I am asked often how I manage to run my errands with all the kids. I constantly hear, "I don't know how you do it". I actually don't think twice about it anymore because it has been a way of life for so long but, to those that do wonder, I thought I'd fill you in on some of my tips and tricks that make going out manageable.
I will say I have it easier now than I did in the beginning. When Jena was born I had 5 kids, ages 5 and under so those days were more challenging than they are now. With 3 kids in school, getting out of the house is "easy" during the school year. Although in a few short weeks I will again have 4 kids, 4 and under at home so the challenges will be there still as far as getting out of the house goes. Thankfully I have had a lot of practice over the years so the thought of it isn't nearly as daunting as it used to be. The following are things I do to make being in public manageable and I don't think you have to have 4 or 5 kids to implement this. These are all things I also did when I had 1 or 2.
1. Train them at Home: This is really important. If you don't expect obedience at home, don't expect it from them in public. Take the time to teach them to obey right away, all the way and with a happy heart! When they are playing outside in the yard is a great time. Teaching them not to stray and obeying boundaries at home will help you while you are out. Generally speaking, if they are in the habit of obeying you at home they will be able to do it in public. I always cringe when I see a kid run away from their mom. It may seem harmless when it happens in the yard but change the scenery and this is happening in a parking lot and it's an accident waiting to happen.
2. Have a plan: Ok yes, by nature I am a planner. I plan everything and feel passionately that plans are good, necessary and bring order to the world. I also understand that we are not all made this way. Some of you can wake up in the morning not having a clue what you will do, what you will eat, what you will clean and it works for you. That's great. But when it comes to having multiple little ones to get in and out of a vehicle in a busy or even non-busy parking lot you NEED a plan if you want to keep everyone safe. Hopefully if you've done tip #1, you aren't too worried. I teach ALL my kids, yes even my 8 & 9 year old to keep one hand on our vehicle as I am getting them out one by one. No one is allowed to walk around the car, run off, etc. They have to stand still keeping one hand on our vehicle. If your child has a hard time obeying then practice this in the driveway at home and then test it out in a parking lot you know is safe and not busy. I also park next to the cart return, when possible so that the ones that are going in the cart can be set in it right away and it also makes getting into the store and returning the cart easier. When it's not possible and I have to wait till I get in the store to get a cart then I delegate one little to each of the older two boys. They have to hold their hand as we walk into the store and usually I have a couple I'm carrying, or helping into the store.
3. State expectations clearly: Don't assume that your children know what good behavior is. Make sure they know and understand what your expectations are. Expectations will vary from errand to errand sometimes. I usually take a couple minutes before we arrive to our destination to remind them what I expect of them, what they will do while we are there and what responsibilities, if any, I have for them. The Dr.'s office is a tougher one for me than the grocery store. At least at the grocery store they are walking around (most of them) and moving. At a Dr.'s office there is a lot of sitting and waiting and that is understandably hard for most kids. But they CAN do it so again, practice at home if you have to. I have in the past set a timer and made my kids sit and read a book without moving or talking till the timer went off. Don't expect perfection but do expect a decent effort. I have some that sitting still is not a problem and who needed very little training. Then there are others who just can't seem to sit still for more than 2 minutes no matter how much training they get. If I see them making an honest effort to obey that is when I am pleased. As they age you can raise your expectations but its important to be realistic and understand that not all kids are the same.
4. Be Prepared: This pregnancy I have been seen weekly by my OB from the very beginning, which means we have spent A LOT of time in the Dr's office. The nurses and Dr.'s are amazed at how well my kids do and comment about it often. And honestly sometimes I'm even amazed! But I do go prepared. With my OB I cannot always plan my appts. at times that are good for our schedule. Because I am there weekly, I have to take the time I can get and sometimes that has meant in the middle of nap time or lunch time. I bring snacks if I have to, I bring my ipad if I have to. I don't typically allow the kids electronics in the Dr.s office because I feel they should be able to sit quietly and talk with each other or read books without needing electronics to behave and be quiet. But when I know we will be there during a difficult time of day then I do allow it. When I do have more control over when a Dr. appt. will be like our well-child visits for example, then I am mindful to choose a time that fits in with our schedule well so that it's not interfering with nap time or meal time. That usually means I am at the pediatrician early in the morning.
5. Balance Rewards and Consequences: Don't expect your kids to obey and meet your expectations if there are no consequences for not doing it. At the same time, be reasonable. Some errands are more difficult on kids than others and understanding that and being willing to reward good behavior in those times will go a long way. I don't reward good behavior for the errands that are a part of our everyday life like grocery shopping or well-child visits. Although on a side note. When we are at the grocery store my kids LOVE going to see the lobsters in the tank. It takes extra time, sometimes time I don't have but it is a nice incentive for them to behave. If they've been behaving then when we get to the tank we stop for 5 or so minutes so they can watch them. But during those time when it's an errand that is out of the norm and may be more challenging for the kids then tell them in advance that if they behave and meet your (reasonable) expectations then they will be rewarded. Recently we had a Dr. appt. at Noah's cardiologist. This is not your typical Dr. appt. as it's very long...2-3 hrs long to be exact. I had all 6 kids with me. They did fantastic and they were rewarded. Always follow through with your rewards and consequences.
These are ways that have helped our family manage out of the house with all the kids. The more you do it the easier it gets. There will be kinks to work out in the beginning and there will be those days where they just don't want to cooperate. It happens! Don't get discouraged or think you're doing something wrong. Try again next time!