Surviving boring errands with kids.  Tips from a mom of 4 boys!

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?

12 Comments

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  1. [email protected] Apr 14, 2013

    Love it! We always have books with us - the library bag is a huge save for so many errands that we do! And yes, drawing books too :)

    Reply
    1. Meaghan Apr 15, 2013

      Your list is great! We always just have some small toy cars and a snack for the kids. I love your suggestions.

      Reply
      1. Sarita Apr 15, 2013

        When my sons could read I gave them a list of things for the grocery store nd off they went with their cart. Now they are grown with families. Both cook,and can pick out good fruit and veggies. I didn't have them shop because they were bored (which is a word not allowed in our house!), they shopped because they are part of a family and shopping is what we do. I enjoy your blog. Thank you

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        1. Rachel Apr 16, 2013

          We love to tell stories to each other or play the "works you rather" game

          Reply
          1. Mallory May 5, 2013

            My dear older sister used to take me/another sister to the library her last years of high school (she is ~10 years older than I, so I was ~7, other sister ~9), she would give us a scavenger hunt activity while she studied. She would give us something like a "giraffe" or "palm tree" so we'd look through the magazines in that section of the library and the first one of us 2 to find that picture would get a point. It was a fun game that I still remember, so I definitely recommend that one!

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            1. April May 12, 2013

              Great post! I have three kids ages 7, 4, and 2 with one on the way and I try to avoid taking all three with me grocery shopping whenever possible. Even the two younger girls without their older brother to pick on them is sometimes more than enough! And with homeschooling next year, I'll have all four(!) with me a majority of the time. I am VERY grateful for your suggestions and I will be implementing all of them in the months to come!!! Thanks so much!

              Reply
              1. Amy Jul 10, 2013

                Great ideas. I am lucky enough to have a giant eagle in western pa that has an Eagle's Nest and you can leave kids 3 to 12. My son loves it. I also take along a DVD player and his Leapad 2 w/ headphones. This has saved me when I had a doctor's appt. I love the library idea b/c it is something new to him and I will try this one for sure.

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                1. Candy Jul 10, 2013

                  I do most of my shopping at Aldi. Because the store is pretty small and there aren't a lot of choices,, I'm comfortable letting my 6 y/o loose with his own list. I hadn't thought about a picture list, but I'll start giving my 3 y/o his own list now (with me, of course).

                  Another idea for car trips and waits is story cubes. I got some as a gift for my nephew right before a long road trip, and my sister LOVES them almost as much as her son does. In lieu of the cubes, you could also put several small random items in a bag to be pulled out later as story starters.

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                  1. aimee Jul 10, 2013

                    Great ideas!

                    While I try to remember to bring something for my bigger kids to do or read, sometimes it just doesn't work out like that and I have had to remind myself that I don't need to feel guilty. Waiting on siblings at lessons is a good way to show love and be involved in each other's lives. And in this age of phones and Ipads, it seems like boredom and dealing with waiting is a life skill that you must actually TEACH now!

                    Reply
                    1. Kelly Jul 10, 2013

                      Thank you for the great reminders. When I take my kids shopping we pretend that the store is a new uncharted forest or planet. They enjoy pretending like each isle is a new area and each item is either a new plant we are collecting to study or animal or some much need supplies. I enjoy hearing what they come up with.

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                      1. Renita Jul 10, 2013

                        I love the ideas to get the kids involved in grocery shopping, and we utilize the library bag weekly. Routine waiting times like allergy injections and speech therapy are great times to squeeze school in too. We have a tote bag living in our school pre-packed with school supplies, workbooks, etc. Throw in the day's worksheets and a book, and we are ready for school on the go.

                        One thing that has worked really well for us is to do the bulk of our household / grocery shopping at the beginning of the month on a day that Daddy can help. At the end of each month I *try* to take a full household inventory (checking off an itemized list of everything I buy regularly according to its location in the house). Then our weekly shopping is down to produce, dairy, and sale items, AND we don't run out of toilet paper as often. :-)

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                        1. Mothering From Scratch Jul 25, 2013

                          {Kathy} One of the other things that I do is make sure that I don't push beyond the number of errands that I am trying to do. Three seems to be the magic number. It is so tempting to go to place number 4, but trust me, there is trouble there.
                          Kids especially don't like it when you say, "Oh, it will just take 5 minutes....." 45 minutes later.
                          It's hard to stay consistent!

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