Kids: shop, don’t strop!

  • Over a third (38%) of parents claim their child has thrown a tantrum whilst shopping, with almost half (43%) saying they would rather avoid a trip to the shops with the kids for fear of their child misbehaving
  • A quarter (25%) of parents polled admit to using sweets and bribery to get their child to behave when shopping
  • TV psychologist Dr Sam Wass explains why children might find shopping a stressful experience and shares top tips to help make shopping more enjoyable for families

The all too familiar experience of witnessing a toddler meltdown in public is inhibiting mums and dads from hitting the shops, according to research commissioned by NewRiver – one of the UK’s largest shopping centre owner/managers. In a UK wide poll of 2,000 parents, over a third (38%) complained about their child having a tantrum while shopping and almost half (43%) with children of school age said they avoid going to the shops for fear their offspring might misbehave.

The research highlighted a need to help solve a common problem for customers shopping with young children in tow, as 1 in 5 of parents surveyed even confessed to having to leave a shop because of their child’s bad behaviour. Mum’s are seen to be the most self-conscious, with a third (32%) saying they felt judged in a shop when their kid started playing up, compared to just 1 in 5 of dads (22%). However, men admitted that they were the quickest to turn their noses up at mischievous children with 42% of those polled saying they have judged another parent whose child was misbehaving.

With 33 community shopping centres across the UK, NewRiver has been looking at ways to improve the retail experience for family shoppers and has brought on board child psychologist Dr Sam Wass, who appears in Channel 4’s The Secret Life of Four Year Olds series, to help understand the reasons behind shopping centre temper tantrums:

“Most children throw tantrums at some point – but, of all the times when they might misbehave, shopping is one of the most common,” Dr Sam Wass comments. “From a scientific point of view, we understand quite well why this is. Children tend to be more up and down in their moods than adults are – and are more affected by moving from a calm environment to a stressful one. Shops tend to be full of unfamiliar people and can be quite an unstructured and unpredictable experience. Children can feel they have no control over what happens next which can cause anxiety.

“A quarter (25%) of the parents surveyed confessed to using sweets and other bribery tactics to improve the retail experience – but this can be quite counter-productive. The more presents you buy for children, the more presents or treats they will ask for. This might calm a child in the short term – but in the long term it can lead to further oppositional behaviours and naughtiness. Instead of costly gifts, try turning to buying healthy snacks which are still considered a ‘treat’ for the child.”

To create a more enjoyable family shopping experience, Dr Sam Wass has worked with NewRiver to provide some top tips for parents to manage the structure of shopping and minimise stress for kids:

  1. Time: “Time is a difficult concept for children to grasp so giving your child a clock or timer to look at would be a good way of helping them feel in control of the situation. Agree a time limit for being in the shop, encouraging them to watch it countdown.
  2. Checklist: “Make the experience interactive and agree a shopping checklist which children can help to tick off, understanding that once the list is complete it’s time to go home. Ask them to help find the items they like: ‘Oh look, we’re in the cereal aisle, please can you find me the Ready Brek.’
  3. Breaks: “Plan regular breaks in between shops with intervals of play or refreshments to keep children stimulated and give structure to the trip.
  4. Rewards: “If you do want to buy a present for a child, it’s better not to give them the treat the moment they ask for it. Learning to wait is an important life skill for children to develop. Rewards for good behaviour are most effective when they are predictable, consistent – and when the child can see them coming in advance.
  5. Warning signs: “Look for early warning signs of an outburst (agitation, hunger, tiredness or stress) and try to pre-empt the problem with a break, or a healthy snack. Be aware that your mood affect your child’s mood: shouting at an already anxious child is likely to make them behave worse, not better.”

Taking a hands-on approach to asset management, NewRiver is developing a ‘Kids Club’ to enhance the retail experience for families shopping across its centres. With the help of Dr Sam Wass, NewRiver will be rolling out a series of initiatives to help parents feel more at ease when shopping with their kids. NewRiver will be training local security teams in ‘tantrum taming’ this summer as well as implementing tactics such as treasure trails, free play areas and activities for children in their food courts, creating a more relaxed dining experience for the family.

Donna Callander, spokesperson for NewRiver, comments: “Our research reveals that many parents either avoid shopping or make rushed purchases when with the kids for fear of them misbehaving. Working with Sam, we’ve come up with several tactics that will keep children stimulated in our centres and make shopping a more enjoyable experience for families. Our Kids Club will offer free events for children throughout the year, special offers for parents who sign up, and a ‘child safe’ scheme giving parents piece of mind when out shopping. Based on our research, we believe this will help keep children amused and incentivise good behaviour meaning happy families all round.”

For more insights and advice from Dr Sam Wass on shopping with children, and details of NewRiver’s Kids Club, please visit: www.nrr.co.uk/kidsclub

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