It’s not on the list.

photo credit: M Waterman

When my children were very little we ‘enjoyed’ the same grocery store trials and tribulations as most families in the US. Pushing the cart down the aisles, I was peppered with demands like
“Can I have…?” 
“Let’s get…” 
“I want these!”

In a lot of families, when attempts like these don’t work they’re invariably followed by complaining or whining or yelling or crying. It’s unpleasant. It’s tiresome. 
Maybe you’ve been there?

Shopping with my kids was easily my least favorite activity.

It’s not just me — or you

Grocery stores are intentionally arranged and designed to create desire. If you are not aware of this — there are literally millions of dollars spent in marketing research just to figure out what shelf to place the food on. And on how to arrange those annoying stacks of things that stick out into the aisles. All of this research is designed to promote more sales. Especially last minute sales.

When my kids were very young I realized fairly quickly that I couldn’t take years of this. We had some really uncomfortable, LOUD, grocery store runs.

It was starting to look like the only solution was to do all my shopping by myself — a logistical nightmare given that I was in school full time and also the primary caregiver at our house.

I invented a rule, which I went over with my young children before leaving the house each time we went shopping:

“If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t go in the cart.”

The downside was hard…

To be honest, the new rule had a couple of drawbacks for me.

It meant I actually had to take the time to write out a list — any time I went to get groceries or household things.

And it also meant I had to hold myself to the same standard. Which I did, even before my kids could read. No more spontaneous chip purchases. No more grabbing that box of cookies that looked so cute and tasty. Hard to stick to!

But the upside rocked!

The upside to the new rule was life altering though, and I heartily recommend that you try it. Any time the kids started to ask for some kind of treat or junk food, I could simply say: “It’s not on the list so we aren’t buying it today.”

It took several times, of course, for the idea to fully sink in. I had to be 100% consistent. Kids are like velociraptors testing the fence. If you let it slip that one time, it gives them incentive to keep testing to find when the next slip will happen in their favor.

Over time my children almost never asked for treats in a store. 
When they did, I simply reminded them politely “It isn’t on the list.” And they accepted it.

That may seem unbelievable, but my kids knew I would follow through. This is one of the many benefits of using clear limits, consistent follow through, and explaining your rationale to your kids: they start to listen to you.

I could sail through a grocery store with no whining! If you have kids, I don’t need to tell you how fantastic that is.

And there was more

In general children are ingenius about meeting their needs.

Cut off from the possibility of in-store requests, my kids pivoted. What they developed in place of whining or crying was a clever “Could we put it on the list next time?” I found that pretty amusing, actually. I tackled it by saying we would discuss it at home.

The other thing that developed was my children’s ability to independently ask for food they wanted us to purchase, when we were still at home. They could choose the appropriate time — when the list was being generated.

This was breath-taking, and I have to say, unexpected.

First of all, remembering to talk about something they want to get in the future takes both planning and patience. These are terrific qualities to develop. They’re really hard for little kids and they take practice to build. “It’s not on the list” created the motivation for my kids to build these skills on their own.

It also gave us the opportunity to talk about what they wanted. And about how that fit into our family’s values for food health and our family’s budget. Bringing it up at the house meant we could take the time to discuss it outside of the frenzy of the store and needing to get through and out the door.

“It’s not on the list” created a conversation, rather than a fight. And it saved us money to boot.

I’m not alone in this!

I know it works. And not just for me.

Out grocery shopping with my 17-year old daughter recently, there was a mom and her three children in the check out line across from us.

You know all those last minute treats they put on the shelves by the cash register? The ones for you to succumb to while you’re waiting? There’s even a name for them — point-of-sale marketing. All that market research on product placement shows that our willpower is weakest when we’re almost done and waiting to get out. That’s why all those goodies are there in line to tempt you.

Well it was working on this family.

I had already noticed these three kids in the store while I was shopping, because they were really well behaved children. They had been helping their mom throughout the store, and they were polite and playful with each other. Really model behavior.

And then, waiting in the long, tedious line, the littlest one picked up some candy and turned to her mom. I was incredibly delighted to hear a simple, polite, “It’s not on the list” from the mother. And down went the candy. No complaint, no fuss. No issue. Because this mom obviously levels with her kids. And she clearly follows through.

“It’s not on the list” can work for you too.

Things to Try:

1. Talk to your kids about how you want a grocery store run to go.

2. Ask your child how they feel when someone keeps pestering them to do something they’ve already said no to.

3. Try implementing “If it’s not on the list it doesn’t go in the cart”

And let me know how it goes!

Thanks for reading this piece! Comments or thoughts? I’d love to hear them. And if you liked it please click the Share heart or share on social media of your choice.