While creating this month's Challenge, encouraging families to decorate "Happy New Year!" messages then deliver them to their local grocery store, asking clerks to stick one inside each shopper's bag, I was reminded of the MANY frustrations I've felt over the years when taking my children to the store with me.

With less than three hours to myself each day while they were off at school, the LAST thing I wanted to do with my precious FREE time was go grocery shopping.

But with very little energy left to shop in the evenings, I found myself taking my two little ones with me more often than I'd hoped (and am embarrassed to admit this happened to me more than once)...

Frustrated by moms who make it look SO easy to shop with their kids, I decided to enlist my children's help, hoping it would eliminate their disruptive behaviors.

Guess what? IT WORKED! 

I'm not saying our trips to the store are serene by any means, but they're much more peaceful than they used to be.

If you're looking for a few suggestions to improve your family's hopping experiences, try one or two of these... 

1) Let your kids help you write your grocery list.

Years ago I created a grocery list in excel, listing items in the order they appear in the aisles. At first, my friends all laughed at me but, when they started requesting copies, I knew I was on to something.

My original version looked like this: 

Now that my two children are starting to read, I asked my designer to update my list, adding pictures so my kids can help me keep track of the items we need.

As an emerging writer, my six-year-old daughter LOVES filling in the blanks while my four-year-old son likes "reading" the pictures and checking off the boxes.

Here's the updated version of my grocery list

2) Bring quarters...lots of them.

During my first year as a Kindergarten teacher, I offered my students "treats" for good behavior, a practice I'm extremely opposed to now, and learned that the key to modifying a child's behavior is not giving him/her everything (s)he wants (in the form of a "bribe"), but withholding the things (s)he wants (in the form of a "threat"). 

Here's an example:

BRIBE: "If you eat your dinner, then you get dessert," GIVING the child what (s)he wants (dessert) for doing something you want him/her to do (eat dinner). 

THREAT: "If you do NOT eat your dinner, you do NOT get dessert," WITHHOLDING what the child wants (dessert) unless (s)he does what you want him/her to do (eat dinner.)

(UPDATE: Check out the comments section for additional verbiage to use with children in similar situations, including "When you do NOT eat your dinner, you do NOT get dessert.")

Believe it or not, the slight shift in semantics makes ALL the difference in the world, enabling YOU to keep control on the front end, rather than reacting to your child's behavior on the backend.

Utilizing this technique at the grocery store, I never leave the house without quarters... lots and lots of quarters.

Why? My son is slightly obsessed with claw game machines (and the one at the grocery store is the ONLY one he's never won a prize from which drives him absolutely mad!).

Determined to beat his nemesis, I know he's HIGHLY motivated to be good at the grocery so he can play the game when we're done shopping. Using that knowledge to my advantage, I offer him what he wants (to play the claw game) IF AND ONLY IF I GET WHAT I WANT (good behavior), by saying:

"If you DO NOT behave at the grocery, then you DO NOT get to play the claw game." (as opposed to "If you're good at the grocery, you get to play the claw game.")

My daughter, on the other hand, couldn't care less about playing the claw game; all she cares about is getting a gum ball. Using the same strategy, I simply modify the desired outcomes to suite her preferences, saying: 

"If you DO NOT behave at the grocery, you DO NOT get a gum ball."

I always make sure I hold a few quarters back, however, as we like to leave a couple on the gum ball machines for other kids to find; the idea of some little kid smiling from ear to ear makes us smile, too.

3) Organize your coupons BEFORE you go, enlisting your child's help cutting them out.

My kids don't earn an "allowance," but they do earn money for completing tasks around the house...sometimes.

Many jobs typically considered "chores" are referred to as "pro bono" in our house, meaning the kids are EXPECTED to complete the work if it benefits the whole family, such as replacing garbage bags or cleaning up the living room.

Occasionally, however, there are tasks I would typically complete on my own, but chose to enlist the childrens' help instead for TWO reasons: 1) it encourages their helpful tendencies and 2) it provides me with an opportunity to "pay" them, putting money in their hands, which is the ONLY way I'll ever be able to teach them how to save, spend, and - of course - give money.

On days I actually take a shower and do my hair, my four-year-old son's job is to put my hot rollers back into their holder and I pay him $1 (or "two claw games") for completing this task.

My six-year-old daughter's job is to clip my coupons each week and I pay her .10ç for each coupon she clips. This not only helps me with my couponing, but it gives us an opportunity to practice skip counting the dimes she's earned; first, we count them by two's (making sure she has ten) and then we count them by tens (making sure she has a dollar). If she's earned more than ten dimes, I'll trade her $1 for ten dimes, introducing her to the concept of exchanging dollars for coins.

Helping me cut coupons BEFORE we go to the grocery makes her feel like she's a part of the process, positively impacting her behaviors.  

While at the store, I give her coupons I don't plan on using, asking her to place them next to the corresponding items so other shoppers can use them; she loves doing this as it makes her feel like she's leaving "quarters" for the grown ups. 

TIP: Don't discard your expired manufacturer's coupons! Military personnel living overseas are able to use them in the commissaries for up to six months beyond their expiration date; send them to The Krazy Coupon Lady instead. 

4) Briefly review your list with your kids IN THE PARKING LOT before heading into the store.

Children are EXTREMELY impulsive and going to the grocery stores creates all sorts of requests for "this" and "that."

Knowing impulse buys are a HUGE contributor to consumer debt, I try to avoid caving in to my kids, saying things like:

"That's not on our list."

"We didn't come for that."

"I didn't bring money for that."

I make every effort to refrain from saying, "We don't have money for that." Reason being, I don't want my kids to get the impression we're "poor."

They'll have plenty of time to worry about financial security as they age; there's no need to give them anxiety about it while they're young, especially since our family is "RICH"...we have a house, running water, AND a grocery store.

Giving my children the impression we're "poor" would be offensive to those who are truly without resources. 

5) On smaller trips, allow your children to go through the self-check out. 

This one's a no brainer; not only do kids LOVE to push those little carts...

...but they LOVE to scan the items in our cart, too! 

If I would have had the opportunity to do this as a kid, I WOULD HAVE LOST MY MIND!

Helping my children feel like they're all "grown up," but also reinforcing the fact that they ARE capable and they DO have something to contribute, I'll actually split up the contents of my cart sometimes just so each child can check out separately. 

I do ALL of this because of that ONE LITTLE SECRET I learned all those years ago:

The key to good behavior is NOT giving a child everything (s)he wants in the form of a "bribe." The key to good behavior is withholding the things a child wants in the form of a "threat." 

"If you do NOT stop ___, you do NOT get to clip coupons." 

"If you do NOT stop ___, you do NOT get to go through self-checkout."

"If you do NOT stop ___, you do NOT get to play the claw game."

"If you do NOT stop ___, you do NOT get a gum ball."

(UPDATE: Check out the comments section for additional verbiage to use with children in similar situations, including "When you do NOT eat your dinner, you do NOT get dessert.")

Without giving children a chance to explore new things and actually be part of the process, it's nearly impossible to figure out what the child likes to do... and if you never figure out what the child likes to do, you'll never figure out what to withhold... and if you never figure out what to withhold, you'll never be able to have the upper hand when trying to modify his/her behaviors.

Looking for more tips on teaching children about money? Check out my blog, Using Household Chores to Develop Work Ethic and Teach Financial Literacy Skills.

Heading to the grocery? Remember to take your shopping list!

Beth Nowak is a former Kindergarten teacher and mother of two who wanted to make memories with her children while making a difference in her community. Helping other parents do the same, she left the classroom to create Giving Families' Good Mail Challenges... fun and easy, family-friendly giveback activities that can be completed anytime, anywhere using materials readily available in most homes. To learn more and join the family, visit GivingFamilies.com.