Friday, October 20, 2006

Shopping with Kids, Advice from a Mother

By Christina VanGinkel

How often have you walked into a store with a young child in tow, and faced down glares from the clerk behind the counter, for no reason other than you have a child with you. Quicker than you could say this never happens; you would have a line of people ready to argue the point. It does happen, and it is often much worse than just glares. You have to put up with signs that clearly state no small children are allowed in the store, to attempts at cutesy sayings such as children left unattended will be sold to the highest bidder. Beyond the signs, you may even occasionally be greeted at the door and told that young children not held in the arms of the adult, or for older kids, held by the hand, are not permitted in the store at all. I have been on both sides of the issue and I can tell you first hand that it is a tricky line to walk for both parents and stores.

No, this does not happen in every store, but smaller stores that cater to a specific clientele seem to be more prone to such happenings. How is a parent to deal with such an issue, save for never shopping in the store again? First, do consider the type of store. Some might be more obvious even to the ones responsible for the child, such as a small gift store with shelf upon shelf of crystal and other expensive glassware. Other stores might not be as obvious, such as that used bookstore you love to shop when you can find a few minutes to sneak in and browse. Sure, your toddler might pull a book or two off the shelf while you are in there, even race around the aisles, but their not really hurting anything, or are they? That used bookstore might conduct a large portion of its business with older customers who love nothing more than to browse the shelves for hours on end, in peace and quiet, and spend a large amount of money at the end of their browsing session. If that customer base routinely spends that much more than the occasional harried mother or father with child in tow, sense tells you whom the store is going to cater to. This does not even take into account the fact that those books your tot is harmlessly pulling off the shelves might be collector editions whose value will plummet if a spine is cracked or a page torn because of mishandling by young children not being supervised.

Some stores try to please both sets of customers, providing play areas specifically for children, but this can backfire. I once talked to a storeowner who said that she installed the play area in the front of her store because she remembered how difficult it was for her to shop when her own children were small. What she never took into account when she created the play area was parents who would actually enter her store, put their kids in the play area, begin browsing the store only to slip out leaving their children behind while they went next door to shop a competitors store that did not have such a play spot. When I remarked how that must have been an odd occurrence and asked her how she dealt with it, she responded by saying that it happened all the time, and so often, that she was seriously considering taking out the play area completely. For now, she had hung her own signs, nothing cutesy about them, simply stating that the play area was for the use of her store's customers only. Those children left unattended by any adult who leaves the store to shop elsewhere will be able to find their child by calling the local social service office, as that is where the unattended child will be sent.

You can help resolve this issue right from the start by being a responsible adult when shopping with your children. Do not let your child roam a store freely, pulling things off shelves, knocking things down, screaming loudly, or poke at or otherwise disturb another customer. All right, I can hear you already saying that sometimes kids just will not behave. This is true. If this a rare occurrence for you, then unless you are in the middle of filling a medically needed prescription or are in the midst of checking out, maybe this means it is time to make the decision to leave the store taking your child with you. Alternately, if it is happening all the time, maybe it is time to reflect on the behavior of your child.

And what about those stores where you do get the glares and rebukes when you have done nothing more than walk into the store with a well-behaved child? Consider if shopping that store is something, you want to continue doing. I had to make just such a decision not that long ago. The fact that the store was one of the only of its kind in close to a hundred mile radius was something that flittingly crossed my mind as I did make the decision to walk out and vowed to never shop there again. I figured that my business is better spent elsewhere, and though another store of its kind was not located nearby, I guess I would have to revert to shopping for the items I commonly picked up there online, which is what I did before the store opened. Let me also reiterate that this occurrence was not the only one of its kind to occur, and it was really just the final straw, so to speak.

What happened was I recently went into a scrapbook store with my three-year-old grandson. I had him by the hand; we walked to the department where I knew the item I wanted was. I was not in the store longer than five minutes and had no intention to browse. On the way out of the store, we stopped by a display of Halloween themed items where my grandson made the 'error' of saying ooh and ahh a bit loudly I guess, because before I knew it, we had a store associate next to us telling us that the display was for customers, not for children. She was rude and there was no getting around that fact. My grandson had not pulled anything down, had not disturbed any other customers (there was none in the store!), and still had my hand actually, so I knew there was no reason for her approaching us as she did. She actually shook her finger in his little face, telling him not to touch. He responded by scrunching up his face and actually started to cry. I responded by handing her the items I was holding in my other hand, told her I was sorry about her attitude, and that I would be taking my business elsewhere, thank you very much. I followed this up with a letter detailing what had occurred and sent it to the storeowner.

I have yet to hear back from the owner of the store, but felt better for sending the letter anyhow. This just goes to show that there are two sides to this issue. While it is only courteous of adults to be sure kids do not cost business owners time and money by letting them run wild in the stores they take them into, it is also the store's responsibility to understand that sometimes adults do shop with kids, and that is just a fact. Maybe the associate was having a bad day, maybe she had a headache, or just found out she was passed over for a supervisor job she thought she was getting. Whatever her issue was that morning, she chose the wrong adult and child duo to take out her frustrations on. To store owners and to the adults with kids who take them with shopping, maybe it is time for the adults to grow up and just let the kids be kids.

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