I’ve never been a big fan of running errands. The mundane chores of grocery shopping, going to the bank or the post office, or returning library books have always been things I rushed through to get onto better things. After my first daughter was born, my dislike of running errands became dread of dealing with car seats, tantrums, and juggling kid and diaper bag as we schlepped all over town. And now that I have two kids, these once minor annoyances have become major pains in the butt. Leaving the house with babies, toddlers, even preschoolers is always challenging. And running errands adds an extra layer of ugh. The in and out of the car, the multiple stops, the lack of entertainment all lead to misbehavior, meltdowns, and an overall wish you had just stayed home. But it can be done as we moms all know. It just isn’t fun. But here are some tips for running errands with kids without losing your mind.
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Running Errands with Kids
1. Timing is Everything
We all have times of day when were better able to cope with chores, outings, and the annoyances of running errands. This is doubly true for kids. Before you set off with your to-do list and drag your kids all over town with you, consider what time of day you will likely get the best behavior from them.
For instance, running errands with kids right before nap or lunch time usually leads to epic failure of the trip. For one thing, you risk your little one taking a five-minute catnap in the car and then skipping their nap at home. My worst nightmare.
I know some moms plan their errands for when their kids will nap in the car. I do not do this because my kids never sleep well in the car if at all. They usually just become cranky and scream and cry, especially my youngest. She might fall asleep after an hour of unearthly screaming but it won’t be for long enough to get her rest. Just enough time to keep her from napping at home later.
And avoiding typical meal or snack times is a must. A hungry kid is an angry kid. And the truth is my fuse gets a lot shorter when I’m hungry too. I try never to punish my kids for behavior that can be fixed with rest or food. So, don’t set your kids up for failure with an ill-timed outing if you can avoid it.
2. Pee Before You Leave and Other Things to Do Before You Go
If you remember nothing else before you leave the house, have everyone not in diapers pee before you go. This times fifty if you’re potty training! Many a trip to run errands with kids has gone off the rails when I had to go in search of a public bathroom my toddler may or may not be too scared of the automatic flushing toilet to use.
The only thing worse than trying to find a bathroom is dealing with accidents on to the go. It can all be handled, of course, you’ve got this mama! But it still sucks and makes the whole trip take longer and become more complicated than it needs to be. I do everything I can to avoid public potty stops with kids.
And the peeing before you leave goes for moms too. Ever tried to pee in a public bathroom when you have two toddlers with you? It’s five minutes of “don’t touch that!”, “quit opening the door”, “leave the sink alone!” before you’ve even managed to get your pants down.
Snacks are another before-you-go must. To avoid the hangry mom or kid issue I mentioned before. Or you can plan for a snack during the trip if there is a convenient place to take a break and eat. I don’t allow snacks in the car because it’s a huge choking hazard. But my local grocery store gives free cookies or fruit to kids while you shop. And sometimes I take the kids for a walk around the block while they eat a snack between stops if necessary. But my first choice is to eat before we leave the house to keep the trip quick.
3. Bring Your Travel Gear
More than travel gear, what I mean is bring your containment equipment. I bring my stroller even for very short stops like the bank or the post office. My kids need to be contained. Twice, I’ve had my oldest daughter run away and hide in public and it is not something I care to repeat. If I can’t bring the stroller I bring our monkey backpack with a leash.
When I am trying to talk to a clerk while holding the hands of squirming, tantruming kids, or trying to catch a runaway toddler, it is a miserable experience for all of us. It’s much easier to have kiddos contained so I can focus. Even if dragging the stroller out of the car takes longer than the errand itself. Worth it.
4. Bring Toys and Treats
Bribes, I’m talking about bringing bribes. You can buy a lot of good behavior with a bag of M&Ms. I’m just saying. As I said, my favorite grocery store gives away cookies to kids at the bakery. And I milk that prize for all the time I can. If your store doesn’t have something like this, bring your own.
Save it for at least two-thirds of the way through the trip, mentioning it frequently as a reward to be won or lost based on the behavior you’re seeing. My bank has Dum Dum Suckers I exchange for good behavior in the same way.
I bring fun car toys and activities for emergencies as well. Happy kids, happy outing. There is a timing factor here. Use it to encourage cooperation as long as you can. But offer the reward before your kids reach a meltdown point so you don’t have to take it away. Because if you actually have to do that, any hope of a good trip is gone.
5. Add a Fun Stop
Whenever time allows I like to build a fun break into any outing where I take my kids along. If we’re going to our bank, we stop at the park right next to it and have some play time. Or if we’re grocery shopping, we make a stop at the toy aisle for some window shopping (ok, they usually convince me to buy something, but just something small). Or we’ve taken a walk around the block to explore different parts of town when it coincides with our errand destinations. For my kids, lots of places I find tedious, they find exciting. When I have time, I like to give them a chance to explore.
If this isn’t a possibility, we break up the trip by playing car games like I, Spy or having a Raffi song singalong.
6. Don’t Do Too Many Things at Once
If your list of errands is more than two or three items long, you may need to split it into two trips. Which I hate doing. Once I go to the trouble to get us all in the car, I want to get everything done in one fell swoop. But that may not be what will work best with my kids. With the goal of keeping everyone in a fairly good mood, sometimes I have to spread my errands out over days.
If you have to get in and out of the car at each stop or the trip itself will take more than an hour, it’s going to get rough on the kids. And rough on you. Limit yourself to the more time-sensitive errands and keep it to two or three stops max. I hate it too, but I’ve found it’s what works best.
7. Stay in the Car
This is my top tip! If you can avoid getting out of the car for the majority of your errands- do it! Not only does it eliminate your inevitable back pain from wrestling multiple kids in and out of car seats, but it saves a ton of time.
Does your bank have a drive thru? Use it! Your post office and library probably have drop boxes too. And as for my most hated errand, grocery shopping, online ordering has changed my life! If your grocery store doesn’t have online ordering with pickup, find one that does or call yours and ask them when they’re getting it! I’m telling you it is the best thing since disposable diapers for making moms’ lives easier.
I know it helps kids to get out and stretch their legs. It helps moms too. But when you have a long list of errands to get done, staying in the car is best for maximum efficiency. If you’re lucky it will make everything so fast you have the time and energy for that stop at the park. Or extra play time at home.
Get Done and Get Home
When it comes to running errands with kids my policy is to get done and get home as quickly as possible. If we can have some fun along the way, that’s great. Especially if it makes the trip more pleasant overall. But for the most part, I want to cross things off my to-do list and get home where I can enjoy my kids in our childproof, toy filled environment. If this is your feeling too, I hope you can use these tips to get your running errands with kids done and move on to the fun parts of your day. Like lunch and nap time.