They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that is definitely true when it comes to this post! I am very thankful to have parents that live nearby, and my mom is great about helping with the boys during doctor appointments, etc. However, mom is not always available, my husband has often had to work long hours and we don’t want to be just trading off watching the kids, and we can’t always afford a babysitter. So I have survived many boring errands with all four boys along, including a dental cleaning (for me!) and most of my haircut appointments. It’s not always pretty, but I’ve learned a few things along the way about surviving boring errands with the boys.
Note: All of these ideas are screen-free, mainly because we don’t own an iPad or tablet. The boys play Angry Birds on my iPhone some, but we try to limit it. I’m not opposed to a good educational app, but I recommend not falling into the habit of using an electronic device for every outing! Forced wait times can be a chance to sneak in some quality time interacting with your kids.
For errands where you are all waiting together:
- Bring along a chapter book to read aloud. Check out this post and this post for some suggestions of good chapter books for boys.
- Bring along paper and pencils. Play hangman or tic-tac-toe, or take turns drawing pictures and guessing what they are.
- Bring a sheet of little stickers and paper to stick them on. This is great for toddlers and preschoolers.
- Play a game. For younger kids, play “I Spy.” Or an animal game that a friend of mine made up: Each person takes a turn saying “I’m a cheetah” or “I’m a turtle,” etc. Keep going until you can’t think of any more animals!
- Look around your location and find something that starts with each letter of the alphabet.
- Play The Memory Game. Bring along small set of Memory Game cards in a ziploc bag – maybe 8 pairs or so.
For errands where you need the kids to be occupied while you think/shop/make decisions:
- Stop by the library and check out a bag of books to bring along. I did this last year while furniture shopping. I needed to be able to look through catalogs of furniture, so we went to the library first and loaded up! It worked, and the boys sat quietly for the 20-30 min. that I needed in the store.
- Pack a small backpack or box with Legos, books, coloring books, or toys. This works especially well for a wait time that is part of a routine. For example, my boys always pack a little plastic box with Lego guys to play with while they wait for Owen to have his gymnastics class. It’s the same plan every week. My experience has been that at a new place, they may or may not want to play with what we bring, which can be a problem.
- Let the kids spend their money on a toy on your way to the boring errand. If we need to make an important decision or we’re at an important appointment, it might be worth it for us to let the kids spend their money or to spend our money to let the kids each buy a small toy to play with. It’s still cheaper than a babysitter for four kids! Lego sets are especially helpful because they take a while to build, and building them involves sitting still. NOTE: We definitely do not buy the kids something for every outing in which they have to wait, and we certainly don’t want them to think that they can’t behave without being given something new to play with. But at the same time, a furniture store is not the time or place to train for appropriate behavior!
- For the grocery store (ugh, the hot-zone of bad behavior), try giving the kids each their own list of things to look for. I’ve done picture lists for the younger ones before – I just draw simple things like apples and bread and let them check those things off their lists. As they get older (age 9+), you could even give them their own cart along with their own list and then meet up at the front of the store. It’s more work up front, but the sanity can be worth it!
We still have errands that disintegrate into bad behavior, but usually when I take the time to plan ahead, things go more smoothly. What tips do you have to add for surviving boring errands with kids?