store.

    March 11th, 2008 at 12:14 pm

  6. Erica says:

    First, our grocery store often has a bucket of free samples next to the bakery, so the last area we go to is there. She knows she has to be good while I’m shopping if she wants a “special treat” from the bakery. She also likes to “write” (read: scribble) a grocery list and read it to me while we’re shopping, so I give her a pencil and a pile of sticky notes to keep her happy. Finally, she likes to swipe my card and press the green button when we’re all done. Most of the time it all works, but sometimes…well, not so much.

    March 11th, 2008 at 12:36 pm

  7. Sara says:

    We try to shop organized, so that we spend minimal time in the store. I have let my little one eat something from the cart as soon as we pay for it…it is the first thing down the conveyor belt so he can start eating it once “beeped”. I learned my lesson on this after I let him eat a banana in the store one time, not paying attention to the fact that they are priced by weight and I let my little monkey get away with stealing!!!! I felt really bad about that when I realized my blunder, and since then we wait for the merchandise to be scanned before we eat. I have also been known to buy M&Ms for us to share…sometimes Mommy needs some chocolate! But most of the time he is content to ride along and then loves to help place items on the conveyor.

    March 11th, 2008 at 12:48 pm

  8. lace says:

    Great tips. We only have her help with putting the grocery’s onto the conveyor. She is pretty content with that for now.

    March 11th, 2008 at 12:54 pm

  9. Tara says:

    I try not to go grocery shopping with my little one too often. It’s just too hard and she gets too fussy. But, when I do, she loves to play with the pull out tray for guests in wheelchairs. Her aunt is in a wheelchair so she talks about Aunt Melynn and pushes the tray in and out. Hey, it’s the little things!

    March 11th, 2008 at 7:09 pm

  10. leslie says:

    My 3 year old holds the shopping list and sometimes I’ll give him a toy (matchbox car or animal figurine). He also likes placing the items on the conveyor belt. And sometimes, he’ll pretend to hand ‘monies’ to the cashier. He always wants to talk to the cashier and sometimes the cashiers just aren’t interested (I don’t blame them). When he was a baby I narrated everything I was doing, just as I did at home with him all day. Now we have a conversation about the items as we place them in the shopping cart. I also let him pick out specific fruits and veggies and place them in bags. But in general, he’s happy just looking around the store and talking about various items we’re buying or that he sees on the shelves.

    My 6 month old is happy just looking around at the world as it whizzes by, so she doesn’t require any additional toys or jobs yet.

    March 11th, 2008 at 11:30 pm

  11. Tim says:

    I tried to think up some tips, but then I realized that my wife and I do most of our shopping as a couple, so that one is always minding our 3-year old while the other completes the transaction (and the one year old is contained in the cart). One recent check-out experience was no problem at all, in spite of a long line. This was at Border’s, which fortunately for me, had stacks of clearance books to catch his interest right by the registers.

    March 12th, 2008 at 6:15 am

  12. Ticia says:

    We practice sitting still or putting things on the conveyor belt. My 15 month old sits in the cart.

    March 12th, 2008 at 6:18 am

  13. Sara says:

    My 3 year old rides in the cart while I carry my 4 month old in a carrier. She also loves to “check the list” for me, both my own and the one she usually makes before we leave home. She helps put things on the belt, too. Often she’ll “read’ her books to herself while we’re shopping or just chat with me.

    When we have long lines to wait in, though, we usually either practice counting the number of people in front of us (and then subtracting, etc.), number of balloons, anything in site. Or, we sing songs (yes, it’s embarrassing) or look for other kids in line to talk to.

    March 12th, 2008 at 10:20 am

  14. Molly says:

    We go through the self checkout.

    One-year old Perla loves “helping” by putting lighter objects in the bag, or feeding coupons and money into the bill feeder.

    If we’re at a cashier-only store I make sure to wear her instead of sitting her in the cart.

    March 13th, 2008 at 10:22 am

  15. Jen says:

    This might seem simple, but we’ll often tote along a snack.

    To keep my girl (who just turned 2), happy, I often will peel a banana from the produce section and let her eat it as we shop. Important to note though, our grocery sells bananas by the item, not by weight, so it’s easy so say, “Just add one more please, she already snacked on it” :) Otherwise, grapes, apple slices, etc. work well.

    Other things:

    I encourage her to name everything she sees and to tell me stories about the items. She’s highly verbal and not at all physical, so she has the patience to play like this with me. I know some kids wouldn’t like that at all

    She also likes to continue to clean the cart after I’ve done the initial wipe-down before she gets in. Even with the cover, she’d manage to find the metal spots, so I eventually gave her a disinfectant wipe and let her go to town cleaning. Germ free and fun.

    I ask her to “read” the boxes and bags before they go into the cart. She knows all uppercase letters and is getting curious about the lowercase letters. I found that the grocery store is the perfect place to start pointing them out, especially with the variety of fonts.

    When we get in line, I also try to encourage her to interact with others. They’re new faces, and often times, if they’re willing to chat, time passes more peaceably for everyone. (Of course, we take our verbal and non-verbal cues if someone would rather us leave them alone :)

    When all else fails and she’s being totally squirrelly, I’ll either find a book that she can look at, (that we can replace before we leave), or throw my caution and image to the wind and sing and dance like a loon for her entertainment.

    March 13th, 2008 at 12:16 pm

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